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When to start getting kids used to water
Some babies are born with an affinity for water, but others take their time adjusting. Learning to swim is a complex set of muscle movements, breath-holding, and vestibular balance. Just like learning to sit up or walk, every child reaches these milestones at their own time. Parents should aim to introduce new skills over time and building a strong foundation for swimming. As we all know, play is the best way for children to learn.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports swimming lessons for one-year-old children who show signs of readiness and are frequently exposed to water. But learning to swim at home starts with their very first bath. Splashing around engages brains and muscles while baby gets familiar with how water reacts to movements.
Activities to prepare for swim lessons
Developing breath control is a critical skill to keep kids safe in water. Your goal is to teach your child to inhale and hold their breath on command. Swim instructors use a variety of techniques, but one is to blow air at the child’s face just before submerging them. At home, you can make a game out of blowing cotton balls across a flat surface with your breath.
If your child struggles with having their hair rinsed in the bathtub, it’s not because they hate the water. Turn over control of the water to them by letting them make big splashes, or play in the shower instead. When children can control the inhale and hold, they are much more open to having water poured over their heads.
Introduce kids to water in a shallow swimming pool
If you have access to a large tub or space to set up a kiddie pool, give your kids a chance to play in about 12-18 inches of water while wearing a swimsuit. Ideally, the pool should be small and shallow, with a water temperature of around 90 degrees. Cold water tightens muscles, and the discomfort can inhibit learning. Kids with sensory issues often benefit from wearing a swimsuit and comfortable swim goggles to become accustomed to the increased input.
Stay within arm’s reach at all times and avoid flotation devices. Use toys and plastic mirrors to encourage kids to submerge their chin and ears and teach them to use their hands to “walk” across the bottom of the pool.
The teaching goal is to keep them vertical in the water while practicing moving their arms and legs. A common cause of drowning is that children waste energy remaining upright instead of moving toward the edge of the pool.
Seek out water play year-round
Give your kids a chance to practice their water skills regularly. It takes more than a few 30-minute swim lessons in the summertime to be truly comfortable around water. Regular exposure makes kids less likely to panic if they fall or are in trouble.
If you don’t have easy access to a pool in the colder months, keep children engaged by reading swimming books or watching short videos of swimmers. This gives you a chance to introduce unfamiliar concepts like indoor pools, swim goggles, snorkels, and swimming in open water.
Build a strong foundation for swimming
Studies show that formal swim lessons lower a child’s risk of drowning by as much as 88% and that kids taking swim lessons are about six months more advanced than their peers. It’s possible to get these same benefits at home, but it will take a lot of research and effort on your part to incorporate the expertise of childhood development behind the best swim lessons. These tips will help you build a strong foundation for swimming.
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Megan Southard spent years on the bleachers as a swim mom and as a volunteer Board Member of two prominent USA Swimming teams. She is currently the COO of Frogglez Goggles.