by Rob Cox, May 24, 2011
How to teach young kids to swim
Learning to swim - one of life's most important skills. Babies as young as 6 months old are taking advantage of their natural comfort in water in "Infant Swim" classes around the country.
Children of age 4-7 have already lost some of this natural comfort, and before much more of it slips away, get them into a swimming class, lest the natural fear of the water replace the natural comfort in water.
Understanding these fears and comforts is important when teaching a child to swim. They can easily lose confidence and become fearful if they feel uncertain about their abilities. Stay close to a swimmer who is just learning to swim.
Here's some ways to build their confidence in the water.
1. If the pool is too cold, really cold, neither you nor your child will enjoy learning to swim.
2. Goggles or a swim mask keeps water off the face - a good idea for early swimmers.
3. Flippers and snorkels or water wings are not recommended for early swimmers.
Blowing Bubbles - For very early swimmers, we start with blowing bubbles in the water, from mouth and nose, eventually working towards submerging their entire face in the water, and later, opening their eyes under water.
Jumping in the pool from the edge - to the waiting arms of Mom or Dad is a fun game for a child, and also develops trust in themselves and a better awareness of the pool wall and floor. When ready, have them jump in the pool, to the floor of the shallow end, push off the bottom (like a rocket!) into your arms.
Kicking on the wall, first seated outside the pool, and then inside the pool, holding onto the coping stone - is a practice that also makes for a good warm-up to a swim lesson. Gently hold their legs and help them move in the proper range of motion - fluid and fast. Kicking in a coordinated fashion does not come natural for most early swimmers, so practice as much as possible.
Floating on their back is a struggle the first few times. Don't get frustrated with the young swimmer's fears, but gently support them under their back, and work to relax your student. When they can completely relax, with their head back and their hips up, you can reduce the support (but stay close!).
Treading water is another early skill that can be practiced. Teach them to expend as little energy as possible, with gentle back and forth arm movements, and a coordinated kicking. This is harder than it sounds, and young swimmers put a lot of effort into keeping their head above water. The most efficient means of treading water is to use the water polo kick, known as the "eggbeater". With arms moving slowly back and forth, the upper legs pump up and down slightly as the calves and ankles rotate in alternating circles. This may take some time to develop, but is certainly a good skill to work towards.
Swimmer comfort is the most important goal with early swimmers. We don't try to learn to swim specific strokes at this stage. Fear is a natural reaction to a large body of water, pay attention to signs that your young swimmer is fearful. If so, pull back a bit, sit on the edge and kick for a few minutes. Don't rush things, and only advance when the swimmer is fully confident in skills already learned.
While we are working to reduce fear in a young swimmer, over-confidence can create a hazardous situation. Reinforce to your children some basic safety rules while you are teaching them to swim.
1. Never swim alone.
2. Stay in the shallow end.
3. No diving - jump in feet first.
Most importantly, have fun with your young swimmer. Learning to swim opens up a world of fun, and reduces the chance of accidental drowning. Make each lesson a fun experience. If you act like a drill sargeant in the pool, you may risk making the experience negative. Take it slow and easy - one step at a time,and your child will learn to swim - at their own pace.
One more thing, please Never leave a child unattended in the pool. If you must leave the pool for any reason, take the child with you. It only takes 30 seconds to drown, and Drowning is Silent!