Beginner Swimming Techniques: Lesson 4

Underwater Breathing Techniques:

Once your child is able to swim a few feet with the Front Crawl/Freestyle stroke combining both their arms and legs and on their own, you are ready to begin introducing them to Beginner Underwater Breathing. Present this as a ‘secret key’ to helping them swim further; swimming with your face in the water is easier and conserves energy. However, some children are just not comfortable with having their face in the water; for those children this technique may come more slowly. Do not give-up on your child if that is the case, with encouragement and consistent practice they can build up the confidence they need!  It is important that your child continues to practice blowing bubbles and splashing water in their face.

‘Very Basic’ Underwater Breathing (This is great for toddlers and young children with a little fear of going underwater or do not like water in their ears; this is easy to teach and practice but is not the ‘correct’ technique nor the final goal for breathing.)

1. Introduce the basic head motion by having them sit on the side of the pool and having them

  • place their chin on their chest and hold their breath
  • raise their head up breathe out and in
  • lower their head to their chest and hold their breath again (repeat)
Continue this until is becomes a ‘fluid’ motion, more of a natural movement for your child.
2. Next, have them enter the pool and begin practicing this same technique while standing in water just below their shoulders.
3. Then, have them hold on to the side of the pool, a kick board, or another floating device and practice this motion in a horizontal position.
Encourage your child to straighten their arms; they might be hesitant at first. 
Support your child around their waist line.
Sometimes independent practice allows your child to practice a skill on their own time, when they are ready.
4. When your child is ready, remove the kick board or parental support and encourage the child to swim a few feet on their own while using their breathing. This may take lots of encouragement and repeated practice.
*Note: Remember do not stop with this skill, swimming with a ‘head up’ motion will slow your child down while swimming and cause their stomach and legs to sink down each time they breathe. Next, being teaching them Proper Underwater Breathing.
Proper Underwater Breathing: (If your child is older or does not seem to need extra encouragement to put their head in the water, you can begin with the Proper Underwater Breathing and skip the above ‘Very Basic’ skill!)
 The goal of Proper Underwater Breathing is to help your child learn to swim long distances while taking breaths that least effect their swimming, keeping them horizontal and natural in their breathing motion.
1. Begin, by having your child stand in the water and hold on to the side of the pool. Make it fun, by placing a few pennies on the bottom of the pool and asking your child to look to see if they can see anything on the bottom of the pool (or even how many pennies they see)- This is also a great time to encourage the use of goggles!
2. Next, have them put their face in the water and blow bubbles. Tell them when they have blown all their air out, to turn their face to the side and out of the water to take a breath.
3. Repeat this motion face in the water exhaling or blowing bubbles, then turning towards the side to take a breath.  Encourage them to switch sides for breathing. {“Head in, Breathe to the Right, Head in, Breathe to the Left, Head in, etc.”}
(Independent practice of ‘Head in’; with a little hesitation. Practicing in our ‘kiddie pool’; hence the grass!) 
(‘Breathe to the right’ practice with prompting. We also refer to this as ‘dip your ear’ for beginning practice.)
4. When your child is ready have them hold on to the side of the pool, with a kick board or float and practice this skill horizontally in the water.
5. Finally, encourage them to swim a few feet while using their Proper Underwater Breathing.
 Breathing Reminders!
  • It is important to remind your child that water in their eyes is okay and that you don’t need to rub them.
  •  It is helpful to encourage children to ‘blow their nose’ while their face is in the water, preventing water from coming up their nose

Beginner Breaststroke Techniques:

Chrissy shares: “Breaststroke is a difficult swimming skill.  Many children swim some sport of breaststroke when they swim underwater.  Please remember this is a basic instruction for teaching breast stroke,  we suggest that if you want your child to be on a swim team they will need some formal swim lessons especially with breaststroke.”
Like all skills you will want to learn and practice the arms and legs separately while sitting on the side of the pool. Once your child masters the arms, then you move into practicing the leg motions alone, then finally combine the both together.
I (Mackenzie) share about our experience teaching our toddlers to swim: “While Big Brother is no where near ready to begin swimming Breaststroke, I have taught him the basic leg and arm motions outside of the water. For now, we will continue to practice them outside the water and then as his gross motor skills improve while swimming I will encourage him to try these motions in the water.” 
For the legs:
(These pictures are not quite ‘perfect’ (ex. toes not pointed), but let’s call it ‘toddler quality’! :) 
1. Begin with legs together and straight.
2. Now, pull the legs(while together) toward the chest until knees are bend.
3. Next, with the knees bent, open the legs and point the toes out towards each side.  The legs kick out to the side and become straight ( the legs should look like a V).
4. Finally, pull legs in together and straight (as in step 1).
5. The motion repeats itself.
In the water you can practice the legs with a kick board or noodle.  Once your child is comfortable with the legs add the arms into motion.
For the arms:
1. Start with palms together hands in a praying motion, holding hands in against your child’s chest.
2. While holding their hands together have your child push their hands/arms forward has if they are cutting down the middle of a pie.
3. Then have your child turn their hands so the palms of their hands are no longer touching.  The arm motion now moves to pulling water around and back to their chest.  I tell kids after they cut the pie, they turn their hands and scoop the crust of the pie, pulling and scooping the water back in towards their chest.
4. The motion repeats itself.
Lesson 4 concludes our Beginner Swimming Techniques Lessons (1-4). During these 4 technique lessons, we have taught you the basics for teaching your child to swim. If you child takes further interest in swimming we encourage you to get lessons with a trained professional and or sign your child up for a beginners swim team. Thank you for joining us and we would love for you to check out other tips and activities in the Teach Your Child to Swim- Summer Series! Happy Swimming! 
The Teach Your Child to Swim-Summer Swim Series is co-authored by Mackenzie and her long-time friend Chrissy. Mackenzie has experience as a lifeguard for over five years and has been teaching swim lessons at YMCAs, summer camps, and private lessons for over ten years. She has recently been working with her own toddler boys and teaching them to swim. Chrissy has 13 years of experience as a lifeguard and swim instructor. She has also been the Aquatics Director for a the YMCA for 5 years. Chrissy has years of work teaching infants through adults how to swim.
Adult Supervision Required-Every water activity shared in the Teach Your Child to Swim-Summer Series requires adult supervision by an adult at ALL times.


  1. Love this series! Thank you so much for passing this info on.:)

  2. Seeing a lot of strides with Kenzie, who started out a lot more timid of the water. Abby is showing resistance when it comes to trying things without a life jacket in the lake. Gotta keep up with all your tips and make sure to get in the water daily. Thanks for this series.

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