When you live on a small island, go to the beach pretty much everyday and have a pool at home (without a pool fence – yes, yes I know, it seems irresponsible but I have my reasons, and I’ll get into that in a bit!) teaching your kids to swim early is a life skill that shoots straight to the top of your parenting to do list.
I shared some videos on my Instagram stories the other day of Arlo and Eia in the pool at home, swimming without floaties and I got a ton of sweet messages that made me feel even prouder than I already was but I also got a bunch of questions about how we taught our kids to swim at such young ages. Ok, so firstly, Eia can’t actually swim. She’s not even 2. She just doggy paddles for a metre or two with me next to her. She can’t tread water to take a breath yet and I’d NEVER leave her unsupervised or further than arms reach from me. Number 2, if you were hoping for a “how to teach your toddler to swim” step by step guide, this IS NOT that! I”m not a swimming instructor and I know shit about fck about teaching young kids to swim and it’d be irresponsible and reckless to pretend otherwise but I can share with you what we did to build their water confidence and the rest just kind of happened from there. Ok, that’s the disclaimer out of the way, shall we get to it?
We introduced both kids to water when they were really young, about 2 months old. I should also say, I’ve never been to a baby or kids swimming class in my life. Many of my friends went and asked me to join but (a) I’m Scottish and cheap 😀 which leads to (b) I didn’t want to pay to learn things that seemed common sense to me who has been around water for much of my life. Arrogant? Maybe! But that’s how it went!
I’ll zip over the baby stuff for completeness but it’s probably nothing knew to anyone and a bit patronising to go into any detail 🙂
So…we got them used to getting their heads wet straight away. Not just with splashing but with dunking. We’d count to three, drag them through the water towards us for a couple of seconds and when they came up spluttering we jumped about in the water, holding them close, dancing like happy idiots to comfort them and reassure them that they’re ok! Sure sometimes they cried at first but they quickly got that they were safe with us and it was fun. Just before they were 1, we chucked them in water wings and they loved being able to “swim” independently. Then before they were 2 (which has been just recently with Eia) we took off the water wings and started them in the water without any floaties. Literally, just dropping them in and being right there to assist.
Whenever we’re somewhere with a baby pool or at the beach (providing its not a surf beach with crazy water!) we let Eia go in without her water wings to splash about and “swim” in shallow water where she can put her feet down when she needs. And I think it really helped build her confidence and love for the water. Obviously, we’re always there with her.
Young kids are surprisingly floaty and instinctive with their breath in water. But they can also sink like a stone at a moments notice so my eyes are always glued to her. At home, she plays about on the pool steps where she can stand and “swims” to us, launching herself off the top step in a sort of swan dive/belly flop. She goes about a metre or so into my arms and then pops up for a breath. At this age she’s too young to really take in anything about actually swimming with her arms but I think that all this free play is gonna help later when she is old enough to get it. It certainly helped Arlo….
He picked up swimming just before he was 3 but has really nailed it in the last few months. We used to use a pool noodle (you know those floaty foam straw things?) for him to hold on to to kick his legs and have always just said, over and over, “kick your legs, keep kicking, kick, kick, kick!” The noodle was also really good to help him learn to tread water and get a breath with his head above water, since he always swam with his head underwater at first and it was tough to teach him to actually take a breath! We slid it under his arms and encouraged him to cycle in the water like he was on his bike and look up at the sky to look for planes. When he got better, we took it away and he went straight under…doh. So we supported him a little with a light touch and he quickly got stronger and able to keep his head above the water. A really good skill for a kid if they ever fall into water by accident but bizarrely for us, he picked this up after he could swim! As for arms we always just encouraged and showed him to “make circles”. This was harder because the kicking seems to come naturally, the arms less so.
We also did some breath hold stuff with Arlo, where we go under with him for short periods, holding onto him and sitting on the bottom. We taught him to give us a little thumbs up when we go down and a little pointed finger when its time to kick back up. That’s been really good for snorkelling but also builds his confidence playing under the water. Saving Paw Patrol characters from a watery death at the bottom of the pool is a particular favourite and has been a good game for us to work on his breath hold. Oh and goggles are a total game changer! I think teaching them to swim and be comfortable without is super important but they also made him so comfortable with his head in the water and fun that I think it actually helped his swimming. And Eia has been the same. Also, second children seem to be easier to teach and pick things up because they have an older sibling to demonstrate so I can’t take much credit where Eia is concerned except playing lifeguard and cheerleader.
If you’ve got this far, you might be thinking “yeh its easy for you with a pool at home, on a beach holiday island” and that’s a fair point caller. We’re extremely lucky to be able to expose the kids to water daily at home and the beach especially this last year when so many haven’t had the freedom to even visit a public pool but as thing starts to open up again and summer in the north hemisphere approaches, hopefully getting the kids back in the water will be a normal thing again! And if my ramblings here have inspired you to get back in the water with your kids or just rammed home what you already knew, then that’s cool too!
Polite warning – once you start letting them go without, getting them to wear water wings when you need them to is brutal. Be prepared for epic tantrums. That’s all I’m saying.