I could swim before I could walk. Never in my memory have I approached water without feeling confident in my ability to paddle around, navigate, or jump in. This was something that I very much wanted for my children.
Our first concern was safety – we are on the water often, and hope that our boys will not panic in an emergency if they are unexpectedly submerged. However, we also wanted to give them a true sense of confidence and understanding that would help them enjoy the ocean (and pools, lakes, and rivers) more as they grow. Finally, Simon really wanted to replicate the Nirvana Nevermind album cover.
In the 2010s, teaching your infant or toddler to swim freely is not a straightforward task. The baby swim classes that my mom had taken me to don’t seem to exist anymore, at least not where we live. The premise that very young babies (less than six months) have an innate reflex to hold their breathe underwater, and will retain this with practice, seems to have been buried under concern of frightening children. It is our opinion that not knowing how to swim is a far more frightening option, but getting to the task at hand, there were no public or private lessons we could sign up for. We had to do swim school ourselves. For those that would like to try something similar, we found the following three resources immensely helpful. However, the most important thing was consistency and lots of time in the water. Experience is invaluable – I was far more successful with Blake than Joey at a young age.*
- Your Baby Can Swim by Bonnie Prudden
- How To Teach Your Baby to Swim from Birth to Age Six by Douglas Doman
- USwim Australia videos
Little gear is needed – we used bath toys that we already had and let Joey pick out goggles at Target. One item that was immensely helpful in winter and spring was small wetsuits – both of our boys get cold quickly at an indoor pool. We like this one for infants and this one for toddlers.
Joey & Blake will now go underwater happily and hold their breath. They kick and paddle their arms to propel themselves, but don’t go far without adult help. I have let them lead the way for lessons in terms of what they are comfortable with. There are days when they don’t want to submerge, so we don’t. There are days when they enthusiastically ask for more, so we do. I had imagined far grander things, but for now I’m glad that we have been able to get them both comfortable in the water and solid on breath-holding.
As for the Nirvana photo – it’s a lot harder to replicate than we thought!
*We are not swim instructors – just enthusiastic parents sharing what worked for our kids.