How To Teach Babies And Toddlers To Swim - My Family Travels

As parents, we want to know how to teach our babies to swim because the desire to see, feel or hear water is universal. People from all walks of life seek its soothing yet refreshing nature. Water makes us want to play, frees the senses. Water stimulates and excites us at all ages.

Father teaches baby how to swim in a lake. Photo c. mellaviews for pixabay
Father teaches baby how to swim in a lake. Photo c. mellaviews for pixabay

The presence of a pool or beach makes any trip feel like a vacation to me and my family. That’s why all travelers should know how to teach newborns, babies and toddlers to swim.

Wherever you vacation — even at a theme park — water safety for children is key. Whatever your favorite water hole, here are some suggestions on how to have fun and play it safe with kids of every age.

Do You Need Swimming Lesson Plans For Beginners

Swimming lesson plans depend on when and where you teach your baby to swim. If it’s on vacation, when you’ll have more time to work with children, start slow. Follow our water safety tips and always stay close to beginner swimmers of any age.

However far you get teaching babies and toddlers how to swim, you’ll probably want to follow up at home with professional lessons.

How Many Swimming Lessons Does a Child Need to Take?

Woman teaches baby how to swim in indoor pool.
Teach baby how to swim with water play: dunk and raise their heads, show them how to scoop their arms and always stay close by.

If you’re taking baby or toddlers to the local pool or YMCA for swim class, they have designed a group program to suit their age and ability. Most classes are progressive.

Children who start at any age can continue to learn how to swim until they’re qualifying for Olympic trials. Some parents prefer private instruction. Others are fans of the Infant Swimming Resource technique of water safety, so read on.

What Are IRS Swim Lessons? Or, Better, What is ISR?

The initials are not actually IRS, although most people remember to pay their taxes more often than they think about swim safety. The system called ISR swim lessons has become increasingly popular, and it stands for Infant Swimming Resource. ISR is a group of water safety professionals which has advocated for teaching babies to swim and protect themselves from drowning since 1966. Their website claims their specially trained instructors have delivered more than 19,000,000 ISR Self-Rescue Lessons. 

The ISR stated mission, “Not One More Child Drowns,” is behind a program some call ‘tough love’ instruction. However, their self-rescue techniques to prevent drowning for children under 4 years have been very successful. Check out their website for recommendations of trained ISR swim instructors in your region.

You don’t have to search far online for evangelists of this rigorous teaching method, which might include throwing fully-cothed children into a pool so they can rescue themselves. The video explains their goal of teaching all infant swimmers to turn over and float on their backs if they find themselves in water. Lessons are typically private — one-on-one is how they teach baby how to swim — and they’re expensive. It makes sense that parents who have their own swimming pools or live close to the water are more in favor of the technique than those who expose children to water only occasionally.

How to Teach Baby to Swim 0-6 Months and Up to 2 Years

Smiling toddler learning how to swim wears sunglasses and beach robe.
If you know how to teach babies to swim you start them on a lifelong love of the water.

Now, back to you teaching kids how to swim. If you want your baby to learn how to swim, both of you should be relaxed in the water. Most infants are naturally buoyant; they need less physical support but more breath control than older children.

First tip: Don’t forget the sun protection. Sunscreen should be waterproof, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. SPF30 sunscreen is used on children up to 6 years but must be reapplied more often than the label suggests.

Buy Bullfrog SPF50 for tough-to-please teenagers. Bullfrog suncreen and insect repellents are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate chemicals. That makes them healthier for young swimmers and compliant with the reef-protecting rules on most Caribbean islands and Hawaii Act 104. It’s what I use, surfers use, and it’ll go with the cool motif. Trust me.

How to Teach Baby to Swim from 6 Months to 2 Years: Water Play

Before plunging into the resort pool or ocean, find out the water temperature. Most kids don’t like cold water, especially below 79° F. Typically, recreational pools are heated to 82-86° F and lap pools to 78-82° F. Water park pools are usually kept at 84° F.

Begin by holding her loosely around the chest, just under the arms, so her face is just above the water. If your baby can control her own breathing without straining, let her legs dangle.

When she’s calm, sing, talk, and push and pull her through the water.

Your baby will love whatever water play your imagination conjures up. And loving the water is the first priority in how to teach babies to swim.

How to Teach a Toddler to Swim 3 to 8 Years: First Swim Lessons

Dad stays close and hugs three children he's teaching how to swim in a swimming pool.
Stay alert and close by the water when you’re teaching beginners of any age how to swim.

A swimming lesson plan is more appropriate for kids ages 3 to 8 years. Most parents, and even some group swim class instructors, start toddlers and older children in a pool with an inflatable device. (Inflatable flotation devices include arm swimmies and water wings.)

At first, these devices may float or push a child face down if they don’t move their arms. Whether you’re holding up your toddler or they’re wearing a floatie, take children’s hands and show them how they can scoop handfuls of water to move forward.

Then, introduce familiar elements in the pool, such as favorite bath toys, to chase around. Encourage any kind of movement in the water. Demonstrate how to blow bubbles and how to spit water out of the mouth. Children beam with excitement once they experience a sense of independence in the water. Though I’m not yet a parent, that glow always fills me with the warmest feelings.

