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Learning to Swim Starts in the Bath!

Learning to Swim Starts in the Bath!

These bath-time tips are so simple yet so invaluable for teaching your kiddies to swim!

by Carolyn Nash | Body-Mind Aquatics

Here are 10 activities you can start practicing in the bathtub with infants and children that really make future swim lessons easier. Many of these activities are FUN and can be done at bath time together. Kids learn in three basic ways: watching, listening and experiencing with all the senses. Mix up how each skill is taught, and utilize each learning style. Remember, show plenty of joy and celebration, and give praise for the tiny improvements. Focus less or none at all on the mistakes. Above all, make it a FUN bonding time!

 Please, do only the activities you are 100% confident with. Seek professional help for those you feel less comfortable with. Chat with your physician first, sign-up for swim lessons, and ask plenty of questions! Every learn-to-swim activity should to be a step-by-step progression. Remember these important safety guidelines. Always watch your kids at bath time. Never leave two kids alone in the bath, especially older ones to watch younger ones. Teach your children safety rules about standing and rough-housing in the bathtub.

Floating with Babies and Toddlers

Babies and children often hate lying on their backs in water. My guess is that it creates an out-of-control feeling like falling. Kids often don’t like the sensation of water in their ears either. The earlier you start helping them feel safe on their backs the better. While you are in the bath with only a little bit of water, lay your baby on his or her back on your outstretched legs. If a baby or child doesn’t like lying down, start with leaning back with baby on your chest. Try distraction and fun to help ease the child’s worries. When they are relaxed and happy, ease them a little lower. Let them get used to a position before going lower. This progression can take many baths, but it is worth the patience. Relaxation is the key to floating. By the time the babies reach toddlerhood, they can start to practice on their own. Give them some control and space to explore their bodies in water. This helps integrate natural fish-like movements. Fill the bath with ¾ of the child’s arm length in water. Let your child put her hands down to hold herself up while getting into float position. Floating is about chin up, belly button being level with the ears, and feet and knees positioned just under the water. To dry the child’s ears after floating, teach them to shake the water out and use ear-drying drops. Ask your physician to recommend a homemade drop.

Water over Head

When babies are born, they have a reflex to hold their breath in water, just as they did in the womb. This reflex slowly disappears by three months of age, so begin washing their hair and faces by gently and joyfully pouring water over their heads when they are infants. Your reaction is key! Always respond with happiness and praise. Of course, be mindful of choking and taking in water. Pouring water over their faces and heads, gently, slowly, moderately and for a short period of time will be fine for most babies. Then celebrate the event jubilantly with clapping and cheering! If there is a mistake, still be happy but also helpful. You can say something like, “Great job! Now, spit the water out,” or “I love that you put the water on your face!” After the reflex is gone and they grow, kids might develop a dislike for water on their faces. Some kids and babies never seem to like it, but continue with compassion, gentleness, confidence, joy and a matter-of-fact-of-life attitude.


This may not be the greatest skill for outside the bathtub, but it teaches excellent water control. It is fun and silly to most children! It’s easy to make a game out of it that can help a child get parts of their face wet with less fear. Teach your toddler to put a little water in his mouth and to spit it back out across the tub. It can take a while to learn. Lots of swallowing might happen, so use discretion with when and with how much. Less is more! Talk with your physician about quantities of safe water for your child to ingest.


After babies lose the reflex to hold their breath, they can have a hard time going under water. Those who love the water might also love the sensation of water on their tongues, and they will try to lick it, which may make them choke. However, overcoming these challenges by blowing bubbles is NOT the way to go. Babies and toddlers DO NOT have the control to exhale or blow bubbles for long periods of time. Instead they can learn to hold their breath again for much longer periods of time. Some learn to hold water in their mouth and spit it out. Some learn to swallow. Watch the ones that swallow water. Do not let your baby ingest too much water! Three times swallowing water is enough. If a child has a big belly, get her out of the water because the she has swallowed too much. Talk to your physician more about how much water is safe for your baby. When in doubt, wait till professionals are around to help. In the end, teaching your child to hold her breath is better. Try games of humming. Then hum with your lips in the water. Kiss the water with lips together. Lastly, try putting balloons of air in your cheeks and putting your un-popped balloons in the water.

Looking for the Fishies

Helping toddlers get their faces wet of their own free will is important in a whole-child approach to swimming. You can create a game about finding the fishies under water. Put stickers or diving toys at the bottom, and have them put their eyes and face in to look for the fishies. This is great to do after they get their balloons wet (and then their noses).

Listening to the Fishies

Kids need to get used to getting water in their ears. A great activity is to listen to the fishies. Kids can start with one ear in the water, and then work on listening while floating on their backs (on your legs). Games can be made with the parent making noises under water or humming under water while the child listens.

Humming to the Fishies

To practice going under water and holding the breath, you and the kiddos can hum songs to the fishies. Keep your lips together under water while you hum. Then with exaggeration, open your mouth to take a breath far above the water, and put your closed humming lips back in to finish the song. The “Happy Birthday” song is a great one. You can play a pretend birthday party in the bath.

Diligently Teach the Rule, “Ask Before You Go”

Start when your kids are babies. Model and practice an entire conversation for them about asking to get in the water and waiting until they hear their names and the words, “Yes you can go in the water.” If they want to jump off the side or even touch the water with their toes or hands, have them ask first. When they get old enough to ask with sounds or signs, have them try practicing. By the 1000th time you do this with your toddler, he may get it. Have consequences if a child goes into the water without hearing you say, “Yes, you may go.“ Diligence and consistency will pay off with this skill. This will prevent accidents from occurring.

Games and Songs

Create any game that is fun and progressively teaches the water orientation skills of face in the water, holding the breath, and floating on the back. Songs such as “Wheels on the Bus,”“Old McDonald,” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” can be fun for water play. Practice games learned from swim lessons. Have the kids play swim lessons with a baby doll or water animal. Play treasure hunt, or use bathtub washable crayons to write under water.


This one creates a hug mess, but straight leg kicks are the key to fast swimming. In the bathtub, toddlers can practice this on their backs and bellies. Challenge to keep the bathroom floor dry by being Pinocchio and using straight leg kicks. Try just toe kicks, and have them pretend to flick bugs (or water fairies) off their toes.

These activities, along with gentle swim lessons from mindful, bonding, swim instructors, can make swim lessons a breeze.



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