Water babies - giving your preschooler a head start in the water

You can enrol your child in formal swimming lessons from as young as six months - as long as they’ve had their immunisations. But there are many things you can do yourself to build your child’s confidence in the water.

We’ve put together some activities to get you and your kids in the water having fun. If they can master these, they’ll be on their way to learning how to swim and survive.

Activities to try at home

Want your child to be happy and confident in the water? Try these fun activities:

Home & Hose

Water confidence should start at home. The bath in winter, and the hose and sprinkler in summer, are a great way for kids to get comfortable in the water. Encourage them to splash around and get used to having water on their face. It’s great practice and it’s fun!

Jump on in!

Whether the location is the bath, paddling pool, local beach or pool, get your child used to playing in water. Splashing, blowing bubbles or learning to hold their breath, ducking under and jumping from the side into your arms, are all ways of setting up your child for a smooth transition to learning to swim.

Try blowing bath toys or ping-pong balls along the surface of the water, or get them comfortable with holding floatation devices – such as a noodle or kickboard – in shallow water with your assistance. 

Floating Starfish

With your support, your child can have a go at floating on their back. Ask them to lie back and with your hands on the child’s back, help them float on the surface of the water. See if they can relax and straighten both arms and legs. When your child is relaxed, slowly take your hands away and see how long they can hold the position.

Kicking Correctly

Teaching your child how to kick properly will provide a head start for lessons. Have your child hold on to the side of the pool or a kickboard. Demonstrate how to kick with straight legs in an up and down motion. Then once that’s mastered at the poolside, have short kickboard races and a bit of fun. 

If, together, you’ve achieved all of these milestones, visit the Sealord Swim for Life website for some more ideas and activities.

A few things for parents to remember

  • Get your togs on and get in the water! Children need to be within arms reach at all times – regardless of how shallow the water – and the best way to do this is by getting in.
  • Keep the sessions short and fun – and choose a time of day when your pre-schooler will be at their best (i.e. not tired and hungry!). The more often you go, the faster the progress will be too.
  • Like any learning experience, children should be encouraged to learn at their own pace. Allow them to experience the water and gain confidence in one aspect before progressing to another.
  • Place an emphasis on safety from an early age. Teach them to walk around the pools edge (no running), how to enter the water safely (using the ladder, one at a time) and always to wait for an adult before getting in.

If you can put into practice just a few of these hints and tips, your pre-schooler will be well on their way to learning to swim and survive. Don’t forget, the most important thing is your child – and you! – are having fun.