Time to Play! Getting out of the Pool

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them. It’s critical to your kids’ safety that they learn how to get out of the pool by themselves. Practicing in this fun way will help your kids get comfortable with this essential swimming skill.

Have your child experiment with using his feet to walk along the wall and help his hands. Can he lift them up so they’re close to his hands? Can he stretch them down so he’s flat against the wall and only his toes are helping?

Posted in games | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

6 Things to Do Before You Hit the Swimming Pool

Taking care of these six tasks before you start teaching your kids to swim will make the experience more fun—and safer—for everyone. A little advance planning can make the difference between giving your kids good feelings about swimming from the start and giving them issues to overcome.

Do a Health Check

Check with your child’s doctor to make sure your child’s health allows him to start learning to swim. Consider getting a physical yourself. Don’t go swimming if you have GI upset, an infected cut, poison oak, a rash, a fever, a contagious illness, pink eye, an earache, or a cold with green or yellow mucus.

Time It Right

Schedule pool time when your child won’t need a nap and there won’t be loud noises or lots of distractions.

Don’t Eat

Don’t eat for an hour before swimming. Your mom was right. Your body needs time to digest. Acidic foods in particular can combine with the new physical experiences of swimming and the likelihood of swallowed pool water to lead to an upset stomach.

Know the Pool

Familiarize yourself with the pool. How deep is it? Where does the depth change and how deep does it get?

Make a Plan

Plan your approach before you get into the pool. Have a list of activities you want to try and the equipment you’ll need for those activities. Plan more than you actually expect to be able to do, so that you’ll have the flexibility to try new things if what you try first isn’t working. Write your lesson plan on an index card and put it into a waterproof plastic bag. Read your lesson plan and refer to it if you need to during the lesson.

Take Care of Business

Right before you get into the pool, have your child go to the bathroom, blow his nose, and spit gum into the trash. You might as well take care of these things for yourself, too, while you’re at it. If you have to get out of the pool to use the bathroom during your lesson, your child will have to get out, too, and he’ll probably be cold and unwilling to get back into the pool.


And here’s a bonus tip for when you’re in the pool:

Don’t Wear out the Water’s Welcome

Keep your eye on the clock. It’s always better to leave them wanting more.

Posted in preparation | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

What to Do When Swimming Lessons Aren’t Working

You’ve ponied up the big bucks to give your kids swimming lessons. They have to learn—it’s unsafe not to. You want them to learn—it’s summer, and the whole family could be having fun at the pool. Somehow, the lessons just aren’t working.

Make sure you’re making the most of swimming lessons.

If you haven’t already, read the post dedicated to this topic. If you’ve tried those five tips as well as the ones below and your swimming school still doesn’t feel right, consider switching schools. Sometimes the associations kids make during the first few lessons can influence their attitudes as they continue. Sometimes the teachers aren’t a good fit for your kids. Sometimes the pool is just too darn cold.

Understand that plateaus are a normal part of learning.

Plateaus are normal. So are setbacks. Sometimes increased awareness of what’s going on can actually make performance worse for a while, but that awareness is critical. It’s part of the learning process.

Your kids might get frustrated or discouraged at this point and want to stop trying. At first, they weren’t aware of the mistakes they were making. Now that they’ve got more awareness, they can focus on the mistakes they were making before but just didn’t notice. Try to keep your own expectations reasonable and to keep from adding to your kids’ frustration. Encourage them and let them know that the experience is part of getting better. If you worry, you’ll pass those feelings on to your kids. Instead, focus on providing support and trying new things, like games, that will strengthen what your kids have already gotten and spur them on to try new things.

If the plateau lasts more than two weeks, consult your kids’ swimming teacher, ask for help, and consider adding two or three private lessons in one week. (If that’s daunting, get the book and try some lessons on your own.)

Help your kids learn by reinforcing their swimming lessons on your own time.