Safety Note about Inflatable Devices or Floaties

Boy in life jacket sits at edge of pool playing with woman in the water.
Keep a close eye on kids using personal flotation devices (PFDs) around the water. Photo c. JVR-X-88 for unsplash

As an aquatics instructor, I don’t recommend inflatable flotation devices for non-swimmers. I know preschoolers love to play on big inflatable rafts, toy boats, and silly animals. However, in fun park wave pools or open water, an inflatable flotation toy or ring can turn a child upside down, and hold them with quite a resistance. Always be there to supervise.

Similarly, ocean and sea currents can be strong and change without warning. Just as toddlers at the water’s edge need supervision, adults should hold onto smaller children with any flotation device, even if they’re only in water up to their waists.

Flotation devices also give children and supervising adults a false sense of security. Even worse, they deflate easily and restrict an instinctive swimmer’s natural movements.

Remember, you must remain with a child wearing any flotation device (including a life jacket, ice cube or foam block, inner tube-filled swim suit, and others).

In fact, teach your children to always look for a lifeguard or ask for adult supervision before swimming. I even recommend to fairly good swimmers to make sure someone is aware that they’re in the water. This is especially true for kids! I believe no child should ever be left alone around any amount of water.

6 Months to 16 Years: Pool Safety & Fun Games

Depending on the level of proficiency, there are lots of fun and safe water games you can play to encourage swimming skills.

Four to 8-year-olds like Marco Polo, Sharks and Minnows, and kickboard races.

With 8-16 year olds, review the facility’s regulations and health rules so that everyone understands guidelines for acceptable behavior.

Never assume that a teenager engaged in group water play is adequately looking after a younger child or non-swimmer.

From Swimming Babies to Aquanauts: The Right Gear

Teen girl wearing swim goggles smiles at camera from the edge of the pool
Teach children how to swim with safe, age-appropriate gear and they will soon want to be on the swim team.

Off to the Arctic with young swimmers? Don’t despair! Wet suits are a fashion trend that really keep kids warm! As alternative swim wear, they can be quite versatile, offering protection from the sun, a lightweight shield against scrapes and stings and, as an extra bonus, additional buoyancy. Personally, I wear a short one when I’m teaching all day in the pool, and I recommend the same to students who get cold easily.

Shop online for wetsuits that come in different sizes and colors. I’ve seen short suits small enough to fit 1’s and 2’s, and wetsuit vests to fit 10-month-olds. Of course, they’re not cheap: neoprene wet suits range from $35-$200 on up.

Once they have a wetsuit, your teenagers would probably love to talk you into getting a Boogie Board and fins. Again, they’re not cheap, but they are a lot of fun.

Kids ride a boogie board like a very short surfboard, remaining on their stomachs. They use the fins to spin around on top of the waves to create a liquid roller coaster! Not to mention that they really do look very cool with all this gear. Before you invest, call ahead to find out if your beach resort rents boards and fins. The local dive shop may rent wetsuits.

I Love these Water Park Safety Tips

A lifeguard watches over the kiddie pool at the Kartrite Resort & Indoor Water Park in Monticello, New York.
Several lifeguards monitor the pools and water slides at the Kartrite Resort & Indoor Water Park in Monticello, New York.

Before any trip to the water with your swimming toddler, please review more Water Safety Tips compiled by professional swim instructors. Water parks have a vested interest in keeping their customers safe, too. The Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, waterpark capital of the USA, shares important water safety tips.

1. Learn to swim. Children (and adults) should always be comfortable with the water and swimming before a day at the waterpark, beach, or pool.

2. Always follow the rules, read signs around swimming areas, and listen to lifeguards on duty. Remember that running can cause slips, falls, and injuries. For extra traction and protection, try water shoes which are generally permitted in all waterparks.

3. Ensure that there are emergency numbers, a telephone, and life preservers nearby and learn infant and child CPR.

4. Adults (not other children) must supervise children in the pool at all times. Always check back to the pool first if a child is missing!

5. Be aware that drowning often happens in silence; don’t expect to hear flailing or screams.

6. Prevent choking by spitting out your chewing gum and clearing food from the swimming area.

7. Remove flotation devices and toys from the empty pool to avoid temptation. These are not safety devices, and a beach ball or smiling dolphin could lure a child into the pool unsupervised. If you need a flotation device, always use a life vest instead of floaties and toys.

8. Since infants can drown in a few inches of water, drain wading pools when supervised play is over.

9. Before diving in, check depth of pools and waterparks, including shallow play areas for toddlers.

10. Always observe a waterslide, diving board, and water activities to know how everything works and what to expect before jumping in.

11. Before a day of water play, choose a meeting area such as the first aid station in the event your group becomes separated.

If you own a pool, remember to create multiple obstacles to children sneaking in by themselves. A fence, a pool cover, and an alarm can be an effective combination. Also, remove the ladder of an above ground pool when not in use. Most importantl, educate your children about water safety— teach them that safety and family fun can go together!

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