We all hear on a regular basis how good swimming is for us, how it is one of the best forms of exercise and we should all be swimming like fish whenever possible. And while many ‘healthy living’ ideas can be a bit over-emphasized, swimming definitely isn’t one of them. When you are talking about children and swimming, these benefits are just the start – exercise is great, building confidence is brilliant and learning them a life skill is also crucial.
Preparing for swimming
For some babies, the age of around six months is reached, parents take them to the local leisure centre and they take to it like a duck to water (pun intended!) but for others the idea of going into the swimming pool isn’t well met. Toddlers in particularly are prone to fear of water than can manifest in the bath or shower and will come on in a big way at a swimming pool. But there are techniques that can be used from a young age to prepare kids for swimming.
Six months is the starting point because at this point they can normally sit up. Begin preparations by sitting them in a bathtub or a paddling pool so they get used to the feel of water around them. You can even dribble a little water from a sponge into their head and let the clean water trickle over their faces. This shows them there is nothing to fear in water around the face.
Showing them that water is fun is another good step and babies are great mimics. Putting your mouth in the water and blowing bubbles will make them laugh and encourage them to copy, though make sure they don’t suck instead of blow and end up with a mouthful of bathwater! Having toys in the bath is something most parents do automatically and this helps associate water with fun.
The best time to introduce your little kids to water is during a family swim session. It can be intimidating but if they see other kids in the water, this can help them overcome any instinctive ears. Sitting on the edge of the pool and dangling their feet in the water is a great first step. Hold them with a hand under the bottom and another around the back then ease them into the water, gently moving around with you in their line of sight at all times.
Places to go
To start their swimming experience, a swimming pool can be a great place, though some find the noise and strange smell of chlorine a little off-putting. Go for parents and toddler sessions to see how they feel and use shallow ends where possible and even learning pools if there are ones. Most leisure centres will offer these kinds of sessions to help kids get used to the pool and even work to overcome a fear that may have developed.
Going to the beach is filled with interesting experiences for kids but if the water is quite choppy and the waves even moderately strong, this might make them fearful. A quiet cove without too many people and with gentle waves is a good place to introduce them to the sea. Older kids might love jumping over the waves but for little ones, they won’t make sense and will be something to fear.
Outdoor swimming pools are a little of both – they have the business of the swimming pool but lack the funny smells while having the calmness of artificial water bodies. There are still a surprising number of these around the country including:
- Jubilee Pool, Cornwall
- Chagford Swimming Pool, Devon
- Pells Pool, Lewes, East Sussex
- Droitwich Spa Lido, Worcestershire
- Ponty Lido, Cardiff
- Shap Swimming Pool, Cumbria
- Stonehaven Open Air Pool, Aberdeen
Formal swimming lessons are a popular choice for many parents today. These are particular popular if the parents themselves aren’t the most confident swimmers but want their children to be able to do better. Others find teaching their kids trying for one reason or another but find they listen better to a stranger, a ‘proper’ teacher.
Another idea is to do a little teaching yourself before beginning formal lessons so that they feel it is all fun and not another ‘school’. It is important to let them try things at their own pace and informal play sessions are often the best way, even for older kids. If being in the water is fun, then learning to swim is just a different type of fun.
Don’t worry about letting them use water aids either. Armbands, woggles, float pads and much more are all okay to use in most swimming pools and are a great way for kids to learn the physical skills of swimming without worrying about actually staying afloat. This helps them build up their confidence in the pool as well and they will often abandon the floats themselves without any prompting when they feel they no longer need them.
Because swimming is so good for kids, there are plenty of campaigns and programs to encourage parents to get their kids into the water. One example is the Speedo’s Learn to Swim Campaign, backed by former Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington. It encourages parents to take photos of their kids in the water and submit them to the Facebook page to be in with a chance to win a pair of their swimming goggles.
Another program in place is the Help Children Get Safe campaign that encourages kids to have a good idea about what to do in an emergency around the pool. The aim is that they can go into the water, have great fun but be aware of the dangers and what to do if something unexpected happens. Leisure centres and swim clubs around the country are getting involved with a series of events and even special certificates being created to award to kids who get involved. There is more information on their website at http://www.swimming.org/asa/facilities/get-safe-4-summer/.
Main image by Phil M S