Even if you don’t have access to a pool, there’s a lot you can do to teach your kids to swim. Look at the category “on land” for a list of posts that include exercises for each swimming skill that you and your kids can do when you’re dry.

If you do have access to a pool, ask your kids’ swimming teacher for specific suggestions for exercises to work on outside of class, or use the posts on how to teach individual swimming skills for ideas. Don’t forget that just visualizing and talking with your kids about what they’ve learned gives their learning a big boost.

Get some insights into how your kids’ minds and bodies influence how they learn and how they experience the water.

Kids’ minds, bodies, and feelings aren’t the same as grownups’. It’s possible that you’re expecting something from your kids that they’re not developmentally ready for. It’s possible that you or your kids’ swimming teachers are sending signals that are making it harder for your kids to learn. Check out these posts for detailed information about how kids learn and experience the water:

Make it fun.

Take it slow. Enjoy each other. Have fun. If you don’t enjoy each other and have fun, not only is it going to be hard for you to teach your child to swim, but also you’re going to miss an opportunity for bonding and creating happy lifelong memories for you and your kids.

Remember your priorities: safety and fun. If you’re worried about your kids’ progress, you’re not having fun. If you’re not having fun, your kids aren’t having fun. If they’re not having fun, they won’t want to keep getting in the pool. Smile! Hug! Giggle! Relax into the process. Trust that your kids will learn to swim, if not today, then soon. Did I mention the fun?

Posted in expectations, kids' bodies, kids' feelings, kids' minds, learning, on land, physiology | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Time to Play! Feeling the Water

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them. Helping your kids get a feel for the water will give them a leg up when they’re learning every swimming skill. This game can help give them awareness of how moving their bodies in the water feels.

Play Rock-a-bye Baby. (If your kids are older, you can make it campy, even though they’ll secretly enjoy it.) Start by holding your child just at the surface of the water. When you get to “the cradle will fall,” allow your arms to drop a few inches quickly. Your child will get a feel for being in the water by himself with all the security of your arms. After you’ve played a few times, talk about the physical sensations of rocking in the water and falling. Is it fun? Does it feel delicious?

Posted in games, kids' bodies | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Why What You Wear to the Pool Can Make or Break Your Swimming Lesson

How you prepare for a swimming lesson can be the difference between pleasure and pain in the pool. What you and your kids wear is an important part of that preparation. What am I talking about? Isn’t it pretty much put-on-a-bathing-suit-and-hop-in? You need a little more prep that that to make sure teaching your kids to swim is fun for everyone. Here are 5 do’s and don’ts to make sure you and your kids are effectively outfitted.

Do Wear Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen liberally twenty minutes or so before you get into the pool. This is a safety issue as well as a comfort issue. Sun exposure can lead to long-term skin damage, including cancer. In the short term, it can lead to a painful sunburn. You might also consider having your child wear a long-sleeved T-shirt that’s designed for sun protection over his swimsuit.

Do Wear Synthetic Fabrics

If you do have him wear a T-shirt, choose a synthetic fabric designed to dry quickly, not cotton. Cotton becomes heavy when it’s wet. It can also become rough and uncomfortable to the skin when it’s wet. It does nothing to keep you warm in the water, and once you get out of the water, a wet cotton T-shirt will continue to draw heat from your body, keeping you as cold as if you’d remained in the pool.

Do Wear a Wet Suit If the Pool Is Cool

Consider a wet suit if the pool is cool. Kids lose body heat faster than adults. Most pools are kept at 70 to 80 degrees F. The ideal pool temperature for kids is at least 80 degrees F, preferably warmer. For infants, the pool must be very warm, around 95 degrees F.

Do Wear Goggles

If your child will wear them, he’ll be more comfortable learning to swim if he wears goggles. They’re great for protecting his eyes from the pool chemicals and for helping him adjust to putting his head under the water.

