Swimming Skills: What to Teach When

When you’re teaching your kids to swim, you need to start with the simple and work toward the complex. How do you break down the complex act of swimming into simple parts that build on each other?

Simple. Help your child to master the skills in this order. Each of the following skills provides a basis for the skills that follow it. Working through the skills in this order will allow your child to feel confident and achieve competence at each stage of the learning process. Starting with the next post, I’ll provide detailed how-to’s for teaching each skill.

Teach Swimming Skills in This Order

  • Getting into the pool
  • Feeling the water
  • Holding onto the wall and climbing out
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Putting his head under water
  • Kicking
  • Gliding in streamline or torpedo position
  • Popup breathing
  • Body shape and position
  • Treading water
  • Moving underwater
  • Back float
  • Rudimentary crawl and backstroke
  • Turning his head to breathe

6 Tips for Making the Most of Each Swimming Lesson

Keep these six tips in mind when you’re teaching your kids to swim, and you’ll maximize your bang for the minutes spent in the water.

Tips for Getting the Most out of Every Swimming Lesson

Making the most of every swimming lesson will give your kids the best chance of learning to swim quickly and painlessly. Keep these tips in mind while you’re teaching and planning your swimming lessons.

Start exposing your child to water as early in life as possible.

Fear and uncertainty are more likely to develop as kids get older. The sooner they get used to feeling comfortable in the water, the easier it will be for you to teach them to swim.

Have short, frequent lessons.

Kids’ minds and bodies get tired quickly. Don’t let distraction and discomfort detract from the learning experience. Teach your kids to swim in short bursts as often as possible.

Provide as much opportunity to practice as possible, and make sure that a good chunk of that is unstructured.

When you’re teaching your kids to swim, give them time to explore the skills you’re teaching. They’ll learn a lot from self-directed practice.

Set aside time for a play activity that your child chooses in the middle and at the end of each lesson.

When you’re teaching them to swim, keeping it fun will keep your kids wanting more. Even if they’re working hard on something, knowing that they get to have fun—and decide exactly what form the fun will—take will help keep your kids motivated while they’re learning.

Teach in three to four feet of water, where an adult can stand firmly without feeling too buoyant.

Safety is the first priority when you’re teaching your kids to swim. Making them feel secure is important, too. Make sure that you’re as stable as possible so that you can provide solid physical support.

Practice swimming toward the wall or steps.

When you’re teaching a swimming lesson, part of what you’re doing is establishing habits. If you’re kids get used to swimming toward the wall during a lesson, it will make heading toward the wall automatic, a great thing in case of emergencies.

How Teaching Something New Is Like a Movie Trailer

You go into a movie theater. The lights dim. You settle deeper into your seat. Maybe you start munching your popcorn. The first movie trailer starts, and you’re riveted. How is this like teaching your kids to swim?

How Is Teaching Kids a New Swimming Skill Like a Movie Trailer?

Is it the suspense? The dark? The popcorn? Nope. It’s the idea that you introduce a preview a new skill and let the concept sink in before you make it the focus of a lesson.

Be Patient

Many parents want to spend most of their time in the pool working on something new. It’s understandable. You want to see your kids make progress, and moving on to something new is a sure way to see your kids doing something new.

Resist the urge. Exercise patience. If your child still has a lot of room to learn more about the skill you’ve been reviewing, devote the whole lesson to review instead.

Teaching Something New Is Like a Movie Trailer

If your child is close to mastering the skill you’ve been reviewing, though, it’s time to introduce a new skill. Here’s the trick: Treat the introduction of the new skill as a preview of tomorrow’s lesson. Use it as a way to build excitement and anticipation.

Choosing What to Teach

Choose a new skill that builds on something your child has already mastered. Make sure you choose a single step to work on. For example, if you’re working on a new arm movement, don’t try to add a new leg movement at the same time. The new skill should feel mildly challenging at most. If it feels hard, provide more support or back off and practice a slightly easier version of the same skill.

Before You Introduce Something New

By the time you’re in the pool, you’ve already discussed what you’ll be doing. Give your child a brief reminder and start teaching. Remember to demonstrate what your child will be doing, let him explore, and give him praise and feedback. Take two or three minutes to have him learn the basic idea.

Keep It Simple

Once you’re in the pool, try to narrow your verbal instructions down to just a couple of words. If you need to explain something in more depth, take a break so that your child doesn’t have to divide his attention between listening to you and trying to do what you’re asking him to do.

How to Make the Most of Your Time in the Water When You’re Teaching Your Kids to Swim

Once you’re in the water, the clock is ticking. You have a limited amount of time before your child gets tired, hungry, cold, or burned out. How can you make the most of it?

Take It out of the Water

Make the most of your time in the water by doing whatever you can to prepare when you’re out of the water. (More on how to do that later this week.) Don’t spend your valuable time in the water during your swimming lesson doing things you could do just as well on land.

Keep Yourself on Track

One way to keep yourself on track and keep from wasting time when you’re teaching your kids to swim is to write your lesson plan on an index card and put it into a waterproof plastic bag. Read your lesson plan before you get into the water and refer to it if you need to during the lesson. That way, you won’t keep your kids waiting (and shivering and getting bored) while you’re figuring out what comes next.