Taking Your Kids to the Swimming Pool for their First Lesson

You’ve got all your gear ready to go. You’re well rested, and so are your kids. You’ve read the book and perused the blog, learning how to teach and what to teach. You’re in the car and ready to go. What now? First, make sure you’ve got the kids in the car with you. No? Back into the house for them, then. Okay, ready?

Take it slow. Enjoy each other. Have fun. If you don’t enjoy each other and have fun, it’s going to be hard—maybe impossible—for you to teach your kids to swim. Your first visit to the pool will set the tone for the lessons to come. Use what you know about your child to make it a great experience for him, and he’ll be happy to come back again and again.

Know the Rules

When you get to the pool, show your child where the pool rules are posted and explain them, even if he can’t read yet. Make sure he understands never to go near or into the pool without an adult. Make sure he understands not to run in the pool area and not to jump or dive (unless the pool is deep enough and the rules allow it).

Know Where the Bathroom Is

Show him where the bathroom is. (You’ll be needing it before you get into the pool, anyway.) Check to see if there are any cool insects around, if he’s that age and that’s his thing. Ease into it.

Respect Your Kids’ Learning Styles

What kind of learner is your child? Does he like to observe from a distance? Does he like to jump right in? Respect his learning style.

If your child likes to observe before experiencing something for himself, this is the perfect opportunity to sit near the pool together and let him watch other kids playing. If your kid likes to jump into things right away, by all means get in the pool. Don’t rush things here, though. Spending the first day just watching other kids have fun is a good use of your time. If your child doesn’t even get his toes wet, that time hasn’t been wasted.

The lesson plan for your first lesson: let your child watch and explore. Don’t plan a formal lesson for the first visit. If it takes a few visits for your child to feel comfortable getting in the pool, don’t plan a formal lesson for the first time he actually gets into the pool, either.

Don’t force your child to get into the pool, and don’t let disappoint or disapproval color your interactions. This is for your child. It needs to happen at his pace. You can encourage your child to get in or to participate in play if you sense that he secretly kind of wants to, but don’t pressure him. If there’s another adult available to supervise your child, you can set an example by playing in the water while your child sits outside the pool and watches you. Provide encouragement, support, and time.

Before You Get into the Pool, Get Ready to Get Out

Even the best swimming lesson or play session in the water can turn ugly if you don’t have a plan for the moment you get out of the pool. Keep these four tasks in mind, and you and your kids will make it home (or at least back to the car) feeling as happy as you did in the water.

  1. Go straight from the pool to the shower after swimming. Kids’ skin is especially sensitive to pool chemicals.
  2. Don’t forget to have towels, a warm drink—even if it’s hot out—and a snack ready for right after your lesson. Swimming requires a lot of energy. Aside from all of the energy it takes to swim, there’s also a big energy expenditure just maintaining normal body temperature, even in a warm pool.
  3. It’s a good idea to have more than one towel for your child. If they’re big and fluffy, that’s even better. Spread your towels out so that the sun warms them while you’re in the pool. Use one towel to wrap around your child’s body while you use another to thoroughly dry his head and ears.
  4. Make sure to drain his ears and dry them well. Fluid trapped in the ear can be a breeding ground for outer ear infections. Have your child tilt his head from side to side to drain his ears. You can also use a blow dryer on the low setting to gently warm the air next to his ears.

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.

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.