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A Swimming Expert's Top Ten Tips For tots' early swim sessions

Are you ready for your tots' first swim?

Perhaps your toddler likes the bath and you feel the time is right for a bigger water experience, or maybe you are going on holiday somewhere with a pool and want some prior experience.

Whatever your situation, here's my top the tips to help you enjoy your early swimming experiences, by Tracey Hargraves, director of Baby Swimming Shop and experienced baby and child swimming teacher.


1. Slowly, slowly says the sloth!

When you first go swimming take it slow. Babies and toddlers will be used to the warm, small bath, which is nice and quiet and in familiar surroundings. The pool however is larger, colder and noisier and they won't be able to touch the floor. All these new experiences and sensations can overload a little one, so take your time. A wetsuit is good for tots that still get the pool jitters.

2. Take toys that float

Take some (safe) floaty plastic or rubber toys with you and allow them to play with the toys in the shallow end of the pool where your little one can stand, sit, play and splash about with the toys whilst adjust to the pool environment. We used to take small plastic or rubber balls int the pool with our toddlers, who, whilst wearing a float suit, would try and swim after the balls to retrieve them. They absolutely loved this.

These two love their water toys


3. Go to a warm pool

Find a leisure centre with baby pool that is warmer than the big pool, as the bath at home is warm and this will be what they are use to. Try the baby pool a few times before you venture into the main pool. As a parent you might get a little cold yourself as you will be less active than if you were swimming sans baby (and also because the pools are not overly deep). It is important for you to be comfortable as possible. If you are not happy your child will pick up on a negative atmosphere and this might effect its own mood.

This baby is snuggly in her wetsuit 

4. Graduate slowly to the big pool or deep end

Once they are happy with the smaller pool environment or shallow end, take them into the big pool (or the deep end). Here, they won't be able to touch the floor but you can hold them and simply let them move and swish around the pool with you holding onto them. The best position to start with is placing your child on your hip so you can hold them closely and securely, giving them guidance and reassurance, but also having a free hand to splash with them as you move through the water.

5. Teach them to blow bubbles

Once they are happy with splashing in the pool and being with you while you move in the water together, the next stage is learning how to blow bubbles. This is a great way to get wet in a fun way. Blowing bubbles is fundamental for swimming as it teaches breathing techniques when they are older, but for now, toddlers need to be confident in water and eventually be happy to have their face fully in the water as this is the main way toddlers will swim.

To start blowing bubbles position them so they are facing you and hold them under the arms, slightly tilting their body so their feet go behind them. The face then gets lower and closer to the water.

Don't force their faces towards the water but bring them gently close enough so they can put their face into the water if they wish. Once in this position the best way to blow bubbles is to say ‘big breath bubbles’ and as you do this give them a small lift in the water and you then blow the bubbles.

This action shows them that you take an intake of air before you blow the bubbles. It takes time but eventually they will get it, and love it.

Watch out though; some children suck and not blow so take care that they don’t suck as water will go up the nose and may give them head rush.

6. Encourage head submersion using goggles

With the easy bubbles they will start off just blowing with their head up and putting the chin in the water but what we want to try to work towards is complete 'head in the water' bubbles.

There are numerous ways of achieving this but will take time and some may only achieve full bubbles by wearing goggles (we recommend seal goggles for toddlers as they have much better vision). It is best to try for a while without goggles as toddlers should be confident in water without goggles because if they ever fall in water, they won’t have goggles on and therefore they need to be confident without them.

To encourage the head down bubbles you can do it yourself and get them to copy you. Other tips are making both quiet and noisy bubbles. Also, you could use some toys that sink and ask the child to blow bubbles while looking for the toys. It does take time but this part is a lot of fun.

This big girl loves her goggles


7. After bubbles, move onto fun swimming

Once you have achieved blowing bubbles you need to start on some fun swimming activities. You can hold your child under the arms with them balancing on your wrists and put them in a swimming position, taking them around the water reaching out for toys so that they are using their arms in the water. This helps them realise that they have to use their arms in the water. You also need to get them to use their legs so encourage them to kick as well. Many toddlers don’t realise that they need to move their legs to move around the water. Work on one thing at a time so if they are kicking and not moving their arms then shout 'reach reach' or 'kick kick'.

8. Use water woggles and noodles 

If you have a woggle/nooddle it is best to cut these in half to create two smaller swim noodles to put under each arm.  You can move them around the pool by you walking backwards and them on the woggle. Whilst using the woggle you can ask them to blow bubbles, reach in the water and kick but this is a long term action. If your child struggles, support their arms so they don’t fall off and ​slowly over time reduce the support you give them. One good way is to hold with one arm and ask your tot with the other hand to 'high five' your other hand which is lower down, near to the water. This creates a paddle which in time will become a stroke action. Eventually your little one will work out how to hold onto the woggle and balance themselves and then chase you around the pool! We don't sell noodles but places such as Decathlon do.

Water noodles at the ready

9. Get ready for jumping into the water

Jumping into the pool is a toddler’s favourite game once they become happy in water. Ensure that they are not wearing goggles when jumping in as this can hurt them. When they jump in you might start off having to help them. Don’t pull them in by the arms as this is very dangerous and various accidents can happen. Go to the side of them, place one hand on their back and one on the tummy and guide them into the water.

Once in, they can have a splash in the water. Over time you can put your hands on the chest and back and as they jump you will be able to remove your hands so the jump is all on their own.

10. Help them emerge and make their way back to the pool side 

When jumping in, don’t let them jump onto you as this can hurt if they hit you in the face.  Use a hand and splash or pat the water where you want them to jump to and ensure you don’t catch them.  This is a safety lesson for them as you might not be there in the future if they fall into water so we want them to successfully jump in and kick to the surface. Once they are doing this, the next step is to ask them to turn and kick or reach for the pool side.

Happy? Go swim :)

These are the initial toddler swimming pool steps but it can take months for your little one to be happy with them all. Go at your own pace and have fun together. Rewarding your child for doing well in the water with swimming related goodies is a great way to motivate them. Kids love items such as fluffy hooded towels and fun swim bags.

Happy swimming.

More about the author: Tracey Hargraves has spent ten years teaching hundreds of babies and children to swim. As director at Baby Swimming Shop, she knows that products are the best for babies and children in the water. If you have any baby or toddler swimming questions, Tracey would be delighted to help. Email alison@babyswimmingshop.co.uk with your questions for Tracey and they will be answered in 48 hours.

Alice Wareham
28 September 2016

great advce we’ve no idea where to start with our little one in the pool

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