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.

3 Things Water Safety Isn’t

Once you’re confident that your kids are water safe, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve done your job. The swimming lessons are over. Teaching your kids to swim really paid off.

Don’t pour that margarita and lose yourself in a summer read just yet, though. When you understand what water safety means, it’s also important to have a good grasp of what it doesn’t mean.

3 Things Water Safety Doesn’t Mean

  • It doesn’t mean that you’ve removed all risk. Swimming, like the rest of life, will never be completely without risk. Water is a powerful element. Even water that doesn’t look overly rough can toss large adults around. Have fun but be careful.
  • It doesn’t mean being able to swim without adult supervision. No one, including an adult, should ever swim alone. One slip and a bump on the head on dry land is probably nothing more than a boo-boo. In the water, it could mean death.
  • It doesn’t mean being a competitive swimmer. Mastering the major strokes requires many hours of committed training. The number of hours to mastery being thrown around these days is 10,000. That’s five years of forty-hour work weeks. Not many swimmers have that much training under their trunks.

Mastery also requires a high level of motor development. Your child’s level of coordination in the water will look a lot like his coordination on land. Before you find yourself disappointed with his crawl, ask yourself how good he is at jumping rope.

5 Ways You’ll Know Your Kids Are Water-Safe

Your goal is to teach your kids to be safe in the water. What exactly does that mean, though? How will you know that your kids are water safe?

What Water Safety Means

Being water safe means your kids have the skills they need to maneuver in the water with control and confidence. It’s not a guarantee that an accident couldn’t happen. Neither is having a driver’s license. It is a foundation that gives your kids what they need to swim with appropriate supervision in safe conditions.

Good indicators that your kids have gotten to this point are:

1. They can swim the width or length of the pool.

It’s easy for them to take breaths along the way whenever they need them.

2. They can tread water for at least three minutes in any depth.

Three minutes might not sound like very long, but give it a try yourself. If you haven’t mastered the fine art and form of treading, you’re likely to tire yourself out.

If your kids are good at treading water, though, their boundless energy will let them keep going a lot longer than you’d think possible—much longer than minimum of three minutes.

3. They can get into the pool by themselves easily.

Your kids should be able to get into the pool, either by jumping in from the side or from sitting on the edge. (Once your kids are swimming, the real trick is to keep them from soaking you with a cannonball every chance they get.)

4. They can get out of the pool by themselves easily.

This is a big one, because while even a great swimmer can’t tread water forever, it doesn’t take a great swimmer to get to the edge of the pool and get out. Your kids should be able to get out of the pool by grabbing the side and pulling themselves out or by swimming to the stairs or ladder and climbing out.

5. They can pick things up from the bottom of the pool.

This one indicator (that’s coincidentally a lot of fun) shows that your kids have mastered several critical swimming skills, including holding their breath underwater, moving effectively through the water, and surfacing.

    Celebrate water safety when you get there, but don’t ever underestimate the power of the water or let your kids swim without supervision.