Games are an important part of a young child's introduction to swimming, according to aquatic manager Rebekah Meeks of Stayton, Oregon. Children learn important swimming skills through the use of games while also developing confidence in the water. Choose games suitable to the ability and comfort level of the child -- some 5-year-olds will have strong swimming skills, while others will be terrified of the water.
Ring Around the Rosie
When working with a tentative child, playing a game that's familiar to her can help ease her into the water. Play "Ring Around the Rosie" in water shallow enough for the child to stand comfortably. Hold hands with her and walk in a circle while singing, "Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down." When you get to the words "fall down" start blowing bubbles and encourage the child to blow bubbles with you. As she becomes more comfortable, progress to the point where you both dunk your heads under the water.
When working with a class of young students, the car wash game is a favorite of swim instructor Kathi Kent of Stayton, Oregon. It teaches children kicking form while getting everyone involved in the game. Set three or four children on the pool deck so their feet dangle in the water. Keep one child, the "car," in the water. Stand about three feet away from the pool deck, facing the children on the deck, holding the "car" horizontally on the surface of the water, supporting his stomach. When you're ready, say "Car wash on!" All the children on the deck begin kicking, splashing the "car." When you've helped the "car" go back and forth through the car wash say "Car wash off!" so the children stop kicking. Place the "car" on the deck with the other children and ask for a new volunteer to be the car.
For parents who want to teach their little ones to hold their breath, try the whale ride game. You should play this game only if your child feels comfortable enough in the water to get fully submerged. Place your child on her back and instruct her to hold your shoulders tight. Say that you're going to play a pretend game -- you're the whale and your child is the whale rider. Just like a whale, you're going to dive under the water, resurface, then dive under the water again. Give your child a countdown, and on the count of three, dive forward through the water, going just deep enough for your child to submerge fully for one to three seconds. Resurface, say "take a deep breath," then submerge again. Continue until you have submerged three times. Rest, then play again.
Young children love playing with balls, so you might as well let them play with them in the pool. Place a noodle across your child's chest and under his armpits to help him stay afloat. Give him a small ball that will float, something similar in size to a tennis ball. Instruct him to toss the ball as far as he can throw it, to kick to the ball and paddle with his hands, then to pick it up again and throw it with his other arm. See how far he can swim across the pool while kicking, paddling and throwing. Not only will he have fun, but he'll also be learning the basic movements for full-fledged swimming.
- Kathi Kent, City of Stayton Specialty Instructor, Stayton, Oregon
- Rebekah Meeks, City of Stayton Aquatic Manager, Stayton, Oregon