Do It Yourself Swim Lessons (6 months to 18 months)
We all know that having little ones is expensive, especially when it comes to having any type of special lessons. When my daughter was born we knew it was vital that she learn to swim for her general wellbeing and safety in our backyard. This lead me to research some local swim schools in our area. The lessons ranged from $25 per session to even upwards of $85 for private lessons. This was not in our budget so we I decided that a do-it-yourself approach was the way to go.
I am a former PE teacher so I dug back into my teaching toolbox and began to devise some plans on how to go about teaching my Little to swim. I hope that these tips, skills, and general swim lessons will help you if you take the do it yourself approach! They can even be used to help you practice with your Little between lessons.
Safety First! Please remember that safety should always be the number one priority when it comes to swimming with your Little one. Most experts recommend waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old, but under 9 months if possible as fear of water can set in after this age. Little ones should always be fully supervised and within arm’s reach at all times near water and, if you are swimming outside make sure you provide sun protection!
Consistency! Any parent will tell you that consistency is necessary when teaching your Little a new skill or behavior. This is especially true when teaching them how to swim. To help with this, you should aim to get your little one in the pool for a do-it-yourself lesson 2 to 3 times a week, preferably at the same time each day. This will help you and your Little swimmer build a liking for the water and practice skills on a regular basis. Swimming skills take time to learn, so be patient and consistent with each new one that you introduce and always review old skills before introducing new ones.
Expectations! “My Little could swim when she was 1 year old.” We have all been in those competitive conversations when it comes to comparing our Littles to each other. When it comes to learning to swim each child will develop at their own rate. Keep your expectations simple at first - let your baby enjoy and explore the water, make the experience fun, and revel in some extra-special bonding time!
6-18 Months Swim Skills:
- Water Enter/Exit - It’s important that your Little knows where to enter and exit the pool - whether it is the steps, a ramp, or the edge of the pool. You want them to feel good about getting in and out of the pool. One way to get your kiddo to enter the water from the edge is to sit them on the edge of the pool while you are in the water. With a toy (and some encouragement) try to get your Little to lean forward till they tip into the water naturally into your arms. Most littles will reach for the toy in the water causing a natural tipping motion. After they have successfully tipped in, work on the exit, by turning them the other way. Have them reach for the edge by placing the toy there and supporting their waist. Once they reach and grasp (this is important) you can allow them to crawl around the pool edge (humming the spider-man song always helps). If your Little one has the strength you can also push their body towards the edge and gently lift one of their legs up to simulate them exiting the pool. Please keep in mind the goal is not to have your 1 year old exit the pool at their age; it is simply to prep them so that one day they can.
- Floating - This skill is more about getting your child comfortable on their back in the water than it is actually skill intense. In the water, place your Little on their back with their head rested against your shoulder. The goal in floating is to begin with maximum support with one hand on their upper back and other on their lower back and hips and eventually transition to minimal support with just their head on your shoulder. While your baby is attempting to float it is always great to relax them through song - our favorite is Oh, Mr. Sun! Some Littles like movement while floating and others don’t, so take your cues from baby.
- Kicking - Have your Little start with their belly in the water while you support them under their armpits. If you find that your baby is being resistant to letting you support them under their arms pool kickboards are a great tool to assist in this department. Encourage your little one to make splashes with their feet behind them. If they are struggling with kicking on their own you can grab both knees and gently simulate the kicking motion. Once the general idea of kicking is accomplished you can add in movement. For my daughter, I have found that the best way to keep her motivated is to stop when she stops kicking and to move her around the pool when she does kick; this in turn is teaching her to put those legs into motion in order to get somewhere. For added encouragement I have begun adding a toy or two around the pool edge and letting her kick towards one, grab it, and take it to the other side of the pool.
- Blowing Bubbles - This is a skill that will help your Little one get used to having water on their face and teach them to not breathe in while under water. Have a toy or object that is light and floats on top of water (a rubber ducky or a ping-pong ball work great) and through demonstration show them that you can move the object on top of the water by blowing out; then have them do it a few times (to help them comprehend blowing it can help to blow on their hand so that they feel the air). Once they get this concept you again demonstrate the next step which is to lower your mouth down so that your lips are under water and blow out creating bubbles and moving the toy. Let your Little one do this to get the concept that they need to breathe out when under water. This is a tricky transition and some kids may need more time to be ready for this step so be patient and if your Little doesn’t enjoy it then stop and try again another day. On the flip side, some may like it a little too much so make sure your kiddo takes breaks to catch his or breath!
These activities have worked well for us and I hope they help you teach your Little to enjoy the water in new ways! These skills are a great foundation for actual swimming when they are developmentally ready.
Author: Karissa Sargent
Note: the author is not a certified swim instructor but is sharing tips from her experience as a mother and former PE teacher.