I'm a big believer in teaching toddlers to swim. The younger the better, since this is when they're learning body coordination. Skills developed at this age – everything from language to muscle memory – set a foundation to get them on track for lifelong learning.
Teaching Toddlers to Swim in 3 Steps
The task of teaching toddlers to swim can seem daunting. Water plus children can be a scary combination for many parents, but swimming can quickly become a favorite pastime for families who take the time to do it right.
Our big new house has a great big pool. More often than not, though, you'll still find us splashing around in the shallow kiddie pool over at Oma and Opa's house. This is where I feel most comfortable with the kids right now, and it's not overwhelming for my toddler. Starting small helped him get used to the idea of pool playtime outdoors.
The right equipment helps things go smoothly. Sunscreen is a must, obviously, and floaties help with the transition to the big pool. We also use swim diapers so there aren't any “accidents.” Kids in a new situation don't need extra distractions to stress over. Especially in a public pool, it could be totally mortifying for them (and really counterproductive for teaching toddlers to swim) if everything isn't properly contained. Trust me on this. Water movement has a tendency to stimulate things, and you don't want to be dealing with mishaps. I've been there. Traditional diapers won't cut it – they're too absorbent, and will make your kid feel like they're swimming with a water balloon strapped between their thighs.
Practice Makes Perfect
When your toddler is ready for the big pool, try to get out there as often as possible. Encourage him or her to hold onto the edge and kick, and teach them to blow bubbles and plug their nose underwater. Repetition is key to help them feel comfortable with their newfound swimming skills.
When I was on the swim team, I helped quite a few young kids learn how to swim and I've guided a couple of my little cousins through the process as well. I think the hardest part is getting them to push away from the wall and actually practice on their own. To be honest, there's no real methodology for taking that step. You just need to keep practice, practice, practicing. Bonus points if you can access pools that let them walk on their tip-toes over a gradual incline to get comfortable with high water. That's how it happened with the other kids I taught. One day, they simply developed the courage to edge their way on out to where they couldn't touch and – voila! – the skills we'd practiced over by the wall kicked in.
Whatever you do, DO NOT throw any child into the deep end and leave them to “figure it out.” I feel like that goes without saying, but I've actually seen it happen. It's counterproductive, to say the least.
Have you gone through the pool training process yet? What are your tips for teaching toddlers to swim?