Swimming is one of those things that I think is just easier if you nail it early. If you grow up as something as habit then it’s just something you’re used to rather than it being a big deal. Like my kids are pretty scared of animals, but that’s really because we’re so rarely around them. They’re like this big, unpredictable unknown.
For many kids, I imagine water must be like that. Swimming pools tend to be very big and loud places. If you’re not used to visiting then it must be really daunting. But with life being as hectic as it is, it’s not always easy to go. I always think it would be nice to take the kids mid-week; it would be a chance to practice for swimming lessons and a nice treat. But something ALWAYS takes precedent. Katie will have homework, there’s a playdate, I’d just rather drink gin… you know, the important things in life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about water confidence in children and ways to build that. After getting Thomas swimming again, we have actually been a lot with the kids over half term and they’ve just had the best time. We’ve always worked hard on finding ways for them to enjoy the water, so I thought I’d share a few tactics:
Find a ‘fun’ pool
Initially, for young children I think that some public pools are just way too cold. It’s hard to have fun or feel comfortable when you’re shivering! Also, it can be really cold for parents too! The kids always tend to be moving around, jumping in the water or splashing around – in reality catching them or being splashed does not keep you warm. Or at least not to the same extent as swimming lengths. If it’s an uncomfortable experience, it’s not likely to be one you’ll revisit!
Near to Edinburgh, Haddington is easily the warmest pool I’ve found. It’s got a separate ‘baby’ pool with large steps into the pool and a great edge you hang on to. In terms of just getting used to being in water – it’s a really lovely place to start.
Whilst not as warm, once kids are toddling around and confident on their feet, the toddler pool at Ainslie Park is also a great shout. Being able to touch the bottom of the pool is a really nice confidence builder as there’s no risk of being out of depth. I don’t think ‘being thrown in at the deep end’ was ever really a winner.
For older ones, the best ‘fun’ pool would have to be Dunbar or even Livingstone. Both have slides that are fun as well as fountains and things for the kids to play in. I would always err on the side of caution in Dunbar with small children as when the wave machine is on it can be pretty ferocious – even in the toddler area. It’s much better just to take less confident or smaller children out of the pool for that bit. Livingston has nice rapids that you can float in with the kids, so if you’re there to hold on to them – it can be nice to just meander!
Get some goggles
Some pools can really go to town on the chlorine. Kids particularly can have really sensitive eyes and chlorine stings! I see absolutely no harm in wearing goggles. They don’t impede swimming in any way and I’ve found, they actually make getting your face in the water a lot less traumatic.
Obviously, it’s actually really hard to swim without putting your face in or at least being splashed. Getting used to this is therefore key to learning to swim. A swimming teacher friend always used to bemoan teaching kids who wouldn’t put there face in the water. It took up huge amounts of time to overcome and just impeded everything else he wanted to do.
It is important to get a good fit though. Even as an adult, leaky goggles are the absolute worst. I hate having to tip them out at the end of each length, or having sore imprints on my nose!
We’ve gone through a lot of googles over the years (largely due to losing them!) but Katie and Ben have recently been wearing Sharkfin Aqua Goggles from Swimfreak. They come with an ‘interchangeable bridge’ i.e the bit over the nose between the eyes so can easily be adjusted for each individual. And importantly, have an easily adjustable strap that doesn’t get tangled. It’s important to be able to get goggles tight to prevent water getting in, but not so much that all circulation is cut off! The kids have seemed really happy with these and given they each have their own case – I’m more hopeful they won’t loose them!
Play some games
To build up to the put in which kids are happy to go under the water, I think there’s some great games to play. The most obvious is simply to just blow bubbles. This is always one that you can practice at bath time and it’s so easy to involve toys like these flip toys.
When the pool is shallow enough for the kids to touch the bottom – like at Ainslie Park or even a pool with a movable pool, like the Edinburgh Commonwealth – I really like to play ‘rocket’. This is were you go to a depth where the water is about mid-way to chest, they squat to a depth they are comfortable with and then jump up and launch like a rocket. You can often go a lot higher by getting lower so there’s a good incentive to actually go under the water. Katie is at the point where she likes to jump in, go right to the bottom and then tries to launch back out.
Jumping in, is also a lot of fun particularly when you can get them to do different types of jump – not just be a star, be a bean pole, but be an elephant, be a tiger… this is easily Katie’s favourite game. But it did take a long time to get there.
Initially when she was a baby we would sit her on the side, tip her forward and then enter the pool chest first. This is important because she learned not to just slip in potentially hitting her head on the side. She then was happy to enter the pool like this with us catching her. Then she would stand and jump in (again leaning forward) and slowly, over many visits, we’d catch her just after she hit the water, and then just after she went under the water, and so on.
I think overall though, it helped that Mike and I are both confident in the water. There’s no doubt that the kids would’ve picked up on our fear had it been present. But it’s important to acknowledge that kids can be scared of the water – to not dismiss that but to find ways past it. I think swimming is such a core life skill. And lets face it, in Scotland – any indoor sport is a winner.
What are you tips for increasing water confidence in kids? Do you enjoy swimming as a family – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks to Swimfreak for gifting us goggles – our thoughts on them are all our own and we’re grateful for Swimfreak supporting Edinburgh Life with Kids.