Water Orientation: Creating a ‘Tub Swim Time’

Teach Your Child to Swim-Summer Series

Week 1: Water Orientation: Creating a ‘Tub Swim Time’

Water Orientation is the idea of helping your child feel comfortable in the water. This can begin taking place in infancy, through an enjoyable bath experience, and then progress into the bathtub around 6 months (when the infant is able to sit up unassisted). Here are some ways in which you can help you child at home become more comfortable in the water in order to have a better experience in the pool and/or swim lessons later on.

Creating a ‘Tub Swim Time’

A ‘Tub Swim Time’ is a special time set aside for the purpose of water orientation through water play and teaching your child beginner swimming habits. A “Tub Swim Time’ is best when separate from a regular bath time, but can be incorporated into a bath time routine if needed. During this time have your child wear his or her swimsuit. To make it fun, put on your swimsuit too and join them! You can begin water orientation at 6 months, it is important that the child be able to hold his or her head up unassisted, and be able to sit on his or her own with little assistance. We suggest aiming toward having this time twice a week until you are able to swim outside. These activities will help your child to be more comfortable in the water. Chrissy (co-author) shares that when she teaches swim lessons, she typically challenges the children try each skill/activity twice if she is met with too much resistance, then she stops the activity for that day and tries it again twice the during the next lesson. Parents, remember that it is important that you are involved in the “Tub Swim Time’ and having fun with your children. They are guided by your emotional level so if you are nervous or anxious this could cause them to have a fear of the water too

During your home swim time there are a few skills you can teach your child, that will better prepare them for the pool:

Water on Their Face: Some young children do not enjoy getting water on their face and in their eyes. This is because it feels unnatural to them. Your job, as a parent, is to help them adjust to getting water on their face and in their eyes. It is important that they learn to blink their eyes fast and not to rub their eyes. The main reason we don’t want to children to rub their eyes is that in chlorinated pools it can cause irritated eyes, which will continue to burn and itch long after you leave the pool.

  • An activity that you can do, to help them practice blinking, is to get a small watering can and have your child pour water over your head. Model for them that even though you might want to rub your eyes, it is important that you blink your eyelids rapidly, and that you are okay and do not need to rub your eyes. Laugh and smile making it appear to be fun.
  • Next take the watering can and pour water onto your child’s head. If they attempt to rub their eyes, hold their hands and reassure them that they are okay. Repeat this a few times until your child is okay with getting water in his or her eyes. After your child is comfortable with getting water in his or her eyes you can start to splash each other.
  • If your child is older you can play red light/green light. This is a simple game that we will play in a variety of ways in the pool, but for this activity you explain that when you say Green light they splash really fast, yellow light means they splash slow, and red light means they should stop splashing. This allows you to set up verbal cues your child that you can later use in a pool setting.
  • Another activity is to challenge your child to stick their nose into the water, then have then try their ears, their chin, etc. As they become braver, you can have them try sticking their head under the faucet (if in a bathtub)and then blink the water away.

Water Temperature: Typically bath water can range between 82 to 88 degrees F. In the Summer, some outdoor pool temperatures can be warmer, but if the air temperature is cooler or there is a breeze, the water may feel cool to your child. The pool water temperature typically feels much cooler and sometimes uncomfortable. An easy thing that can help prepare the colder pool water is to arrange bathtub swim. Again, the ‘Tub Time Swim’ is best when separate from bath time, because we want it to be a swimming time in cooler water so that they are able to adjust to being in water temperature that is cooler than their normal baths.

Spitting Out Water: First explain to your child that pool water is not drinking water. It’s important to know that most pool water is very clean and generally safe if they swallow small amounts, but you want to stress to your child that if water gets in their mouth, you want them to spit it out. With younger children, it is important to teach them to take water into their mouth and spit it out. Often when kids get water into their mouth unexpectedly they choke a little or swallow it. We want them to learn to spit out this unwanted water.

  • To teach kids to spit out water, you can teach them to make a cup with your hand, scoop up water, put the water in your mouth, and quickly spit it out; appropriately. By appropriately, we mean no spitting at other people, outside of the bath tub, etc.; make these guidelines clear to your child as you introduce this activity.
  • When in the pool, you can squat down, open your mouth allowing your child to see that you are taking the water into your mouth, then stand back up and spit the water out of your mouth.

