Beginner Swimming Techniques: Week 2

Last week, in Beginner Swimming Techniques: Week 1, we covered properly entering the pool and kicking. This week, in Beginner Swimming Techniques: Week 2, we want to add arms to develop the Front Crawl/Free Style Stroke; the first stroke we recommend teaching your beginner swimmer. We will also introduce Floating; a life saving skill that all children need to learn and practice regularly to help them be safe in water!

Important Note to Parents: Parents, we want you to be aware that the front crawl/free style stroke is a basic swimming skill that we are teaching at the basic level. If your child expresses interest in being on a swim team when they get older, please sign them up for actual in-person swim lessons. Also, if you yourself have swam at a competitive level, it is important that you remember that when teaching the basic skill here it is best to not be overly concerned with technique. The purpose of the Teach Your Child to Swim -Summer Series, is to equip you with the basic knowledge to help your child to be a better swimmer, a more confident swimmer, thus being safer in the pool!

Chrissy (the series co-author) shares that when she teaches lessons she always recommends that parents try to swim with their children at least 2-3 times per week (a Tub Swim Time counts). In order to become a stronger swimmer, your child needs more time in the water to practice. Swimming also needs to be fun experience, so to ensure that it is, Chrissy recommends that you only have the instructional time last 15-20 minutes for children under the age of 5 years old, and 30-45 minutes for those children 6 years and older. Be sensitive to when your child is getting tired and take a break from the lesson if you need too; we want them to really enjoy swimming. As you continue to work with them, their swimming skills will continue to improve and so will their self-confidence if you are gentle with them and sensitive to their fears or needs.

Front Crawl/Free Style (1st Stroke to Introduce)

While ‘Doggie Paddle’ was possibly the first attempted stroke that most us learned as children, and although it may be easy and tempting to teach our children to doggie paddle, we believe it is important and a better choice to teach the Front Crawl/Free Style stroke from the very beginning. (Do not begin this lesson until after your child knows how to kick properly.)

Introducing Front Crawl/Free Style Arms:

1. Begin, by having your child sit on the side of the pool.

(You can remind your child of the motion their arms are to make, by having them hold onto your thumbs, and then you move their arms in the correct motion. This ensures they experience the correct movement before being asked to perform it by themselves.)

2. Discuss that when we swim we want to scoop the water. We want our fingers to touch each other to make a spoon, we don’t want forks-fingers not touching. (There are several ways to introduce this, but we ourselves prefer hands like “spoons not forks” or “ice cream scoops”-fingers together not letting any ice cream get away)

3. Demonstrate the correct hand position you discussed with your child and then help them to practice on the side of the pool. It is helpful to practice in the air for a minute or two to catch any mistakes the child might be making, once they are in the water it is hard to see if they are doing something incorrectly.

4. With your child on the side of the pool have them place their arms down at their side. With one arm (it doesn’t matter which arm), have them slide their thumb up the side of their body. When the thumb gets to their armpit, have them slide their hand behind their ear and shoot their hand forward to grab has much ‘water’ has possible. Once the arm is straightened forward have them pull the water towards them moving the hand towards the hip and ‘throwing’ the water behind them. The motion is like climbing a latter. While the first arm is pulling through the water the second arm starts and this motion continues.

*Note: Parents, practice this a few times before taking your child to swim and you will realize it is just your natural arm motion. Although it sounds complicated, we are just breaking apart a natural ‘swimmer’ arm motion.


1. While practicing and introducing this skill, pretend like you are scooping ice cream. Ask your child what their favorite ice cream is, then practice scooping it. First scoop strawberry then chocolate, etc. but remind them not to let any melted drops get through their fingers!

Front Crawl/Free Style Arms and Legs (Putting It All Together):

After practicing this on the side of the pool, we need to practice this in the water. Have you child practice their kicking for a few minutes, and then begin adding the arm skill. For some young children, it is hard to put two skills together at the same time so aways start with the legs. You will need to remind them to keep kicking once they start to use their arms; it’s inevitable! :)

1. To begin, hold your child by their waist; you should be facing the direction they will be swimming. Your child’s chin should be in the water or very close to the water. (This is why we practice blowing bubbles and taking water in and spitting it out.)

2. Reassure them they are safe. Your child might want to grab onto you for reassurance, especially if your child is very fearful. (It is our hope that if you are this far in teaching your child to swim, that they already have a strong level of confidence in you helping them in the water.) If needed, you can place a noodle under their chest to help keep them a float.

3. Throw a toy, and have the child swim for it. This will help get their arms reaching out in front of their body rather than under their body. Once they get to the toy, praise them, take a break if needed, then throw the toy further and have them swim to the toy again. This activity also teaches them to keep their eyes forward, looking at where they are swimming.

(Big Brother’s favorite is jumping in then swimming to the side. This has been a perfect time to work on his Front Crawl using both his arms and legs!)

Later, if you place a flotation aid on your child, remind them to keep using their arms. When having the aid of a flotation device, the need of using their arms is less and often forgotten, hence the reason we encourage you not to use on during the lesson.


Floating is a basic life saving skill that all kids should know!

1. To teach this skill, squat down or kneel on the bottom of the pool. Have your child lay their head on your shoulder, this will allow you to take to your child and to reassure them that you have them and that they are okay.

(Notice, Big Brother was a little nervous at first even after practicing floating frequently. He soon relaxed, trusted me, and moved his arm from around my neck to out to the side. Floating can be a challenge for all children even those who are comfortable in the water!)

2. Then place a hand under your child’s back.

3. Have them place their arms out to the side.

4. Your child’s ears should be wet and they should be looking up toward the sky or ceiling. (This is the same skill we taught in the Tub Swim Time.) Remind your child that they should also do this in the pool, if that it is a skill you taught to them in the tub. Tell your child to push their belly up towards the sky or ceiling.

Parent Pointers:

  • Many children want to hold their breath when they float. It is important that they continue to breath filling their stomach and lungs with fresh air.
  • Talk to your child has they float – this allows them to breath and not hold their breath. Once you child is comfortable start to slide their head off your shoulder-look at them, smile, and or rub their back with your hand so they feel that you are still there to help them.

Next week we will equip you to teach a basic Breast Stroke-the way many children swim under the water, how to roll over from swimming into a back float (great safety technique). See you next week! :)

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. Great Photos!!!

  2. So excited to start practicing these. Your son looks so relaxed and comfortable in your arms! You would laugh so hard right now because i just started practicing the arm movements in front of the computer and my husband gave me the weirdest look! lol. Thanks for sharing. These are great.

  3. What a fabulous tutorial! We missed out on swimming lessons this summer, so this will be perfect as I try to teach my four-year-old how to swim. I’d love your permission to include your series in an upcoming post on my blog about great tips and projects around the ‘net. Would you mind if I used one of your pictures in my post? Thanks so much! (PS, I found you on Tip Junkie.)

  4. Wow! These are the same things both of my kids did in their swim lessons! Thanks for sharing the post on this week’s Kids Co-Op link up!

  5. How to I help my 4 year old overcome his fear of being in water wear he can’t touch when I am holding him. I can’t think of a single reason why he has this fear. its so frustrating because other than this he is a fish. Can’t hardly get him out of the water.

  6. Wonderfully explained! I never thought of it, but teaching my kids to dog paddle really isn’t going to help them like learning the actual swim stroke. Great idea of calling it an ice cream scoop – I know my daughter will love that!

    And, thank you for teaching me a better way to teach her to float on her back – never thought about having her head on my shoulder!


  1. […] Teach your kids to swim… Love these tips for parents. Great for when the swimming lessons have ended, but the kids could still use the practice. […]

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