Time to Play! Treading 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. Try using this game to teach your kids how treading water feels in different positions.

Have your kids move in the water like ducks. Like dogs. Like bears. Like elephants. Show them videos of land animals in the water. What’s as fun as watching an elephant swim? This is also a great time to talk about how humans may have to learn to swim, unlike other land animals that are born knowing how, but how we can become much more graceful swimmers than the animals that tread water all the time.

5 Keys to Teaching Kids to Tread Water

Once you’ve taught your kids the basics of treading water, you’re ready to teach them these five keys that will let them tread water for a long time with minimal effort.

Teaching Kids Five Keys of Treading Water

Over the course of several lessons, you can teach them these nuances to help your kids get stronger and more efficient at this important swimming skill.

Slow Movements

When they’re first learning to tread water, your kids will get tired easily. They’ll move his arms and legs quickly. It’s counterintuitive, but moving their arms and legs slowly will support them better than moving them quickly. Have them experiment with speed.

Egg-Beater Legs

As he becomes more comfortable, have him experiment with moving his legs like old-fashioned eggbeaters. With both of his legs bent at the hip and the knee, as if he’s sitting in a chair, have your child move first one leg and then the other, with the motion coming from the knee. Ask him to draw a big circle in the water with one toe and then the other, moving the toe forward and then toward the center of his body before bringing it back, away from the center, and forward again.

Alternating Movements

Have him work toward moving both legs at the same time. The rhythmic, alternating movement of the legs means that when one foot is forward, the other foot is back. This method of moving the legs is so efficient that it allows you to tread water without using the arms at all.

Figure 8 Hands

Have him practice making figure 8’s with his hands, making his hands into cups to maximize water resistance.

Minimal Effort

Have your child practice treading water with as little effort as possible. If he’s breathing hard, ask him to slow down. Take as many breaks as necessary, and work toward the point where your child can tread water for five minutes without taking a break, touching the bottom, or holding onto the side of the pool.

Teaching Your Kids to Tread Water: Stage 1

First, teach your kids the basic concept of what they’ll do with their arms and legs to tread water. It won’t be pretty at first, but it will get them started. Here’s how.

The First Stage of Teaching Your Kids to Tread Water

Stand next to your child in the water. Ask him to dig holes with his hands and ride a bike with his legs. Let him grab you for support or a break whenever he needs to.

Tips for Teaching This Swimming Skill

  • Make sure your child’s chin is up, pointing at the sky.
  • Make sure his arms and legs stay under the water instead of thrashing in the air.
  • Have him practice until he feels confident treading water while you’re a pace or two out of his reach.

Why Teaching Your Kids to Tread Water Matters More Than Teaching Them to Float

Lots of swimming lessons teach kids the back float early on, but that’s counterproductive. Why?

Why Teaching Kids to Tread Water Should Come Before Teaching Them to Float

Treading water is important for water safety. While many swimming programs emphasize floating, floating is actually a more advanced skill. Although it helps kids to learn the idea of how their body should be positioned in the water—horizontally—their body composition and shape make it very tough for kids to learn to float without moving.

Treading water, on the other hand, is an easy, natural motion for your child. It will give him confidence in the water and help to develop his feel for how his body moves in the water.

While it’s a good thing to learn to float eventually, focusing on floating when your kids are just starting their swimming lessons can leave them demoralized and ready to give up. If they can tread water effectively, they can start to gain the confidence that will help them move on to more advanced swimming skills quickly and easily.