Teaching kids to swim – with respect, not fear, of water!

As summer is fast approaching I thought I would get some tips on how to teach our kids to be Swim Savvy around the pool from my friend Lee-anne McQueen, the co-owner of Splash Swimming School and Watersportshop.co.za and author of a new book called Swim Savvy… I’m sure you’ll find her tips helpful and informative.

While enjoying a picnic in Kirstenbosch gardens one gorgeous summer afternoon, a toddler ran past me towards the duck pond, barefoot, arms in the air, squealing with delight. A moment later I clocked his panic-stricken mother sprinting down the hill after him, and being all too familiar with the highs and lows of keeping track of little people in public places, I couldn’t help sympathizing and thought about getting up to catch the little monkey for her. That was until I heard her yell ‘Stop, don’t go near the water, you’re going to drown, you’re going to drown!’.

As a swimming teacher I have spent years (literally, years) trying to undo the damage that parents have done by teaching their children to fear water. I understand where these parents are coming from – children drown every day in South Africa and all over the world – but if only I could make them understand that there’s so much you can do to make time around water safe and fun for everyone without striking fear into the heart of your toddler! Here are my top tips.


Definitely at the top of the list, a couple of rules are crucial for your children’s safety. I would suggest that you set a maximum of 3 simple rules that focus on safety – rules for silly things or too many rules will lead to you and the children bending and breaking them so rather ‘pick your battles’ and follow-through with dire consequences for rule-breaking! Our house rules are that the car doesn’t move until everyone is wearing a seat belt, no-one is allowed to put even a toe in the road without holding a grown-up’s hand, and no-one is allowed to touch water without a grown-up’s help (even washing hands at first – a full washbasin is an accident waiting to happen).

Empty out the pond.

I’m sure you’ve heard that children can drown in as little as 2cm of water? Drowning doesn’t mean being submerged in water, it means filling the lungs with too much water for the body to handle. Children are endlessly fascinated with water, so unless you’re willing to follow your little one around every second of every day (impossible), just remove any source of temptation – ponds, washing buckets, dog’s water bowls, pool and trampoline covers filled with rain water, blocked drains… Wherever you are, do a quick safety check before you let your child out to play.

Two lines of defense.

As a swimming teacher, parents tell me every other day about children who were found on the wrong side of a seemingly impenetrable pool fence, and no-one has any idea how they got there. Fences, covers and nets give a false sense of security as we let the kids out to play and assume that they won’t find their way to the pool. My best advice is to have two lines of defense, like a fence and a net, or a net and an alarm. And of course check that everything is in place every time you send your children out to play, and keep an eye on what’s happening in the garden. (Ed: In our home we have realized we need to also now make sure we keep the pool gate key well out of reach of an almost 6 year old who is all too keen to jump in. He found it a few weeks ago to innocently retrieve his boomerang. Horrors!! We have also had to educate our gardener who needs access to that area to close the gate behind him and when he leaves for the day for us to check that it is locked! Most of our domestic workers would have not grown up around a swimming pool and aren’t aware of the danger or don’t have the swimming skills to assist if there is an accident!)

Swim time routine.

As cute as it is to have your toddler running around the pool and swimming naked on a hot summers day, establishing a routine involving getting dressed for swimming could just save his or her life. Small children thrive on routine and will love going through the steps with you:
1. Go to the toilet (if potty trained yet) and blow your nose
2. Get undressed
3. Put on the swimming cossie and nappy if necessary
4. WALK to the pool
5. Sit on the edge with feet in
6. Wait for mum or dad to get in
6. Climb in slowly by yourself.
It may sound like a lot of hard work, but rather have your little one bugging you for his cossie all afternoon than stripping off and flinging himself into the pool!

Use swimming aids.

There’s nothing more stressful than a pool full of able swimmers having a great time while you try to restrain your eager toddler. Or more disheartening than having a 6 year old who’s desperate to join in the pool games but can’t swim yet. Any time spent in the pool is important for a child’s relationship with water and swimming development, so I say slap on a swimming aid and get in there! The best ones are those that allow a child to experiment with natural swimming positions and movements like putting their face in, kicking their legs and pulling with their arms. The ultimate swimming aid for children aged about 3 and up is the ‘SwimFin’, and armbands are fantastic for younger children or those who are very nervous. The various float-suits available are great for your peace of mind especially if you’re around water a lot, but make sure to take the time to practice without them as well as they sit the child in an upright position which isn’t great for learning to swim. I would avoid inflatable rings altogether as they can easily tip the child upside down. Read my reviews and buy various quality swimming aids online via www.swimsavvy.co.za.

Teach your child to swim!

