Swimming, like many other skills, requires us to gain a number of other building block skills. These lay the foundation for developing competency. Some of these may come naturally and others may require a bit of gentle encouragement. Taking time to feel comfortable at each stage will lead to confidence in the child in themselves.
Cobathing can help prepare for swimming
Enjoying baths together at home has many benefits; the soothing effect of water, additional skin to skin time and, of course, cleanliness. However, thats not all. Bathing together offers the opportunity for you and your baby to develop water confidence, and those building block swimming skills.
Bathing together can also help you gain confidence handling slippery babies in water.
Make sure the bathroom is warm. Have a towel ready to lay your baby down on the bathroom floor when you get out. This can help make the process of getting out more comfortable for you both.
Try lying your baby back and gently supporting under their shoulders or the back of their neck. They can experience floating and you may see them instinctively kicking.
When your baby instinctively kicks in the water you can build an association; verbalise what your baby is doing; “Kick, kick, kick, kicking!!!”. You will help them build the muscle memory and neural pathway associations required to learn to intentionally kick.
As they get older positioning a ball at their feet and gently moving their lower legs up and down holding their thighs can encourage the straight leg action which is one of the first skills learnt in propulsive swimming.
Shallow water play in the bath, paddling pool or sea
Water play for sitting and crawling babies often involves lots of pouring and splashing activities.
For example, pouring water over different body parts. Singing action songs like 10 fat sausages (Wiggle fingers in the water and splash palms down for ‘Pop and bang!’) or heads, shoulders, knees, and toes can help children feel more confident about getting themselves wet.
As children gain more self-awareness they may dislike the feeling of water over their face.
- Giving them some control can help to counter this. For example, having the option to pour water over their own head when washing hair.
- Encouraging them to blow bubbles into the water by submerging their mouth can help them overcome a dislike of water-face contact. The louder and sillier the bubble blowing, the more splashes they will create!
- Blowing at small floating toys is also good if your child doesn’t yet like blowing bubbles.
It is not necessary for babies to be forcefully submerged to learn to hold their breath or to swim. Rather there are techniques which encourage and support incidental submersion as a learning process. This may be something to consider when choosing a swimming group to attend with your baby or child.
Forced infant submersion is not recommended by Swim England. Swim England believe submersion should be voluntary as and when the child is ready.Swim England
Spray showers and splash parks
People of all ages will instinctively close their eyes when splashed with water. Active play with hoses and spray from splash parks can help little ones become accustomed to water on their face, head, and eyes without the need for full submersion.
As well as being lots of fun there is often opportunity for social interaction and cause and effect learning. When children are familiar with a sensation in other environments it is often less daunting or startling when they are exposed to splashing and showers in the swimming pool.
Transferring activities to swimming
All the above activities can also be used in a swimming pool or water environment.
- Toddlers and babies can both benefit from the familiarity of having a favourite bath toy to play with.
- Action songs such as the Wheels on the bus, and the Grand old duke of York are useful. They encourage lots of movement, bubble blowing and water splashing. You can sit older babies on the edge of the swimming pool and lift them into the water at the appropriate moment when singing Humpty Dumpty. For practice, then turn your baby and encourage them to hold on to the side of the swimming pool. This instils the safety process of returning to the nearest side upon entering the water.
- Older toddlers can be encouraged to dip their chins, noses, ears and foreheads as an introduction to self submersion.
- Letting them see you put your face into the water if you are comfortable to do so is also a great encouragement. Submerging while holding your child and blowing bubbles at them will often delight little ones.
If your child is distressed or frustrated end the activity. Go back to holding them close and gently reassuring them.
Play is an essential part of learning, so it makes sense that to learn to swim we should first play with water and in water.
Read more: Top tips for calm baby swimming
Top tips from Clare Williams, CalmFamily consultant, swimming teacher and lifeguard, to keep swimming with your baby a special and calm experience.
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If you’re considering using a sling at the swimming pool, or in other water environments check out this blog. It is packed with information to help you consider how to choose an appropriate sling for use around water; and how and when to use your sling to ensure safety in water and wet environments.