Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Part 3 - Practicing Swim Skills

Go check out Part 1 or Part 2...

If you don't have access to swim lessons, let me give you a few tips on what to do on your own.

One great to way to start with infants and toddlers is learning how to blow bubbles. You can have them try to blow a lightweight toy across the water to help them get started. It's important to give them verbal cues, like counting 1, 2, 3 when you go underwater or blow bubbles. Now when Love Bug jumps in, I can just count to three beforehand and she remembers to hold her breath and blow bubbles. Start slow, going under just a few times and build up slowly. It seems scary at first, but it will get easier. Love Bug now has her head fully wet within minutes of arriving at the pool and will swim underwater willingly.

Next skill to work on with your infants/toddlers is floating and swimming in a prone position, or face down. Start by holding your baby under the armpits (loosely to promote relaxation) and pull them forward, which will bring their legs up behind them. They can float in this position, or start kicking with your encouragement. Once they get more confident, move the hold down their arm so more of their body is floating. Moving ahead a few weeks, you can start throwing some favorite small bath toys in the water in front of you and ask them to reach for them. This will eventually translate when they swim alone and you tell them to "reach", they will naturally "crawl" with their arms. Now I hold Love Bug from the side, with just one hand under her belly. Once she's kicking and reaching well, I let go and let her swim a few feet before pulling her up and cheering for her.

Infants and Toddlers do not like to be on their backs in the water, so this is a skill to start early. The best way to start is to hold them securely under the armpits (not too tight that they sense tension) and let them lean back and rest their head on your shoulder as you walk backwards, which pulls their legs and feet to the top of the water. Once they get more confident, lower your body so your shoulder is under the water and the back of their head is just under the water. Make sure to keep their mouth and face clear and well above the water level, so they will continue to trust this position. Back floats and true swimming (backstroke) can wait until they start swim lessons around age 4 or 5, sometimes later.

Jumping in the pool seems like a silly skill to start so young, but it's only started because it can be such a joy later on. If they don't start early, they will fear it once they are physically able to do it. Hold your baby upright at the edge of the pool once they have enough leg stregnth to keep their legs straight. After counting to three (again, an important cue before any skill) lift them up in the air and smoothly down into the water, without putting their heads in. As they grow, they'll learn to be able to do it alone and you can eventually let them get more and more wet, of course praising them for going under, even if it was an accident. Jumping in at the wall is important, because it leads to diving and jumping off the diving board, both of which cause too much tension and anxiety if started too late. Just make sure to teach them to jump out so the never hit their heads on the wall.

Once they jump in... what do you do next? That's right... they climb out to jump in again. You can help them climb out until they have the stregnth to pull themselves out. Learning to climb out of the pool is one of the most important safety skills.

I recommend swimming at pools/beaches with lifeguards or at the very least, a few friends, so you can watch out for each other. Never swim alone. Even experienced swimmers don't swim alone... it's just not safe.

I don't recommend water wings, floaties, or swimsuits with floatation in them, not just because they are actually unsafe, but they also hinder a child learning to swim. They give children an unrealistic sense of floatation. They will learn to swim much sooner, but will have trouble taking off the water wings as they improve. This means that you will have to hold them all the time in the water. If you feel this is unrealistic, get a Coast Guard Approved life vest instead. If you only have them on as a safety precaution at a friends' barbecue or at the beach, again use a Coast Guard Approved life vest or personal floatation device (PFD) instead. Water wings can come off or deflate, and floatation swimsuits can roll children facedown.

I'll talk more about Boating (along with life vests) and Beach Safety tomorrow.


bren j. said...

*shudder* Just reading all this makes me TENSE. I'm so glad that my husband loves swimming. These are great posts though and really helpful, so thanks!

Cheri said...

This is such a great series! I'm relieved to know that even though half the time we have no idea what we're doing as parents, we did get the whole water thing down okay!

You are doing a terrific job!

*carrie* said...

Thanks for these ideas, Abbey. I saved this post so I can consult it next time we go to the pool.

Susan said...

Abbey, Thanks for the tips. We will start right away with the bubbles!