Instructing Your Child In Swimming

The flutter kick, back float and submersion are among primary elements of swimming. Here are suggestions to help your child learn these and more.

Children and water are like toast and jam, they go together. Burning the toast will result in the food being rejected. Dropping a young child into a pool's deep end will most likely result in the child rejecting water recreation for a long time. A little fear is a bad taste that lingers for a lifetime.

It is best to start out when the child is an infant or toddler. Swimming lessons are available for these age groups. By age three some toddlers are fairly proficient swimmers. None of them were unceremoniously dropped in the deep end.

With regard to swimming, a child's learning process has several stages:

1. Water adjustment is the first step. Learning cannot proceed well without it. Toddlers (or infants) getting used to water on their face is a part of this, often achievable in the context of a game or during bath tub play.

2. Learning to flutter kick usually follows. For a toddler, arm and leg synchronicity can be difficult in the beginning. Kicking is more natural and more easily controlled. This can be practiced in a bath tub or shallow wading pool. If in a normal pool, the child would have a support; i.e., the pool edge or an instructor to grip.

3. Flutter kicking, once it becomes a confident routine for the toddler, even to the point of being recognized as a means of propulsion, leads to experiencing full head submersion. Co-incident with this is learning to hold breath.

4. Head submersion should not be rushed. In many respects it is the "make or break" stage of the process, and one that toddlers often initially, if inadvertently, achieve on their own. However, it can be approached as play or imitation. For example, face dipping for a few seconds as part of a song or game can work.

5. Water safety skills must be part and parcel of swimming instruction. Jumping into the water body, rising, turning, and kicking back to the edge is one such drill. Most accidents occur near pool or dock sides from slipping in, then, probably, panicking. Once submersion has become customary, this skill can be provided as part of play, then practiced.

6. Breathing while swimming takes some time to learn, especially for the toddler while in a horizontal position in the water. Provide an example; imitation is a valuable learning tool. This can begin when the toddler is exploring the challenges of propulsion by flutter kicking.

7. Another important skill is the back float. Like treading water this is a "rest" skill, but because it may be somewhat fearful at first, the learning may not come easily. One way to initiate it is to have the child learn to rinse their hair by lying on their back in the bath tub. Start with the water very shallow and over a period of time increase the depth, perhaps assisting by cupping the back of the child's ear to keep water free of the face.

8. "Swimming" for a toddler has more to do with play than with mastery of formal swim strokes. Many instructors do not attempt to teach formal swim strokes before a child is four years old and, then, only after the basics have become reflexive.

9. Learning to swim should be fun. Group instruction can compound the fun, but comparing the progress of one child with that of others is not a fair measure for the child. Nor is aggressive instruction recommended. While it may work in some cases, in likely as many it discourages water recreation as a positive choice when eventually the toddler is old enough to make choices.

10. Short, frequent swim lessons extended over an uninterrupted period of time seem to be more productive than intensive, short-term or sporadic sessions. With the former there is no need for the toddler to re-learn skills.

Finally, in the course of learning, water safety should be a continuing consideration. Toddlers should not be permitted to swim or paddle without supervision. That may seem an unnecessary suggestion, but it happens, sometimes with tragic results. In essence, toddlers should not be held responsible for their own safety.

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