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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Shaving Cream- (click to read activity ideas with shaving cream in the bath tub)
- Empty Parmesan Cheese Container-this is an absolute favorite of my boys, they love the side with holes to “play rain”
- Measuring Cups-various sizes
- Squirty Toys- they love to squirt their parents and each other,
- Empty Eye Dropper