Jun 10, 2021

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Swim

Summer is here and chances are if you have kids, you'll be swimming to beat the heat. This is often the time of year when parents start thinking about swim lessons and while those may be valuable for some kids, consistently spending time in the water with your children can be just as effective. I taught both of my kids to swim over the years and made it a point to teach them critical water safety skills. My kids definitely don't know the butterfly or backstroke, but I have been successful at teaching them to swim safely and feel more confident in the water. Here are 5 tips for teaching kids how to swim:

1 - Get a Puddle Jumper

It's important that kids get comfortable being in the water even before they know how to fully swim. We found that having a Puddle Jumper was a great way to help our kids practice kicks and back floats. These skills are critical for swimming and the puddle jumpers offered a great range of motion. Both of our kids started swimming with puddle jumpers in the beginning and then graduated to swimming puddle jumper-free as time went on. 

Note: Kids need to be supervised in the water even while wearing puddle jumpers. We used them exclusively for helping our kids stay above water while teaching them swimming skills.  

2 - Buy a Snorkel Mask 

Fact: It's hard to swim without getting water on your face. The truth is, most kids are afraid of getting their faces wet and are even more terrified of getting water up their nose. We found that snorkel masks (the kind that fully covers the nose) were helpful when teaching our kids to swim because they eliminated the problem of getting water in the eyes or nose. It's really hard for kids to be able to plug their nose while also using both arms to swim, so the snorkel mask is key. We also found that snorkel masks were more durable than traditional goggles and didn't allow water to leak in while swimming. Once kids can see in the water and stop worrying about getting their faces wet, they will instantly be more engaged. 

3 - Teach Water Safety 

Drowning can happen in just a few inches of water so it's critical to teach kids about water safety when they are young. Early on we learned the importance of teaching our kids best practices around water to keep everyone safe. In addition to basic things like no running near the pool to avoid slipping, we also ensure that kids get permission from an adult before entering the water. Oversized pool floats, older kids in water, and crowded pools can make it hard for little ones to swim around safely. 

We also make sure that there is a designated adult ready to watch the kids and keep an eye out for any horeseplay that could pose a risk to kid safety. It only takes a second for kids to quietly slip under the water so it's important that they have your undivided attention. At kid parties and other group swim activities, you also want to watch out for horseplay that could accidentally cause kids to get trapped underwater, even if for just for a second. 

If I'm teaching kids to swim, I like to focus on one child at a time. So when my kids were small, that meant putting one in a puddle jumper to swim around while I was actively working on building skills with the other one. It's also important to remember that kids get very tired when swimming because it's a full body workout, so remember to take breaks and get out of the pool when you notice kids getting tired. 

4 - Teach Key Skills 

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I'm not a professional swim coach and when I taught my kids to swim, my ultimate goal was to keep them from drowning. I didn't care if they could do the butterfly or the backstroke, I wanted them to be able to swim to the edge of the pool and rescue themselves if they were in a bad situation. I taught both kids how to float on their backs so that they could keep their face out of the water and take a break if they were tired of swimming. I also taught them how to effectively kick their legs and paddle with their arms to quickly get to the pool edge. 

To teach the backfloat, use a puddle jumper or an alternate floatation device and "spot" kids under their back so that they can lay flat and practice holding themselves steady. Practice in shallow water at a depth where kids can easily touch the bottom of the pool so that they can put their feet down if needed. 

To teach kicking skills, have kids hold on the pool edge while they practice kicking their legs to simulate swimming. 

As my kids developed their skills, I would then remove their puddle jumper and position them close to the pool stairs (while I carried them) so that eventually they could practice swimming to the stairs on their own without the use of a flotation device. It takes time, but they'll get it eventually. Keeping the swim distance short and the depth shallow is the key to early success. 

5 - Be Consistent

As with any skill, repetition is key. You have to give kids frequent access to practice their swim skills if you want them to be strong swimmers. This might mean finding open swim times at your community swimming pool and taking your kids in the evening a few times a week. It might mean doing a staycation in the city somewhere with a pool so that you can commit to swimming every day for a week. It might mean signing your kid up for swim lessons for a week in the summer and then continuing their skill development on your own. Or, it might look like something totally different. Find what works for you and stick with it. 

Trust me, the LAST thing I wanted to do when my kids were small was put on a swimsuit and get in the pool to teach my kids how to swim. I prefer sitting poolside with a fashion magazine and a tropical drink, but, I knew how important it was to teach them how to swim so that they could safely enjoy the water. It is possible to do, but it does take patience and time. But isn't that true of anything that's worth doing?

Here are some pools around Seattle that we love:

Pop Mounger Pool - Magnolia

Colman Pool - West Seattle 

Queen Anne Community Pool - Queen Anne 

Four Seasons Seattle Infinity Pool - Downtown Seattle 

Nelson Dairy Farm Pool - Suncadia 

Full disclosure, I'm not a certified swim instructor, I'm just a mom who taught her kids how to swim. 


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