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Beaches, turquoise water, ocean-front villas, world-class diving, romance, recreation and relaxation on the Caribbean island of Curacao. Just add kids!

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What? Did you say, "Just add kids"?

Kids Sea Camp started in Curacao five years ago and the island's program has become the model for other destinations around the world.

Picture this: white sand beach in the late afternoon, barbecue cooking, steel drums playing and an incredible sunset in the background. Mom and dad are sitting on the beach sipping rum punch and soaking up some sun while the children are snorkeling and playing in the surf.

"Mom, there's something gooey and pink with two little eyes in a shell under the dock ... I think it's an octopus!" says the boy.

"No dear," replies his mother, "it's a conch that lives in the conch shell, not an octopus."

"But, Mom, it really looks like an octopus!" responds the boy.

The mother replies, "Honey, a conch can look like an octopus."

"It's an octopus, Mom," the boy states with firmness and runs off.

Three minutes later my son comes running out of the water and up the beach as I lay drenched in the warmth of the Caribbean sun. I open my eyes to see a very excited, smiling 9-year-old holding a conch shell in his left hand while his right hand eagerly points to the squiggly wiggly pink, then blue, then brown creature rapidly changing color far inside the conch shell. As this creature is being observed, he squeezes himself deeper into the shell, causing all the water to squirt out.

"See Mom, I told you it was an octopus. Ms. Katie, our Kids Sea Camp counselor, taught us that octopuses can change color and that they can fit into almost anything. See its tentacles, Mom?" states the boy with pride.

Got PVC pipe, calm clear water and ribbons. Just add junior open-water divers.

Scene: junior open-water certification at Curaçao Sea Aquarium. Underwater graduation.

This is the PADI junior open-water graduation, but it doesn't take place on land; it happens on a sandy bottom about 30 feet below the surface. Parrotfish, grunts and yellowtail snappers are in the crowd along with mom and dad blowing bubbles for their graduating kids. After a week of hard work in the classroom, pool sessions and open-water dives along with some clowning around with their instructors, this dive is their time to shine. So don't forget your camera, Mom, to capture the moment.

A smile, a smock, a few thousand dots of paint and enough brushes for everyone -- adults and children alike -- are what you get when you throw the "Pirate Painter" into the Kids Sea Camp mix. You will hear him at breakfast asking you to put your hands under his shirt and tell him what you feel. Don't laugh -- he's serious, and the prize is grand if you guess correctly. Your hands are placed on the hundreds of bumps forming a fish he has painted on a canvas hiding under his shirt. Ron Steven, of Rogest Art, creates and inspires the minds and warms the hearts of us all with his marine life art workshop. Music and dance, laughing and fun make for another perfect day in paradise.

Margo Chornlesky, a scuba mom, developed Kids Sea Camp because she believes that kids should experience fun, hands-on experiences with animals, get messy with paint, laugh every day and enjoy and learn everything there is to enjoy and learn about our oceans. She wants kids to understand and grow to love what many diving moms and dads already do. Margo's biggest joy has been to witness, year after year, how many nondiving moms, dads and grandparents get so inspired by the children that they get certified to dive or take a discover scuba course and make it a family affair.

A week jam-packed with diving, sea lion and dolphin kisses and just plain fun … what more could you ask for? If there is one complaint that parents have every year, it's "My kids don't want to spend time with me." Some may consider that a blessing, but after a week of everyone doing their own thing parents may start to feel the need to spend family time together. To satisfy everyone's needs this year, in Curaçao we are going to make some mandatory family fun time at Porto Marie Beach. There will be gorgeous shore diving, white sand beach, food and fun -- and don't forget the family -- while spending the last day of camp just hanging out, snorkeling or diving with friends and family.

Spending a week of learning about marine animals big and small would never be possible without all the fun and games provided by the teachers and counselors. During the week, I always seem to have a little shadow. One I will never forget is my little buddy Oci, age 4, who came wherever I went and always helped get snacks and get the other kids' attention. He was always by my side, and his grandfather told me he would only go to camp with me, holding my hand the whole way into the classroom. At the end of the week, his mother and grandfather came up to thank me for such a great week. At that moment, Oci appeared, carrying his little dolphin from Dolphin Academy, and informed me that his little dolphin was named Katie, after me. Words cannot express the feeling of joy that little gesture gave me as a teacher -- it's something I will never forget.

What do the kids do all day? Do they spend the whole day in the water? Not quite. Education programs in the classroom at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium are not your typical setting, but just wait until the kids experience it. This is definitely far from boring, with games and activities to teach about the marine environment. Have you ever been a coral polyp before and tried to eat? How about eating little fish, like a nurse shark does? Ever wonder what it would be like to be a dolphin and know what the trainer is asking? Why do sea lions growl, and how do they talk to each other? All these questions are answered, but you have to become the animal to really answer them. Nobody could forget the best part of the aquarium: the touch tank! Who is daring enough to pick up a sea urchin or hold a conch? So much fun and games, who knows where mom and dad are hanging out?

When asking 7-year-old Jennifer what her favorite thing at camp was, she said, "Sucking up the gummy worms and fish!" I'll bet you're wondering the same thing parents ask their kids at the end of day: "What are you talking about?" Learning to be a nurse shark and eat like one can be sloppy business, with water splashing and gummy fish flying. It seems that so much fun really can't involve learning, but you would be surprised how much more kids remember from one week of camp than they do from a whole year of science in school.

While the kids are swimming with stingrays, sharks and turtles, it's time for the parents to enjoy their guilt-free vacation of diving, snorkeling or just lying on the beach with a good book. Ocean Encounters and their staff take care of the divers and make sure that mom and dad are having just as much fun as the kids. Adults can dive the beautiful Curaçao coral reefs or any number of wrecks, including the famous Superior Producer, which lies at 100 feet. There's something for everyone.

Kids Sea Camp Curaçao will entice the entire family, from divers who just want to casually linger over a beautiful shallow reef teeming with fish in 80-degree water to those who want satisfy an experienced diving palate on a shipwreck like the Superior Producer. Curaçao does not just satisfy the diver, though; it keeps nondiving family members busy with snorkeling, kayaking, beachcombing, an island tour and the sights of the Hato Caves. There are museums, casinos and spas awaiting those who prefer topside entertainment. There's also a bonfire, a treasure hunt and tons of giveaways, such as SCUBAPRO gear and a Sea Life Reef Master underwater camera. At Kids Sea Camp, there's never a dull moment.

So what do the kids who got certified last year do this year? What will experienced junior open-water divers do for a whole week? They can dive with sea lions and jump in at Animal Encounters to dive with stingrays, feed turtles, see sharks and pet our goliath grouper, Herby. They can become underwater photographers and collect research data on the Sea Aquarium reef with marine biologists. Don't forget, they can even spend time with the dolphins. How does that sound to you? This is all included in our NEW Ocean Discovery Specialty diver program for PADI-certified kids. During this week, mom and dad will be wishing they were kids again.

For more information on all Kids Sea Camp programs, call 800-934-3483 or visit www.kidsseacamp.com.  

Click here to hear more about what people are saying about Kids Sea Camp.

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As the official publication of the PADI Diving Society, Sport Diver is the magazine divers turn to each month to find out what’s going on in their world. Sport Diver is the ultimate source for up to date information on dive culture, equipment, travel, training and PADI Diving Society activities.

© 2012 World Publications, LLC

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