Blowing Bubbles: 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 mouth. 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.
Lying on Your Back: When working with younger children and sometimes even adults who severely fear the water, the activity that they struggle with the most is floating on their back. It is awkward because it feels strange to get water in our ears for the first time. This may be scary for some children but is one of the most beneficial skills to practice from an early age in a “safe” environment, like their home.
  • Have your child practice placing their ears one at a time in the water.
  • Next, fill the tub will less water and have them practice lying on their back in the bath tub; gradually add more water (either in the same ‘Tub Swim Time’ or adding more each session). You can place your hand under their head, if needed, for extra comfort/support.
  • It is important that they learn that it is “safe” to have water in their ears, and that they do not panic when this happens.

Bath Toys: Playing in the bath is a great way to help children become comfortable in the water. Our family has discovered that many of our sons favorite bath toys are things around the house. Here are a few we use almost daily:

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. What a great series! My little ones were looking over my shoulder as I read and kept asking if they could start right now!

  2. Great ideas to practice. These are so simple, but I would have never thought to teach them how to blink the water away and spit it out. I guess you forget the basics after you know how to swim. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I just finished taking my 3 year old to her first set of swimming lessons. These are great tips! I so wish I had known them before taking her. It definitely would have helped. Going to keep these for my second one for sure! I’d love to have you link this up to Titus 2 Tuesday tomorrow on Cornerstone Confessions.

    Hopping over from The Better Mom.


  4. Jenny Whitaker says:

    I am SO so very excited about this series! My baby just turned one and we live in Florida so our pool is already warm enough to swim. My little one LOVES the water and seems to be very brave in the tub, but in the pool she gets (what I call a HEALTHY amount of) fear. That being said, we know it is well past time to get some purposeful “swim” lessons. These first few things (blinking eyes instead of rubbing, blowing water out of our mouths, not swallowing, etc.) are so practical! We took our baby girl in the big pool this weekend and let her jump off the step to see what would happen (she would go under) and the problem wasn’t her fear (at all) but her swallowing water and choking a bit… so these lessons are RIGHT ON TIME! Our plan is to do these “tub” exercises in our kiddie pool outside next to the “Big pool” in the back-yard so that there is no confusion about what we are “learning” about (or at least LESS confusion), but Tropical Storm Beryl just moved through and it is still rainy outside, so we began in the tub today. It’s going to take a few sessions this week – but I am so excited to even get this FIRST WEEK’S Lessons taught – I can’t wait to see what is next! Thank you for doing this series! In our town the other option for “swim lessons” is a $500 investment – worthwhile I am sure, but this series gives us some time to save-up for that investment and in the meantime, use the safety and security of our personal relationship to teach her the basics! SO EXCITED about this. Thanks again!

    • Jenny,
      Thank you so much for sharing this! You directly hit on the reason why we wanted to write this series: to enable families to teach their own children to swim, thus saving them lots of money! We are so excited to share the tools parents need and the hows and whys so that parents will be confident in their ability to do so. Thanks again for your encouragement! :)

  5. Hey there….found you through a linky party. I LOVE this. I pretty much did this throughout infancy with my now-three-year-old, but needed to revisit it with my new nine-month-old. I hope you don’t mind but I’m featuring you on my blog tomorrow so I can share all of your awesome ideas…I have lots of mommies of little that read my blog and water safety in the South is soooo important! Thanks for sharing and come on over and check it out tomorrow!
    Shara @ Palmettos and Pigtails

    • Shara- Thanks for much for featuring my Teach Your Child to Swim- Summer Series! You’re right, it is SO important for children to learn to swim. Thanks again for passing along the word and sharing! :)

  6. This is such a wonderful resource to parents! My daughter is 4 /12, and I think these are great tips for her. Great idea for a series and I look forward to following it.

  7. Such an informative and helpful series. Thank you McKenzie. Pinning this to the Weekly Kids’ Co-op interest board and will feature it in my roundup of last weeks’ linky party. Thanks. xoxo P

  8. The googles are so cute!! (and the kids too of course!)

  9. I came across this last year and am back again this year. This series is so great…thank you for this! Just pinned and shared on FB as well. Our little ones are loving the water so far and I think a lot has to do with using some of these strategies. We “swim” in the tub all the time!


  1. […] requires adult supervision by an adult at ALL times. Click here to read the whole series! Here is the first part: Water Orientation Subscribe to McKenzie’s blog to get the rest of the article delivered to your email! […]

  2. […] Water Orientation by Cheerios and Lattes. Tub Swim Time to help your child feel comfortable in the water in preparation for swimming lessons. Tips from an experienced lifeguard and swimming teacher. […]

  3. […] 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 […]

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