You can have your child practice wearing goggles on dry land and in the swimming pool. If he’s already used to wearing goggles before he gets into the pool for the first time, he’ll have one fewer new thing to adjust to.

Don’t Wear Sunglasses

This don’t is especially for you, grownup. You want to be able to have good eye contact with your child. If you need to shield your eyes from the sun, choose a baseball cap or another hat with a brim.


Posted in on land, preparation | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Time to Play! Getting into the Pool

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them. This game can help you ease a kid who’s nervous about the water into climbing into the swimming pool.

Have your child pretend to be a plant or tree reaching its roots into the ground. Have him sit on the edge of the pool. How does it feel when the tips of his roots—I mean toes—touch the water? Can he dip them in farther? Can he wiggle and stretch them? Can he stand on the step and reach his arms up like branches while his legs are under the surface? Can he stretch his roots down to the next step? What nutrients are his roots getting from the water? What kind of tree is he? A cherry tree? Does he giggle if you pick cherries from his branches? Try not to tickle!

Posted in games | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ready, Set, Swim!

If you’ll be making a lot of trips to the swimming pool for lessons this summer, do yourself a favor and put together a kit of supplies you’ll take with you every time you go. Make a list and keep it with your pool kit. Check the list before you go to the pool, and replenish the supplies when you get home.

Prepare to Get into the Pool

Before you get into the swimming pool, gather the toys, equipment and clothing you’ll need, and plan what you’ll do. This post will focus on the toys and equipment you’ll need.

Toys and equipment

Depending on what skills you’ll be practicing, you might want to bring toys that will help you to teach your kids to swim. They can be specialized, or they can just be things you have around the house.

Washcloths and hand towels are great for providing a cool, comfortable place for your child to sit on the edge of the pool. They’re also good for games.

Coins serve not only as something to retrieve from the bottom of the pool but also as built-in motivation to retrieve it.

Foam noodles and rings for the pool can be great teaching tools, but you can also use toys that aren’t designed specifically for swimming, such as regular balls and other toys. Just make sure you know which ones float and which ones sink.

Dog toys are great for kids to play with in the pool. They come in a huge variety of sizes and fun shapes.

Whatever objects you use, make sure that they’re appropriate for your child’s developmental level.

Tools like kickboards, inflatable armbands, and fins can be useful for getting kids to feel comfortable and confident in the water, but they also have downsides:

  • They can give your child too much confidence. You don’t want to experience the moment when your child, not yet water safe, jumps into the pool because he forgot that he didn’t have his armbands on.
  • They don’t teach kids to swim. Being in the water without one of these tools doesn’t feel the same as being in the water with them; time spent using them isn’t helping with actual swimming skills.
  • They can become a crutch. If you don’t ditch them early enough in the learning process, your child will start to feel uncomfortable in the water without them and won’t be willing to give them up easily.
Posted in preparation, teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Make the Most of Your Kids’ Swimming Lessons

You’re shelling out a small fortune to ensure that your kids learn to swim. It’s a great gift that you’re giving them, one they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives. It will help to keep them safe. It will let them have fun. It’s the gateway skill to all sorts of other great water sports: surfing, kayaking, water polo, yachting, aquaerobics. How do you make the most of those lessons, though? How do you make sure that the lessons take, instead of just taking up summertime?

