Swimming is an invaluable life skill from the perspective of both safety and exercise. There are many free or inexpensive techniques, both in and out of water, for teaching children to swim. If it is sensible for your family, older children who have mastered a technique, can help teach the younger ones. Safety is a top priority when around water so any older children who may be helping should be admonished to adhere to safe swimming rules. The techniques in this article are organized by age and are suggested starting points. Please use at your discretion and according to your family’s limitations.
Babies to toddlers:
Starting in the bathtub, first get the child comfortable with water flowing over his body by gently pouring a cup full of water over the shoulders. Over time, encourage the child to have his face to touch the water. Gradually introduce the concept of blowing bubbles with the mouth. Search for a local recreation center that offers a zero depth entry pool. This mimics the beach and allows children to walk into the water very gradually. While in the pool, allow baby to walk or sit in this very shallow section. Cradle him and slowly walk into chest deep water while soothing baby. Eventually try holding your child out slightly from you and try extending his arms from you so that you are gently pulling the child around the pool.
Toddlers to age 4:
Continue to build on the techniques outlined above but introduce the idea of a quick full body immersion in the pool. Ask permission of the child and encourage him to try it with you. Remind the child to hold his breath for this brief instant. Bounce up and down while counting to three and just before going underwater blow a quick blast of air into the child’s face. This forces the child to close his eyes. While in the water, hold the child by the waist in chest high water and demonstrate arm and leg movement to mimic swimming. Have the child hold on to the edge of the pool while you lift his legs slightly and ask him to kick. Sit the child on the edge of the pool and ask him to lean into the water into your outstretched arms.
Ages 4 to 7
Have fun at home while introducing swimming coordination by stackingcouch pillows and placing the child on the top. Hold the trunk of his body stable while he pretends he is swimming using alternating arm and leg motions. Have the child pretend to blow bubbles during this time to reinforce muscle memory. Make sure he is filling his lungs with air and not just his cheeks. At the pool, bring an inexpensive water dart designed to sink and encourage your child to grab it off the bottom of the pool. Start in a very shallow part but eventually have the child move deeper so that he must close his eyes and hold his breath and go underwater to retrieve it. Hold the child at arms’ length while asking him to kick with his body stretched out. Standing at his side, hold him around the waist and ask him to move first his arms in a swimming motion. Then incorporate the kicking motion so that he is doing both at the same time. Once he is comfortable, have the child hug a kickboard while kicking in a scissors motion around the pool. While standing in the pool yourself with outstretched arms, encourage the child to jump in to you. If he is reluctant, ask him to sit on the edge and enter as outlined above.
Ages 7 and older
Continue building on the basic skills outlined above and encourage the child to put it all together and swim independently. Use library or online videos to work on proper techniques.