While seemingly benign, flotation devices (vests, rings, water “wings”, etc.) are counterproductive to the swimming education process and. ultimately, to the child’s safety.
Aside from a false sense of security, “floaties” create a habit and desire to stay vertical in the water. The young swimmer hasn’t the body strength to maintain a vertical swim and the drowning process can begin very quickly.
The child who falls into the water without floaties has about 30 seconds to live, more or less. The child must begin the lifesaving process immediately and instinctively. This goal is accomplished by learning a horizontal swim.
Understand that all children try to control their environment and the people in it. Their primary tool is crying. Since swim lessons last only a few minutes, the noise is easily bypassed in the water and the serious business of swimming is achieved.
Do not push the new swimmer to take a breath. The early breathing attempts often put him in an undesirable vertical position. Breathless swims, of increasing lengths, fosters confidence and competence. Developing a comfort in the horizontal swimming is what will save his life.
Use of arms
The use of arms to aid the young swimmer (under 3) is minimal at best. The legs provide the primary means of propulsion. At about age 3½, the child might start a “dog paddle”. The breaststroke (big, underwater circles with the arms) is next in the stroke progression, followed by a crawl or “big arm” stroke and various kicks.
A good rule of thumb is no water toys for the new swimmer. With advances in confidence and ability, dive rings or dive sticks are a great source of fun and learning.
Familiarize the new swimmer with each new swim venue including location of steps, ladders, and benches. Point out hazards like unreachable sides or diving board entry points. The primary factors in a “safe” pool are:
- the height of the pool water.
- the distance from top of water to deck.
- the length of the child’s arm.
The child who cannot reach the side of a pool is not safe no matter how good a swimmer!