Raising Ocean – Friendly Children
Raising Ocean – Friendly Children: The Next Generation
You’ve probably seen them on vacation—those kids who can’t be more than six or seven and are dashing around from skim boarding, to boogie boarding
to bodysurfing, barely taking notice of anyone around them. They’re living totally in the moment. Meanwhile, your child skittishly dodges incoming ankle-deep waves that have long since lost their power as you look on anxiously, urging them to “Be careful!” from your dry vantage point.
Which one will grow up to love the ocean and want to protect it: the one who learned to love it, or the one who always feared it? If you want to raise a good steward of the ocean, here are some ways to get started.
Getting Swim Ready
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends saving formal swimming lessons until a child is four years old and able to learn and master the movements. Before this, playing with your child in the water – bobbing around, letting your child reach for a floating beach ball, supporting them while they float on their front or back, teaching them to blow bubbles in the water, and other gentle activities teach the child that swimming is fun. Have them take their first swimming lessons in a pool.
Learning Ocean Swimming
Swimming in the ocean is nothing like swimming in a pool, so, to prepare your child for a beachside vacation and begin their love of the ocean, send him or her specifically to ocean swimming lessons. Good ocean swimming classes should teach awareness of how the ocean works, respect for the ocean, identifying risks at the beach, surviving a rip current, and knowing their physical limits. Kids will need to be ocean ready in all these areas before graduating to the next level of education … and fun!
Snorkeling from Bathtub to Ocean
While your little ones are learning to swim in the pool, and then the ocean, they can simultaneously learn to snorkel one step at a time. Get your child used to the child’s mask, first in the tub and then in the pool. Choose a mask that fits, and which has a silicone mask skirt that seals well. Be sure junior learns how to empty water from the mask.
Add the snorkel when your child is comfortable with the mask, teaching how to clear it and making sure it’s the right size. Practice in the pool and shallow ocean water. Add fins to the scenario last. When your child is ready for an open ocean family snorkeling adventure, be sure to keep close. Make it a fun experience, pointing out cool underwater sights to see together.
Learning Environmental Literacy
Besides helping your child make friends with the ocean, teach your child to be a friend as well. Learning about the ocean can be fun, for sure, but, on the other hand, it is also important for being an Earth-friendly adult. Your child needs to learn about marine life, the geography of the ocean, and how to interact with the ocean.
There are great programs, like National Geographic Ocean Education, where you can be sure your child learns important ocean-related information so he or she can make informed decisions on caring for the earth in the future.
Teach Your Children to Protect Sharks Not Fear Them
When teaching environmental literacy, educate your child on the importance of sharks to the marine-ecosystem. Typically, when people fear something, it’s because they don’t understand it; this has been the case for sharks for centuries. They are perceived as the evil monsters who lurk beneath the waters, and Hollywood movies have done them no favors. Now they are in real danger of extinction due to overfishing driven by a market for their fins.
If you’re not a marine biologist, you’re probably thinking “good riddance,” and maybe even passing that thought on to your child. While the fear you feel is only natural, based on your perception of who these mammals are, it is completely off-base and detrimental to our eco-system. Sharks are essential to the health of our coral reefs.
Make your child an exceptional addition to conservancy by teaching that when they understand something, they have no reason to fear it. Every part of our eco-system is needed to be balanced. For example, the Atlantic blue tang is needed to clean up algae on the reefs, but the black grouper loves eating the Atlantic blue tang; but, thankfully, the gray reef shark also loves to dine on the black groupers.
See, if we have no sharks, they won’t eat the groupers, and then the groupers will consume all of the Atlantic blue tang, leaving nothing to remove the algae off the reefs. This negatively affects the coral and organisms living on the reef, and if completely unbalanced will destroy large areas of coral reef. Teach them the importance of sharks with You Do The Math exercise, and for a reward take them diving with sharks so they can see first-hand, that they’re not so bad!
Learning Comes Alive Underwater
The old adage that experience is the best teacher is certainly true when it comes to the ocean. It’s important to be on friendly terms with the ocean, to know how to interact with it safely, and to understand its marine biology and environmental needs, but it’s also important to experience the ocean.
How does it feel to swim alongside a dolphin, to come face-to-face with a shark, to see expanses of living coral with brilliant colored fish swimming among them? And how does it feel to see the opposite? To see stark white coral that has died, abandoned by fish who can no longer feed there?
One of the best ways to help your child understand the world underwater is through scuba diving. Start with a simple introduction to diving like a Discover Scuba Diving excursion where you do not have to be PADI certified.
Once your child has experienced exploring underwater through diving, he or she can advance to other experiences, like diving with dolphins, shark diving, or night diving. Integrating environmental literacy with practical experience in a fun, safe, and dynamic environment will leave a lasting impression on your child. As they continue to get older and more experienced, encourage them to join, donate to, or volunteer for organizations that protect oceans and marine life, so they become lifelong stewards of the ocean