5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Kids’ Swimming Lessons

  1. Angle for the best teacher in the school. If the school’s owner gives lessons one day a week, sign up for that day. If the owner doesn’t seem to mesh with your kids, ask the owner who the best teacher is. Ask other parents who the best teacher is. Get that teacher. Most of the swimming teachers will be college students who are swimmers, not teachers. They’ve gone through a slapdash training program. They’re following a checklist, and they don’t know what to do if your kids need a little something more than what’s on the checklist. You need someone who has experience and an emotional (and preferably financial too) investment in teaching swimming to provide that something extra that will help your kids past the rough spots.
  2. Pay attention. That half hour may be the one solid break in your day, and you could spend it reading a good book or checking email, but don’t. Instead, pay attention to what your kids are practicing in class. You can use that later.
  3. Ask for a recap. It’s tempting to rush straight to the car or the changing room after class, but don’t. Instead, bring a warm drink in a thermos and a big fuzzy towel, wrap your child up and help him get warm, and ask for a one-minute recap of the day’s class. What was the point of the lesson? How did the teacher get it across? Was your child getting it?
  4. Review and visualize. A couple of times a day, discuss the swimming lesson with your kids. It doesn’t have to be a big discussion—a minute or two should do it. Talk about what you observed (that’s what the paying attention was for!) and about what you learned in the recap with the teacher. Ask your kids to imagine that they’re back in the pool and picture themselves going through the motions they learned in class. This visualization exercise, the same one that elite athletes use, will help your kids retain what they’ve learned from lesson to lesson. It will even improve their bodies’ muscle memory. (Weird but true.) One or two lessons a week aren’t going to give your kids the frequency of practice they need to retain much of what they learn. Just talking and thinking about it can help preserve at least some of that learning from lesson to lesson.
  5. Practice. If you’ve got access to a swimming pool between lessons, get in there with your kids. Have fun, and work on the same things they’ve been learning in their swimming lessons. Play games that support learning the skills your kids have been working on in class. If you don’t have a place to get wet (don’t forget the bathtub for practicing some of the basics like blowing bubbles), there are lots of swimming skills that you can practice or enhance with exercises on dry land. (Check out the archives for more tips.)

Even if you’re paying somebody else to teach your kids to swim (and there are reasons to do it yourself), these tips and a few minutes a day of your time can make those lessons go farther and can help your kids to learn to swim and to achieve water safety faster.

Posted in learning, teaching | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

How to Teach Your Kids to Swim

You’re doing your kids a great service by teaching them to swim. You’re helping to keep them safe and providing them with a skill they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, either on its own or as a necessary part of the vast array of great water sports. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

Getting Your Head in the Right Place

Teaching your child to swim can be a celebration of your relationship, punctuated by fun, hugs and laughter. It can also be a miserable experience for both of you. It all depends on your expectations and on your approach. Before you even think about getting into the pool, you need to decide how to make sure your expectations and approach are designed to make sure the experience is a joyful and productive one.

You don’t have to be perfect at this to have a great time with your child while you’re teaching him to swim. Like any skill, teaching will get easier the more you do it. Remember to keep your goals in mind:

  • Teaching your child to be water safe
  • Making it a fun and intuitive experience

Remember to be patient with yourself and your child. Trust yourself. You can do it. Use the lessons in this blog, and consider getting the book to give yourself every advantage when you’re teaching your kids to swim.


Posted in expectations, teaching | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Teaching Your Kids the Side Breathing Swimming Skill: Mastery

Now that you’ve taught your kids the basics of turning their heads to breathe while they’re swimming, here are the steps you can take to teach your kids to master side breathing.

Build on What You Know

After your child has gotten the hang of turning his head for single breaths, you can increase it to a sequence of them, starting with two and working his way to the width or length of the pool using this kind of breathing. Keep in mind that he won’t need a breath every stroke. Typically, a pattern of taking a breath every other or every third stroke on one side is comfortable.

Work with the Water

It’s likely that he’ll swallow some water and some air during this process. Warn him in advance that water might get in his mouth and practice having him spit it out. Make sure to give him plenty of opportunities to burp so that he’ll avoid getting a stomachache from swallowing air.

Refine the Form

When he’s comfortable with the process of turning his head to breathe, you can help him refine his form.

  • Have him think of pointing his nose toward the bottom of the pool when he’s not taking a breath.
  • Have him focus on having his head turned just enough, so that his mouth is clear of the water but the water is still touching the outer edge of his eye.
  • Have him focus on swiveling his head instead of lifting it.


Posted in teaching | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments