If you’re starting with a newborn, you can begin your swimming lessons in the bath tub. The water should be deep enough to cover you up to your chest when sitting. If you’re starting with an older child, you may have to get an inflatable pool (something like the Swim Center Ocean Reef Pool for a younger child, or the Intex Easy Set 8-Foot-by-30-Inch Pool Set for an older child) or you can go straight to a swimming pool if you have access to one. We started in the swimming pool because we don’t have a bath tub at home.
Start with cuddling. This helps your baby to feel loved and secure. When ready, let your baby rest his chin on your shoulder and slowly begin to release him so that he is learning to balance on his own. Your arms are in readiness to catch him if he loses his balance so his head doesn’t go under. You can also let him practice holding himself up in the water by using your as the stabilising object.
Floating on the Back
Floating on the back is an excellent water survival skill to have because it gives your child something he can do which will keep him safe if he accidentally falls into water. However, most babies don’t like being on their backs and may resist this position (yet another reason why it helps to start young). The key here is to take it easy and build up your baby’s tolerance slowly. Over time, he will slowly adjust to it and eventually begin to enjoy floating on his back. To help him feel comfortable, you can support his head with one hand and use your other hand to touch his leg or arm for reassurance. The aim is to eventually have him floating on his own.
Start by showing your baby how to blow bubbles under the water. Let your baby touch your mouth and the bubbles as you do this. Eventually, after a week or more, your baby may try to blow bubbles under water as well. Encourage this with lots of enthusiasm and hugs.
It was interesting to note an experience that happened with the boys. One day I was trying to teach Gavin to blow bubbles in the water while Gareth observed. A day or two later when Gareth was sitting in his little bath tub in the shower, he dipped his head into the water and started blowing bubbles. I never really taught him to blow bubbles (at least, my instruction was never directed at him). He just happened to be watching and he caught on to the idea on his own.
How do you get your baby to hold his breath? This has always been one of my concerns with teaching a baby how to swim. Sure they talk about the swimming reflex – that babies will naturally hold their breath under water – but what if your baby is already past that stage?
Bobbing Up and Down
Douglas Doman shares something one mother told them – if you blow gently at your baby’s face, he will naturally hold his breath. So what you can do is gently blow at your baby’s face to encourage him to hold his breath before dipping his mouth and nose under the water.
Begin the process of bobbing up and down by slowly lowering your baby into the water until he is submerged up to his chin. You can also make it a game by lifting baby up into the air and then allowing him to dip into the water up to his chin. Make the game fun and don’t forget to laugh and share hugs. You want to teach your baby that this is fun.
Then teach him to go under until the water covers his mouth. You want him to learn not to swallow water. This is probably a better activity to do at home rather than in a public swimming pool filled with chemicals in the water. If your baby is anything like mine, he will experiment with drinking the water. Once he gets the hang of going under up to his mouth without drinking water, teach him to submerge up to his nose without inhaling water.
Progress at your child’s pace. Once he gets better, you can try releasing him into the water and letting him kick himself back up to the surface. Be aware of your child’s ability to hold his breath under water and be ready to intervene if he needs help. This is about as far as we’ve gotten so far (although Gareth hasn’t actually experienced submersion yet).