We are a family that loves to swim. The girls are little mermaids. Swimming boosts self esteem, is a healthy form of excercise, is fun and helps develop breath control and lung capacity, essential for speech development would you believe!
Admittedly we never manage to make it a weekly affair. Snotty noses and chest infections sometimes get in the way, or burst ear drums or appointments. Or Daddy's away and I can't cope with 1-2 supervision levels, or I just don't fancy the smell of chlorine and trying to coax Natty in and out of clothes and costumes like a reluctant and wriggly wet eel.
I'm a bit of a fairweather swimmer myself, shunning local sea dips in favour of warmer holiday waters. I know, I know... sacrilege.
We've never signed the girls up to formal lessons, preferring for the moment to let then learn through play and our example. Mia swam for the first time on a hot holiday where she was trying desperately to emulate some older children, splashing for hours per day in an infinity pool. Natty in her turn has always been motivated by trying to be like her older sister.
Well, yesterday Natty swam a width of the pool for the very first time, unaided, without help or armbands. Yes alone. She slid in from the side, swam across and climbed out the other side. Admittedly she didn't come up for air and did all of it underwater, but we can work on breathing later.
So, what are our tips:
(Never leave a child alone in water, whatever swim aid you are using.)
1) Start early. Introduce your baby to water as soon as they are well enough to avoid fear later on. I know they say this isn't necessary, but I waited for all the jabs to be administered first.
2) Play in the bath too and don't be afraid to get children to blow bubbles into the water, submerging their faces for a few seconds. Make up silly songs, pull funny faces as you do the same.
3) Use a swim nappy, re-useable or disposable, special trunks or swimming costume with built-in continence support (these are available for older children who have the odd accident). Natty always seemed to prefer doing a poo in water until recently, be it bath or pool, so this was essential unless you want to be barred from your local pool.
4) Choose a reliable swim aid until your child is confident to move to the next level. We tried the suits with the floats built in as well as the little jackets with pockets to put foam floats in, but I found it hard to grab Natty round the waist to lift her wearing these. We eventually discovered the Puddle Jumper floatation device. Utter brilliance! It has armbands and a tummy float but it's all joined together and does up at the back. The child cannot sink, flaots face up and also cannot run away from you ripping their armbands off as they go and jumping in at the deep end with you hurtling after them, terrified! They cannot remove this device.
One day we left our Puddle Jumper behind at the pool and someone took it. Rather than buy a new one it was the boost we needed to move to the next step, which was simply armbands. Choose a variety that roll on simply, or inflate whilst on the child's arms. Natty's arms are short so we always had to use a very small pair, 6-12 months.
5) We removed the armbands for a few minutes at each session and pushed Natty through the water from one to the other. We let her play freely in the children's pool so she could get used to how her body felt in water without buoyancy aids. We always took bath toys, plastic cups, watering cans or balls to play with.
6) We then built up the distances slightly. My neighbour was the one who encouraged me not to leap forward and grab Natty as soon as she began to sink. This is hard to do as a nervous, protective parent, and could be the point you need an instructor to help if you are feeling worried about 'letting go'. She struggled for a second or two and then, hey presto, she found the strength and energy to make the extra effort needed to pull herself forward the required few centimetres to reach me.
7) Wax ear plugs and neopreme headbands are available if your child hates getting their ears wet or is prone to ear infections.
8) A top class pair of goggles are a must. We bought a pair more akin to a snorkel mask, that keep the whole eye area dry.
9) Little and often is better than long sessions where the child gets fed up and tired
10) Praise rather than pushing your child. Remember to have fun! Your child will learn almost by accident. Never push or force them to learn. Be patient. It takes time.