One of the things I anticipated about having children was having the exciting privilege to teach them to swim. So, our first son entered the water (pool/ocean) from about one month old; our second entered around 4-5 months because he was born in December. You will notice that my husband is in many pictures teaching our boys to swim. My husband has had no training other than from me sharing a few techniques and pointers with him. Many dads love to swim with their kids, and it can be a great bonding time for all. Moms, share these pointers with your husbands to empower them to help teach your children to swim; show them that you trust them by inviting them to participate in this exciting adventure!
“Water Babies” has always been one of my favorite classes to teach! I loved watching parents interact with their babies and seeing them grow in confidence in the water at such a young age. A typical Water Babies class is one in which the instructor guides parents on how to orient their baby to the water, through activities, songs, and beginner swimming techniques. This week we are going to guide and equip you with the tools to conduct your own water babies class with your baby!
Disclaimer: The parent/adult working with a baby in the water must be a good swimmer and confident in their swimming skills.
During Week 1, we shared Water Orientation suggestions on how to help your child feel comfortable in the water by creating a ‘Tub Swim Time”. (Click here to revisit Week 1: Water Orientation-Creating a ‘Tub Swim’ Time.) Remember, water orientation begins taking place in infancy, through enjoyable bath experiences and also enjoyable pool experiences. Enjoyable pool experiences can be created through baby-specific activities, singing fun songs with water motions, and finally, when ready, beginning to introduce beginner swimming techniques. (Parents, if your toddler or even older child has never been exposed to a pool before, you can adjust these activities, to be more age appropriate, in order to introduce them to a pool (swimming) as well.)
(Big Brother’s first time in our home pool in CA. He wasn’t as thrilled with the idea as we were, but adjusted quickly.)
How to Begin:
1. Begin by holding your baby close to your body and enter the pool (this helps them to feel safe).
2. Work on getting your baby adjusted to the water temperature by gradually lowering them into the water. Bouncing around in the water slowly while lowering them may help them begin to grow in comfort.
3. Walk/swim around the pool with your baby, building their trust in you to protect them. When they show trust in you, then you begin working on Water Baby Activities and Singing with Water Motions.
Water Baby Activities
Because an adult is actively present with the baby at all times, these activities should first introduced without any type of PDF-Personal Flotation Devices (ex. floaties, lifejackets, babyboats, etc.). When babies begin to grow more independent (closer to age one) and do not want to be held as much, this is a great time to begin introducing them to PDFs.
- Floating in a ‘baby float’- A main purpose of a baby float is to increase your baby’s comfort in the water. This is a great opportunity for them to get used to being with you (the adult) in the water, but not being held by nor holding on to you.
- Kicking- The skill of kicking can begin even in babies who cannot yet sit on their own. Place your baby in a baby float and move their legs in a kicking motion for them. This introduces them to the idea of kicking. When your baby can sit on their own (around 6 months), have them sit on the side of the pool and move their legs for them, splashing the water. Work with them to kick the water on their own. Play with them and tease them about splashing you to encourage them to continue kicking. You can also use this time to teach them the words: big and little. Help them to make little kicks or splashes and then switch to helping them make big kicks and splashes. Work up to them understanding and obeying your voice command when you say big or little. This can be a fun game to play full of laughter!
- Splashing with arms- Splashing the water with their arms may seem silly and possibly pointless, but it is a great gross motor activity for small children. Splashing the water also helps the baby begin to get used to the idea of getting water on their face and other parts of their body, and eventually realizing the cause and effect of splashing is that when they splash they get themselves and (possibly) others wet. This also can be full of fun! Practicing splashing the water with arms can take place in a baby float, sitting on the side of a pool, or while being held by an adult in the pool.
- ‘Swimming’ to a toy- Grab a few soft pool toys that float and toss them a little distance away from you. Help the baby ‘swim’ to the toy and then reach out to grab it. You can also give your baby a few toys to play toss with you from their baby float.