Every child should be afforded the opportunity of learning to swim for their own physical and mental development as well as for safety reasons. If you can afford it, start as early as possible with parent and baby classes and keep going until your child is a happy and confident little swimmer. If you’re worried about the expense of lessons, there’s loads you can do at home before signing up for lessons to make the process easier for everyone – get your child used to putting their eyes in the water for a start. Spend time playing and practicing basics like bobbing up and down and moving around holding the edge of the pool, then sign up for lessons when your child is happy and comfortable in the water but needs to learn to move independently. And by the way, if you can afford ballet, karate, pottery, gym etc. – you can afford swimming lessons. Making a clay animal is fun but it won’t save your child’s life one day! Have a look at www.swimsavvy.co.za for a comprehensive list of swim schools nationwide, and please let me know if you know of any not yet on the list!

Take swimming home.

In most cases learning swimming basics shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out, expensive process. First of all, practice makes perfect – rather sign up for 2 lessons per week initially, you can always cut back when the basics are in place. Secondly, don’t expect the swimming teacher to be the only source of swimming information! There’s so much you can do at home to reinforce what is learnt at the lessons even if you don’t have a pool, as you’ll see in my book ‘I can swim’.

Some ideas:
practice putting eyes in or kicking legs in the bath,
read books or watch tv programmes about swimming,
google pictures and videos of children swimming,
have your friends and family ask your children questions about their lessons.

Just making swimming a positive, fun part of your everyday lives will make a huge difference to your child’s swimming progress. Of course if you can make it to the pool to practice even better – ask your teacher for a few tips – but try to make these trips more about fun than hard work. As we know, children learn best through play, and this is especially true with swimming.

Learn to swim.

I’m often surprised by how many parents can’t swim or are afraid of the water, and you really can’t expect your child to relish the thought of swimming lessons when they see mom cringe at the thought of getting in the pool. Plenty of swim schools have adult programmes these days, so sign up and surprise yourself at how much you can enjoy the water too!

Last but certainly not least, every parent should make it a priority to attend a reputable CPR and first aid course so that you can quickly take the right steps when accidents do happen. If you’re in Cape Town I highly recommend ‘Safe2Grow’ who offer a very informative and empowering course.

My wish for you is that you can enjoy a happy, worry-free summer around the pool or at the beach, while at the same time fostering a love and respect for the water in your children. I hope this article has been helpful and that you’ll pass it on to friends and family so that we can spread the message of water safety to adults and children everywhere!

To help you and your kids on your way to swimming success Lee-anne has kindly given me 5 of her new Swim Savvy books to giveaway to 5 lucky Becoming you readers!!

The Swim Savvy ‘I can swim’ Progress Journal is an interactive guide for teaching and learning beginner swimming skills. Designed to help parents and swimming teachers to encourage and inspire young swimmers, this colourful, fun and beautifully illustrated book will captivate even the most reluctant swimmer. By working through the exercises in this book together, parents and care-givers can help make learning to swim enjoyable and achievable for any child. Find out more at www.swimsavvybooks.com

How to enter

1) Leave a comment below telling me which of the swimming products available on watersportshop.co.za you are most keen to try for yourself or for your kids…

2) Like the Swim Savvy Facebook page

3) Like Becoming you on Facebook

Please note you need to do ALL the steps above to qualify to win the prize (which includes “liking” both pages).

For an additional entry you can tweet or share this competition on Facebook. Something like this..

I’ve just entered to win a copy of new “I Can Swim” book for kids from Swim Savvy via @Becomingyoublog Enter here: https://www.becomingyou.co.za/?p=15775

Just be sure to leave an extra comment here so I know you have!

This competition is open to all South Africa residents. Entries close on Mon 8 Oct and the winner will be announced on Tues 9 Oct on this blog.

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. oh, super scared of my boys and water, neither can swim yet, both toddlers, and we have ponds, a dam and pool on property. would love to give the splash beach bombs a go, they look like great fun. have liked pages and tweeted competition.

  2. My almost 6 year old boy still doesn’t know how to swim. But he used armbands before when swimming. But I’m afraid armbands may not be enough for him this coming summer. I would love for him to learn how to swim, also my almost 1 year old baby. A Swimfin looks really easy to use. I have tweeted the competition.

  3. I would like to dress my girl in the Second Skins Long-Sleeved Suntop, I would also like her to make use of the SwimFin Swimming Aid once she is a bit older. The Darkfin Webbed Gloves should be fun to play with.

  4. Hi, have liked all pages and would really like to try the SwimFin – I have it, but haven’t managed to convince my son to try it yet!

  5. Just yesterday we started swimming with our little one in the pool, but oh my I’m so scared something goes wrong!!! This would be a great oppurtunity to learn how to let go and be confident!!!

  6. Definitely the SwimFin Swimming Aid! My 3 year old twins start their swimming lessons on Saturday and I would LOVE LOVE a copy of the book! 🙂 I have liked both pages on Facebook!

  7. I have liked both Becoming You and Swim Savvy facebook pages. Have tweeted this giveaway as well. Twittername: online61524

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.