How to Teach a Child to Float

How to Teach a Child to Float

Teaching a child how to float on their back for the first time is an intimidating task not just for the swim instructor, but for the child as well. Not every child is going to be willing or eager to float on his/her own, especially when the child is put in the hands of a complete stranger. But do not worry, there is nothing to be nervous about–I am here to give you some of my own tips on how to teach a child or toddler to float on their back so you will be able to accomplish this goal on your own!

Before You Begin…

Make sure that you explain to the child what you are going to be teaching him/her. Children are very curious creatures and will always want to know what is next. By explaining the steps in simple words, they will have a better understanding of what is to be expected of them; however, understanding does not necessarily mean willingness. I have had plenty of students in the past that have cried and even ran out of the pool after I have explained to them what I was going to be teaching. Remember: If your child does not want to float, do not force them to do it! Forcing a young child to float presents many risks for them, including swallowing large amounts of chlorinated water and not feeling comfortable. You want to make sure that you are constantly reassuring the child that you are going to be holding him/her every step of the way–this will make the child feel more protected and trustworthy in your presence.

Always Put the Child First!

Once the child is calmer and showing signs of cooperation, you can begin learning to float. When it comes to my younger students, I always let them wear their goggles because they tend to be more scared of water seeping into their eyes rather than floating. On the contrary, I sometimes do not allow my students to wear nose plugs. The reason is I do not want them to become reliant on those accessories because there will be situations where they will not have access to them. This is why constant reassurance and enthusiasm plays an essential role when teaching a nervous child how to float! I also like to give most of my swimming exercises nicknames so that it is easier and more enjoyable for my students to remember which lesson is which. I like to call these floating lessons “Starfish!” because the child is going to look like one and it makes the child a little less apprehensive about the lesson. Always prepare yourself and keep in mind that the child is going to be moving around a lot in the water due to the discomfort of water seeping into his/her ears.

Now You Can Begin the Lesson

Here is a step-by-step guideline on how to teach a child how to float:

  1. Kneel at a 90° angle so that the weight of the child will be redistributed to your legs.
  2. Rest the child’s head on one of your shoulders, preferably your dominant side.
  3. Use both of your hands and slowly lift the child’s back to the surface of the water, making sure that his/her face is above the water.
  4. Have the child spread his/her arms and legs out like a starfish. This helps the body act like a floating ring so that the water and force of gravity is not entirely focused on the center of the child’s body.
  5. Make sure the child’s back is straight and his/her stomach is parallel to the surface of the water. Note: This will make the child feel uncomfortable for first few times but this is good practice for them before they begin floating without any assistance.
  6. Hold the child for at least 5 seconds.
  7. Reassure the child that the water flowing into his/her ears is completely normal and will not affect them in any way.
  8. Use both hands and slowly set the child down on your lap.
  9. Don’t forget to applaud them!
  10. If the child is still calm and willing to do it again, repeat steps #1-9 and increase each time by 5 seconds.

Concluding Remarks

I am a firm believer in “More practice makes perfect” because all of my students in the past have shown me that they were able to successfully float on their own with these simple instructions. I also had to adjust my teachings several times with every student I have taught. Supporting and building up my students’ confidence is one of my main goals when it comes to swim lessons, not just telling them what is in the lesson plan today. What they think of themselves will affect the way they see their potential! It is important to understand that every child is different and will not cooperate a lot of the time, especially when it comes to teaching another person’s child (or even your own!) how to float for the first. But rest assured, you and the child are always capable of overcoming this challenge with patience and reassurance!

Good luck and have fun! If you need further assistance consider hiring a private swim instructor to come out to your home or community pool.

Kimberley Do’s bio:

Swim Instructor in Riverside, CA

Greetings! My name is Kimberley Do. I was born and raised in San José, California but am now residing in Riverside. I am currently a third-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside and pursuing a Bachelor of the Arts Degree in Ethnic Studies. I have been a swim instructor at West Coast Aquatics for three years, mainly mentoring young children and teenagers. I have enjoyed teaching all of my students before moving and I look forward to teaching even more.


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