There are many reasons why swimming is a wonderful activity for toddlers. It builds their water confidence and water safety, can be enjoyed whatever the weather, and water play also has many physical and mental health benefits too.
Like the idea of swimming with your toddler but don’t know where to start? Here are some tips and ideas to help turn your little land lubber into an enthusiastic fish!
Although swimming is a fun family activity, not all children like the idea of swimming. If your child is reluctant to go in the water, then why not take their favourite baby soft toy to the pool with you? The comfort of a familiar object cheering them on may well give them the emotional support and incentive that they need to try something new.
You should also make their first swimming session a relatively short one: between 15 and 30 minutes is long enough for a toddler to spend in the water. You know your child best, so if they begin to get cold, upset, or simply lose interest and enthusiasm then cut your session short. Try to end the swim at a happy point, so that they won’t be reluctant to get in the water next time.
Some parents choose to arrange structured group swimming lessons for their toddlers, whilst others prefer the one on one time they get from a splash about in the local pool. There are pros and cons of both techniques.
Swimming classes will have a clear structure that many toddlers respond well to and will also include some underwater swimming, but they can be expensive and could also be overwhelming for toddlers who don’t enjoy being in group environments. Taking your child swimming independently will be more affordable and more intimate, but teaching your child to swim without support could prove frustrating. Many swimming clubs will offer free trial sessions, so that you can see if your child will enjoy these before committing to a longer course, whilst most swimming pools don’t require you have a membership to join the fun. Only you can decide what is right for your family.
Like any activity with a toddler, taking your tot to the swimming pool will require a bag full of supplies. If your toddler is still wearing nappies then you will need to buy a specialist swimming nappy for them to wear in the pool: this will hold any accidents without inflating as normal nappies do when in contact with liquid. Don’t forget clean nappies for getting out of the water too!
Your toddler will also need a swim suit, a warm fluffy towel to wrap up in and snacks and drinks for the end of the session, toys for the water (floating bath toys are a great choice, as are specialist water-friendly baby soft toys), and warm clothes. You may wish to bring arm bands or another floatation device for your child too: some parents love these, whilst others prefer to teach their children to swim without support. Again, there are pros and cons to each technique and each parent will decide what works best for them.
Once you’ve decided whether to book swimming lessons for your child or teach them to swim independently, you need to choose the right pool. Toddlers need warmer pools than adults: look for one that has been heated to at least 28 degrees. Many public swimming pools will have a separate swimming pool that would work best. If yours doesn’t then look for private swimming pools (these tend to be warmer than public ones) or even school swimming pools that open to the public, as these should be heated to a temperature that is more appropriate for you toddler.
Children aged between 2-4 years old are coordinated enough that they can move their bodies in meaningful ways and that means that, in theory, children can begin to learn to swim at this age. Whilst you may be more interested in having a fun splash in your local swimming baths than you are in teaching your toddler to swim, it important that the games and activities you enjoy when you’re in the water don’t teach your child any bad habits. At the higher end of the scale, this means that you shouldn’t play games that involve running around the pool or entering the water dangerously.
Knowing what to do when your toddler is in the pool will prevent them from becoming bored and distracted and will also help them to find their time in the water more enjoyable. Look for water games that will help to teach your child the fundamentals of independent swimming. Some great examples include:
-Pushing off from the side of the pool using their feet whilst practicing holding their head above the water and their arms in a correct position. This could mean with their arms to the side of straight out in front of them.
-Bring a small ball or floating soft toy to the pool and have your child practice blowing it from one side of the pool to the other. This will enable your child to increase their lung capacity and practise their controlled breathing skills. These are essential for when they actually learn to swim, giving them the breathing techniques they need to succeed.
-Bring a float along and use this to encourage your child to practice their kicking technique and their leg strength. Whilst many toddlers have the coordination needed to learn how to swim, the lack the strength in their arms and legs to keep themselves afloat. Introducing a kick board is a fun way to build this strength and prepare your child for their first swimming lessons.
One of the most stressful parts of planning to take your toddler swimming is working out the logistics of getting you both changed in and out of your swimwear as fast and as efficiently as possible. Who do you change first? And how do you keep your toddler safe when changing yourself?
Most toddlers become moody and miserable when standing in a cold, wet swimming costume, so we would recommend changing them first before you get changed yourself. Look for a family friendly changing room which has a toddler swimming chair: these are a great place to strap your child and keep them safe whilst you’re getting changed. Avoid clothes that have too many buttons and buckles to make your life as easy as possible; sweat pants and tees may not look stylish but they are the perfect post-swimming clothes. Finally, consider arriving at the pool wearing your swim suit under your clothes, then all you have to do is strip down and you’re ready to get in the water! Even the most impatient toddler won’t have the time to ask whether it’s time to swim yet!
Finally, remember that not all toddlers will enjoy swimming, and not all parents will enjoy swimming with their toddlers! Like any activity, some kids will take to it like ducks to water and some will never set foot in the water again. If your toddler cries when you suggest swimming or refuses to get into the pool when you arrive, then there are very few benefits of forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. Don’t feel guilty: if swimming isn’t the right activity for you then there are plenty of other activities you can enjoy with your child. Don’t put either of you through the tears and tantrums of trying something they simply don’t want to do: instead wait for a couple of months and then try again. Many children don’t start swimming lessons until they reach school age, so if your tot is a late bloomer in arm bands then they certainly aren’t alone! Leave the mum guilt at home and have a stress-free afternoon in the park instead!
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