How to Teach Your Kids to Love the Water this Summer

Swimming is a life skill

By Lisa Cook, Guest Contributor

 CEO & Master Swim Instructor, kidSwim

Swimming is one of the great joys of my life. I’ve always loved it and am one of those annoying people who says things like ‘I was swimming before I could walk’ (probably not true but it sounds good).  What is true is that I love swimming so much, I’ve even sacrificed a perfect blow dry for a dip in the pool on more than one occasion!

I’ve been teaching for over thirty years. Even after all this time, I still teach because I still love it.  I’m still refining, tweaking and learning how to be better, and how to convey more concisely and efficiently to children and parents what water safety and stroke proficiency really means — and more importantly how to achieve it.

I began kidSwim in 2001 as a developmental swim school. Of course as an educator I know what that means but what does it mean to you, the parent? How does a ‘developmental program’ equate to ‘learning to swim’ or more importantly ‘learning to be water safe?’

This year, I created The kidSwim Method™ which actually details how we utilize a developmental approach in order to maximize effective and positive learning for each and every child we work with.  Aligning with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for developmental milestones, we address swim skills in the same format that they do, from a motor/communication/sensory framework.

Our developmental swim method approaches teaching kids to love the water at each age and stage, focusing on specific motor/communication/sensory skill development.  Our program is designed to enhance and support those skills and that growth. In addition, we add safety words and physical skills that are developmentally appropriate to the age group.

This, in my opinion, is the key to real learning — to meet each child at where they are developmentally.  Once they’ve gained confidence and acquired specific water skills, we can push them beyond their comfort zone.

Swimming is the most unique of all sports because it is also a life skill. I tell parents to approach learning to swim the way they teach their children to read - with consistent exposure and positive associations from infancy. This is the best way to ensure a smooth transition from non-swimmer to swimmer by age 2 and a beginner to intermediate by age 3. 

If you are able to keep your baby exposed to the water and swimming from 6 or 7 months of age, with minimal to no breaks in the action until age 2, I can almost guarantee that your child will be swimming by 2 without incident.

If your concern is that you missed this window of opportunity and your child is now 2 or 3 and not yet swimming, please rest easy! Most children do not begin lessons until they're 2 or 3 or even 4.  At whatever age you start, that’s the age they’ll begin to learn.  

The reason why I encourage exposure in infancy, is simply because it makes the process smoother, but it certainly not essential.

In terms of when a child is really water safe, I’m always reluctant to give a specific age as there are so many variables involved in creating a water safe child. However, I would say that an 8 year old child with at least 5 years of lessons behind him, who can swim all four strokes and is comfortable and confident in any pool he is exposed to, is more likely to be able to handle a variety of situations.

Lastly, I do recommend that all children remain in some form of lessons until age 8. Private lessons are better suited to children under 5, but an adept confident swimmer by age 5 or 6 could easily participate in a group class. 

Swimming really is the single best form of exercise for children as it builds endurance and strength without putting any pressure on growing bones.

Anabel Marquez