She Says… Learning to Swim

Can a kid learn to swim by sheer force of will? If so, I think Owen will learn to swim in the next few weeks before the weather turns cold. Contrary to, umm, reality… Owen is certain he can swim without my help.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the water this summer. Pool, lake, ocean… Owen doesn’t discriminate. The kid is fearless, headstrong and sees absolutely no reason why he can’t just walk right out into the deep water.

Except for one thing. He’s a sinker.

I am not sure of the science behind this, or maybe it’s totally false, but I think people are either sinkers or floaters. Some people are just more buoyant than others. Owen, however, is not one of them. In fact, neither am I. I learned how to float, sure, and I learned how to swim way back when I was tiny. But I’m no Michael Phelps. I can dive and do silly jumps off the diving board and play pool games, but I always lost at Sharks & Minnows and was never, never up for a race.

So far we haven’t used floaties or water wings or vests or inner tubes with Owen – he has been in shallow water, on a step or platform, or in someone’s arms. Previously I thought this would help him learn to swim faster (without the false security of a floatation device), but now I think all it has done is given me about a million gray hairs. The kid has NO SENSE that if his head goes under water, he will drown. He loves to dunk his face and blow bubbles and even when he falls in or dunks unexpectedly, he always comes up with a huge grin.
He kicks his legs and paddles his arms and totally “gets” the swimming movements.

The only problem is… I don’t know what to do next to teach him how to swim. He desperately wants to learn, but I honestly don’t know what to do other than to slowly remove my hands and let him figure out what he needs to do to keep his body floating. And that sounds like a good plan until you see my kid paddling and kicking and making all the right motions… and sinking.

While on vacation a couple weeks ago my 5 year old niece was showing off her new “swimming without floaties” mad skillz and she tried to show Owen how to float on his back like a starfish. But for some odd reason, Owen would NOT lay on his back. He will do everything else in the water, frontwards, backwards and upside down, but apparently will not lay on his back. (Side note: he does it in the bath no problem, but I think his heavy little butt is sitting on the bottom of the tub). How do you explain the concept of floating? Of holding your breath? He seems to naturally understand the need to hold his breath under the water, but not the concept of taking a breath BEFORE going underwater to help him float. Floating seems to escape him. And I am at a loss for how to move forward in teaching him to swim.

The good news is that he only just turned 2. He doesn’t need to learn how to swim this summer. Since we have no plans to do swim classes year round (we do music class and other activities instead), he will likely forget this skill next year anyway (right? not really sure…). So probably the best solution is to let him continue to splash and kick and dunk and love the water, but not try to “teach” him anything more than that.

Thoughts? Can 2 year olds swim short distances, like between two parents? How do you teach a kid to float?

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14 responses to “She Says… Learning to Swim

  1. I think you answered your own question – or at least the answer I was going to give you. I feel like it’s too young to truly learn this and having fun “practicing” is all you can expect. My gut says that while the enthusiasm may be in full force, there is no way I would ever trust my 2 year old around a pool (I know that’s not what you’re saying) without a PFD on at all times. I wanted Cameron to wear one automatically (just like he has to put on his helmet when he gets on his tricycle even in the house) – just for habit & safety. I don’t feel like it will ingrain a false sense of security, because when he does learn to swim, he will be older and old enough to understand the concept of having it on vs. not having it on.

    But Cameron is much different from Owen in this way. While he enjoys playing in the bath and water, his personality is super cautious (which I LOVE) and it takes him a while to warm up to things and didn’t super love the “big” pool we had him in this summer and at the beach, he will only sit at the shore on my lap! He does pretend to “swim” in the tub and gets on his belly and kicks and swings his arms, but I don’t think he would do that in “real” water – he’d be too scared of it. I am considering signing him up for swim lessons this winter as an “indoor” activity on a Saturday or Sunday just to get some “professional” instruction we can use to move forward.

  2. Our kiddo is just 1 now. But I think it is really natural for kids not to want to float on their backs. We plan on doing ISR, not as swim “lessons”, but to get her comfortable in the water and with the skills to turn over and breath and move to the side of the bowl. Essentially, they (or providers like them) teach drowning prevention skills. And it’s amazing how well 2 yrs can swim!

  3. sounds like swim lessons are in his future next summer for sure!

  4. We do year-round lessons for Clara, who is 18 months now. Our swim school acts like they lose all their skills if you don’t, but that could totally be a marketing ploy. haha. I don’t think two year olds are really “swimming” though. maybe just practicing kicking in the tub and talking about swimming??
    most of the kids in clara’s class don’t like the floating on the back part.

  5. As a previous swim lessons instructor a 2 year old can absolutely learn how to swim with the proper instructor. Since it is near the end of summer you could just wait till next year or you could take him to an indoor pool during the winter. You will be amazed at what some kids will remember and what they forget. my advice since he is fearless teach him the basics of water safety and teach him how to kick. Good luck!

  6. I say ABSOLUTELY sign him up for swim lessons while he is feeling interested and bold. Seriously. As the mom of two five-year-olds who are struggling to learn to swim and get over their fear of putting faces under water, I know that we would be a lot farther along if we had started earlier and stuck with it.

