Every child should begin learning the principles of safe swimming, ideally as soon as they can crawl. In Australia, where the beach and pool are a rite of passage for all children, introducing your children to the fun of water play can be a joyous, if challenging, process but there are ways to make sure they're as safe as possible at all times.
Before you hit the waves, here are our tips for helping your little one feel completely at ease and safe in the water:
- Master the basic steps first. When you're just starting with swim lessons, your first goal should be getting your child to feel comfortable with breathing underwater, floating and lifesaving endurance activities before going on to advanced swimming techniques.
- Practice in the bath. At first, most children are likely to feel ill at ease with putting their faces underwater, but practising in the tub is a safe way to get them used to this vital swim skill in a protected environment. Make a game of it – play “I see a fishie!” Add just enough water that she can push him or herself up with their arms – it should be no higher than shoulder level. Pop a toy (it doesn’t have to be a fish) on the bottom of the bath and ask her to retrieve it for you. If this proves challenging, practice lowering just enough until her chin is under water, then her mouth. When it comes to putting a nose underwater, some kids will take to it straight away; others need a little help. Show her how to close her mouth and blow out of her nose underwater – she’s now talking to the fishie! The next step is making your child feel comfortable opening her eyes underwater. Goggles can help here. Start in the bathtub again and keep practising until there's no problem picking up something off the bottom.
- Pool safety lessons. Once your child has mastered bath swimming, it's time to head to the pool. Water safety is the key lesson here – and, once you've got to this stage, it's crucial you invest in a safe pool fence so that curious little ones can't ‘practice' their newfound skills without you present. Start with sitting on the side of the pool with him, legs in the water. Here, another game is helpful – this time it's called "Red light, Green light." As you call out "Green light!" teach him to kick as hard as possible, only stopping when you say “Red light!” You can even call out “Yellow light!” for lighter kicks to mix it up a little.
- Do the crab. This lesson is designed to show your child how to find her way to a ladder or the shallow end of the pool safely in case she accidentally falls in. Starting at the shallow end, show her how to hold onto the wall with both hands with both feet also on the wall under the water. Let go one hand at a time as you crab walk down the wall. Head to the closest ladder and teach her how to grab it and get out.
- Bringing it all together. Holding on to the wall, ask your child to play a game of “talk to the fishies!” just as he did in the bath. Blow bubbles in the water, then ask him if he can see a fishie at the bottom while he keeps holding on to the wall (you can place a toy there or just ask him to look). Then, extend the lesson by adding “Red light, Green light” to the mix. Make sure his legs are straight with a slight bend at the knees.