You may be wondering when and how to teach your kids the important life skill of swimming. Start by considering these seven swimming skills that every kid should learn.
A couple of summers ago I was stressed to no end.
All of my kids, save one, could swim. This meant I couldn’t even go inside to the bathroom without bringing my youngest inside with me.
Because I wouldn’t leave him unsupervised for a second.
I went into FOF every time I wanted to go inside for snacks. I couldn’t read a book. Sure, I could do floating devices, but this is false comfort on some level because I’ve seen them forget they do not have a floating device on… and try and get in the water anyway.
So I decided – as a life skill – my boy was learning to swim whether he liked it or not.
Swimming isn’t just a fun activity, it’s a life skill.
Swimming isn’t just a load of fun, it’s got some real life benefits as well. It helps kids learn safety, confidence, and of course the ability to avoid drowning.
The life skill of swimming is one that your child will probably be able to maintain most of their life. It’s not easily forgotten or unlearned like some skills. In fact, swimmers can enjoy the benefits of water activities until late in life or even through physical ailments.
My aunt has MS and walks with a walker. She is very limited mobility wise and yet – she goes to swim class twice a week every week!
She petitioned the city to put in handicap pool access, which they granted, and it’s a source of socializing and fitness for her.
Besides that, swimming is a heart-healthy activity and great for strengthening lung capacity. Children with asthma have seen improvements in their breath control because of the breathing skills learned in swimming.
Furthermore, because of the nature of swimming, it’s an entire body exercise where the body’s weight is supported by the water. This makes it beneficial to the elderly, people in need of strength training, and those with challenged mobility.
But… if swimming isn’t learned as a child, most won’t learn how to at an older age.
Here are 7 swimming skills that every kid should learn:
Check off critical household, social, and hygiene skills for your child so they’re prepared (not petrified) of growing up!
Waterside Safety & Awareness
The very first swimming skill I always work on with my kids is waterside safety and awareness of surroundings.
Living in Florida means we have access to lots of fresh water springs, the Gulf of Mexico with its sandy white beaches, backyard pools, lakes to ride jet ski’s on, water parks, and pontoon boat weekends.
No matter what type of venue you’re swimming in, safety and situational awareness is key.
- Adult supervision at all times
- Obey all water rules posted
- Discuss surroundings and what things to watch out for
- Wear life vests for younger kid’s and all ages while on a boat
- Always walk, never run beside water
- Practice situational awareness of the other people around you
- Watch out for objects around you such as large floats, boats, or animals
- Pay attention to the surface of the dock, sandy beach, or poolside floor
- Watch weather conditions
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Water Entry & Exit
There should be a good mix of confidence and healthy fear of water. Children will probably feel nervous when it comes to first placing their face or head under water.
The key here is building their confidence and putting the experience in their hands. Never push, dunk, or force a child under the surface of water. Believe it or not, some people believe this as a method of teaching their children to swim.
Yes, you may have to push them past their comfort zone. My youngest did NOT want to learn to swim. He’d scream bloody murder when I took him in the pool.
At swim lessons, a teenage buy gradually pushed him further and further past his comfort zone while giving him victories at every turn and, within a week, he was jumping off the side of our pool.
- Allow them to enter water at their own speed.
- Teach them how to exit the water. A child is more likely to feel confident knowing where the ladder or edge of the pool is.
- Train them that no matter where they are in the water, they should always know where the exit is.
- Also, show them where they can touch, and where is too deep for them to stand.
Face Under & Resurfacing
“You can touch, your head floats, and you are in control.”
Some children experience fear and stress when learning how to dunk and blow bubbles. If this is your child, don’t expect them to do this on your first swimming skills lesson.
Some children just go straight to bobbing under water. It’s still important to teach what is happening when their face is under water and how to resurface.
- Start by having child blow air bubbles (in the air).
- Then model dunking your face in the water and blowing bubbles for them to see.
- Build their confidence by assuring them that they can resurface by raising their head whenever they want.
- Show them again how your forehead and entire face is under the water.
- Allow them to practice as many times as they like.
After they have built some practice and confidence, you can play a game like pretending to be dolphins diving in the water. It’s also fun to have them jump up and down like on a trampoline while blowing bubbles.
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Treading water- also known as the “doggie paddle” is an essential swimming skill. There are several tricks to learning how to stay afloat with your head out of the water.
- The most important thing is to stay calm. At first, your child will probably try to paddle their legs too quickly and maybe even panic. This is normal.
- Start by having then hold to the edge of the pool with both hands. Stretch their legs out and have them kick like a frog- gently and smoothly.
- Then progress to holding onto you as you move then through the water (as they kick). They can also use a small floatation device to hold onto as they kick around the pool.
- Eventually they will be able to kick and move hands gently though the water to keep their head above the surface.
Floating as a Swimming Skill
Swimming is one of the most exhaustive activities to participate in. It makes you tired. But, what do you do when you’re tired while swimming? Of course… you float.
Floating is often one of the first taught swimming skills to young children, even infants. This is because if a child accidentally falls into a pool, they can save their life by knowing how to float with their head above the water.
That being said, it’s one of the harder skills to teach children. It’s hard because it requires the child to totally relax and “rest” their neck/head in the water.
I placed this skill as #5 because I prefer for kids to be confident in the water before I ask them to trust and relax their body completely.
- Have your child stretch out and take up as much space as they can in the water.
- Tilt head back.
- Roll shoulders back and point belly button towards the sky.
- Take slow and deep breaths.
- Assure them that they are safe and ask them to relax.
Human muscle is denser than body fat. It is also far less buoyant. So, if may be that it’s harder for your child to float than you think. Be patient and assure them that it is possible for them to float. Keep practicing and it will happen.
Once your child has mastered treading in water, face under, and resurfacing… they are ready to work on their breathing. How exciting! Get ready to start swimming…
- With face under water, take two arm strokes then raise head- inhale a breath.
- Then dip head back under water and exhale slowly as arms and legs propel forward.
It’s pretty simple- breathe every two strokes. One second inhale and one second exhale.
Controlled breathing regularly feeds oxygen to the body and builds lung capacity and function. It’s a beneficial life skill that can be practiced through swimming.
Once this swimming skill is mastered, the swimmer can swim for much longer and further without fatigue. Although the doggie paddle and floating are necessary skills, controlled breathing is really what makes someone an experienced swimmer.
Be Conscience Towards Others as a Swimming Skill
It can be a lot of fun to swim with friends or family. Chances are that even if you’re not out with friends, there are other people in the same swimming areas you are.
So, the last swimming skill that every kid should learn is how to be conscience and empathetic towards other swimmers.
Maybe you’re swimming with some children the same age as your kids, but they don’t like being splashed in the face.
- Teach kids to respect and understand those wishes.
It could be that other children don’t behave the same as you want your kids to behave. Are they running beside the pool? Are the pushing each other?
- Show kids how to avoid that behavior in a kind and peaceful way.
In just 15 minutes a night (while you’re in your pajamas!) take your home (and heart and mind) from stressed out to organized.
Teaching children to be empathetic to the people around them is a powerful life skill that will serve them well. There’s no better place to learn this than at a swimming hole with older people, young children, and all ages in-between.