    You can do the mom-and-me classes at the YMCA, those are a fine enough activity. And with a kid as bold and comfortable as Owen, you might really make progress. But for us, the key was private lessons (we do it at the Y). They have made SO much more progress doing that than they ever did in group lessons, with or without me.

    It could just be me, projecting my own stuff onto your family. But my gut says you’ll kick yourself next summer if he discovers fear and you didn’t take advantage of this interest to get him some skills in the water. You’d be amazed what they can do if they’re frequently exposed and challenged, even this young.

  7. I say ABSOLUTELY sign him up for swim lessons while he is feeling interested and bold. Seriously. As the mom of two five-year-olds who are struggling to learn to swim and get over their fear of putting faces under water, I know that we would be a lot farther along if we had started earlier and stuck with it.

    You can do the mom-and-me classes at the YMCA, those are a fine enough activity. And with a kid as bold and comfortable as Owen, you might really make progress. But for us, the key was private lessons (we do it at the Y). They have made SO much more progress doing that than they ever did in group lessons, with or without me.

    It could just be me, projecting my own stuff onto your family. But my gut says you\’ll kick yourself next summer if he discovers fear and you didn\’t take advantage of this interest to get him some skills in the water. You\’d be amazed what they can do if they\’re frequently exposed and challenged, even this young.

  8. Faith has been taking swim classes for months now. You just have to teach him how to kick his legs AND move his arms at the same time and you’ll be set. Most of the 2 year old boys in our classes can swim short distances (the girls are more hesitant)

    Floating stuff is fine if he’s going to be in the water for a while. We have this bodysuit thing for Faith that keeps her from getting too tired, but lets her play independent of us holding her in the water.

  9. Ethan took a mommy and me class last summer at our local pool (really more of a daddy and me, since I had JUST given birth to #2 right before the class started!) It was FANTASTIC for him. He was two and a half at the time and he LOVED the water. We knew he might be too young to really do a swimming class, but this kind of parent-child class gave him some basic skills and gave us some basic vocabulary to use with him when he’s in the water. This summer we got him a Puddle Jumper so he could swim “independently” (i.e., so I would have fewer gray hairs, as my little daredevil jumps into any body of water without hesitation). But we reminded him of his skills from class, with the vocabulary that he did remember, and he was able to “swim” and not totally rely on the flotation. We discovered that he’s a fast little swimmer once he got his legs kicking and he started doing his big “over arm scoops.” A class is a good idea — if nothing else, it will give both of you a good vocabulary to start using as you help him swim.

  10. My son can swim in our pool as long as we have floaties on him. He was a natural, though. All I did was tell him to kick his legs while I held him under his belly and by the end of the first lesson he was swimming on his own. He’s 2.

  11. mommy of 2 year old

    Personally, i used floaties all summer when my daughter let me put them on her. i got this contraption called a Puddle Jumper and she loved it (at times) and had some independence in the water and I didn’t have to hold her the whole time. I dont think they become dependent on them and it’s just a safety thing and more fun for her. I am a good swimmer (swim team, lifeguard etc as a teenager) and I had floaties on as a kid all the time. I think blowing bubbles is a good place to start and get them used to putting their head under but maybe i’m wrong! Like you, I thought swim lessons this year were not necessary, because they won’t remember it next summer and I figure they will have a lot more language and can more easily understand kicking, blowing bubbles, and trying to float. Owen looks really cute in the water trying to swim BTW!!!!

  12. ISR!!! Google it! Find someone! It is the BEST.

  13. There is a good australian website with printable swimming lessons uswim.com I am planning to take my 7 months old for her first swim this weekend.

  14. I don’t have any real advice on the “how”, but I know it is possible, and I think a lot of it is just persistence and consistency. Elle is a week younger than Owen and recently completed Infant Swimming Resource classes, and this is definitely something that I was glad to leave to the pros :) Elle was a sinker for the first 4+ weeks of her six-week lessons. The instructor spent a lot of the first two or so weeks having her work on keeping her mouth closed and her eyes open as she “swam,” but when it came time to learn the swim-float-swim sequence she wanted nothing to do with it. She HATED being on her back and wouldn’t relax her body/arms to even attempt floating. She would scream and cry and struggle to flip over. I don’t think she *got* it and just felt a loss of control. Then it seemed like one day she realized that she was buoyant and that it was neat and fun to float, and for the rest of her lessons ALL she wanted to do was float. She actually attends one “maintenance” class a week to work on the swim-float-swim sequence because she took so long to catch on to floating and then fixated on it. She has never been a great kicker, so her “swimming” consists mostly of an odd hands-and-feet-wiggling-to-safety move, but she can definitely move from point to point on her own and I no longer worry about her sinking. She’s also able to come up to a floating position from various positions, like if she would tumble in to a pool or slip off the edge of a dock or something. I don’t expect her to always remember the swim-float-swim sequencing without refresher courses, but I do think that if she was in a situation where she fell in to water, she’d be able to float (and yell) until help arrived.

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