- Jumping in- Begin introducing your baby to jumping in by holding both of your hands and gently bouncing them toward you into the water. This is best done (and most safly) when introduced with verbal cues, such as saying “jump”, or singing an entry song (ex. Humpty Dumpty- refer to Singing with Water Motions section below). With verbal word cues, the key is to be consistent using the same word each time. Then continue with holding just one hand allowing them to splash a little into the water, and finally holding out your arms and having them jump into your arms.
- Submerging baby under the water- Submerging your child-going completely under the water,including their head (at any age) may seem scary to parents as you don’t want to scare your child away from the water, but actually, the longer a child goes without doing so, the more fear they will have. Additionally, if a fear of the water has already set in, the longer you wait to address this specific fear, the greater it will become. Submerging under the water should only happen a recommended two times per session for children under one year old. It should also take place toward the end of your swim session, as it can end a perfect day at the pool if not enjoyed. You can then use this as a gauge on how well the baby does with submersion as to whether or not it could take place toward the beginning or middle of your swim time during your time swimming.
- Blowing bubbles- This is the same as teaching your child to blow bubbles in your “Tub Swim Time“.
The purpose behind teaching children to blow bubbles is to get them used to blowing air out of their mouths in the water rather than sucking water into their mouths. (I often wonder why we call it “blowing bubbles” because the act of blowing bubbles is really humming in the water.)
- Begin, by working on teaching your child how to hum.
- Next, teach your child to blow into a straw in their drink cup, having them notice the bubbles that form.
- During the ‘Tub Swim Time’ give your child a straw and let them play around with blowing bubbles. Once your child understands that blowing air into the water creates bubbles you can remove the straw and teach them how to blow bubbles by placing their mouths into the water. Model for them how to blow bubbles and then stop and raise your mouth out of the water when you need a breath.
- Holding on to the side- Place your baby’s hands on the side of the pool. Place one of you hands on top of both of their hands to secure them. Then, extend their legs with your other hand to give them the sensation of swimming on their tummy. You can also gradually move your hand securing theirs when they learn to hold onto the side by themselves. *You will later use this position to teach your child to swim, so this is a great activity to begin with young children to get them comfortable on their tummy.
- Entering the pool- Entering the pool as a skill may seem like common sense, however there are ways to do so in which keep your baby/child safer than others and help them to develop safe habits around a pool. Here are few ‘beginner entries’ you can try when your baby is beginning to toddle on their feet:
- 1. Holding their hand, assist them with walking down with steps into the water.
- 2. The adult can sit down on the side of the pool with child next to you, then slide in and, once you are standing, pull the baby in with you.
- 3. One adult hands the baby to another adult in the pool.
- 4. Have the baby sit on side of the pool, rotate to their tummy, and lower themselves (with assistance) into the adult’s arms in the pool.
Singing with Water Motions:
The best part about singing with water motions is that you can adjust or tweak any song/motions to best fit your child and their water comfort level. Here are just a few ideas to help you begin:
- Wheels on the Bus: This is a favorite of most babies/toddlers! When you sing lines like: “up and down” raise and lower your child into and out of the water, “round and round” swim or gently swing your child around and around, etc. I have also been known to add verses or adjust a few to fit better with water motions (ex. “the wipers on the bus go back and forth, back and forth”).
- Ring Around the Rosy: Have everyone stand in a circle and walk/swim around in a circle while swimming. When you get to “all fall down” practice lowering your child a little further into the water, or submercing your child (if you feel they are ready) under the water . You can also set your baby in a baby float and hold their hands as a family and swim around in a circle, tossing them up into the air (in their float) and letting them gently splash back down on “all fall down”.
- Humpty Dumpty: This is a great song to sing as a ‘verbal entry’ activity. When you get to the words “have a great fall” gently pull or have your baby jump into your arms.
- Motor Boat: (fun, active chant) “Motor boat, motor boat go real fast. Motor boat, motor boat go so slow. Motor boat, motor boat stop right now”
Beginner Swimming Techniques:
Next week, we will begin covering all beginner swimming techniques including topics such as:
- Entering the pool
- Proper Body Form
- Arm Motions
- Floating on the Back