Helping Kids Learn to Swim Safely

Swimming and other water activities are the best way to beat the South Texas heat in the summertime. Not all children think learning to swim is a fun and exciting rite of passage, but even reluctant swimmers can be encouraged safely.


Most children’s earliest experience with water is in the bath. Some of the following milestones toward swimming readiness can begin in the tub, as well as in a pool, lake or ocean. Let your child master the steps to swimming, in a logical sequence, one step at a time by:

1. Getting the face wet. Blow bubbles in the water or blow ping-pong balls across a tub or kiddie pool.


2. Learning to duck under water. First, let your timid tot select an underwater doll or duck. Then, tell her to take a breath and hold it while submerging her toy. When she needs to breathe again, tell her to raise the toy. Try this first without putting her face into the water. Then slowly, playing the game together, encourage her to hold the toy underwater while she goes under, too. Then, tell her to let it pop up to the surface as she comes up for air.

In waist-high water, two or more children can have a “tea party” where they squat briefly underwater while pretending to serve and drink tea. A child also can duck under a hula-hoop held horizontally on the water’s surface and emerge in its center.


3. Learning to lie across the water to swim. Children tend to curl up in a fetal position, which causes them to sink. Have your child flatten her body and feel how her body works under water. You can demonstrate this principle to your child by holding an empty plastic-gallon milk container (with cap on) in each hand. The containers will help keep the child’s face above water while she learns to relax her body across the water’s surface.

4. Learning to stroke. Use an inflatable raft or windsurfing board (no sails) to help “nearly swimming” children get a feel for pulling the water for propulsion. Position your child on her stomach at the very front and encourage her to paddle with alternating arm pulls and the double-arm action. Stress the use of strong, slow strokes to learn to “glide.”

5. Jumping into the water. Hold a hula-hoop vertically or horizontally above the surface of the water and entice children to jump through the hoop from the side of a pool or dock.

6. Getting the knack of floating. If you’re at the beach, have your child lie on her stomach in shallow water and put her hands in the sand to maintain a sense of control. Facing the shore, she should stretch her legs fully behind her, which gives a taste of buoyancy and offers quick recovery to a weight-on-hands position. Next, add the kick and a few paddling motions. When ready for the final challenge, have your child put her face in the water while paddling and kicking.

Keeping your lungs inflated helps you to float, either prone or on your back. Let your child “dribble the basketball” to demonstrate this concept. Fill your lungs with air in shallow water, curl into a floating “ball” and have your child push you down gently each time you “bounce” back up to the surface.