Swimming with babies and toddlers

Lots of children say that swimming is their favourite family activity, and it’s a great way to get active together. Not only is swimming fun and accessible, it’ll also help to keep the whole family fit, and is an essential life skill.

Swimming can have major health benefits. It builds strength, stamina and flexibility, keeps children’s hearts and lungs healthy and improves posture and balance.

Water safety is crucial - drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children, yet 1 in 5 still leave primary school unable to swim.

Ensuring that your child is confident around water could help keep them safe later in life.

Ready to make a splash?

Children love being in the water even from a very young age and children who’ve taken baby swimming classes have been shown to do better in gripping, reaching and balance tests than non-swimming babies.

You can join a local group if you’re nervous about taking your child into the pool for the first time, or just get in and give it a go.

Even though it can seem daunting, once they’ve mastered swimming it’s a valuable skill they’ll have for life.

Before your baby is old enough to hit the pool, bath time is a brilliant opportunity to start getting them used to being in the water.

You might notice that your baby will instinctively move their arms and legs when they’re immersed in water, and this will help them get used to being supported in the water and feeling splashes on their face.

According to the ASA (formally the Amateur Swimming Association), the best age for babies to try the swimming pool for the first time is around six months – before that they can get too cold easily.

It’s always worth checking with your health visitor before you take the plunge.

When you’re in the water, make sure that your baby is submerged to shoulder level in the water, or wearing a full suit so that they don’t get chilly.

Keep moving – this helps teach your baby that moving their arms and legs will help them stay afloat.

Family fun in the pool

Older children will enjoy swimming with you, and most pools run family sessions that are child-friendly – some will even provide inflatables and toys for you to play with. Check out your local pool for more information.

In the early days, ease your child in gently at the shallow end (or some pools will have a baby or toddler area where you can gradually walk into the water). Keep things relaxed, and focus on playing games and having fun in the water.

Your child will be encouraged by your attitude, so try to show that you’re happy and confident in the water, and are enjoying yourself!

Don’t forget to bring any floats, armbands or goggles your child needs to use, as well as swim nappies if you need them.

It’s a good idea to bring a drink and a snack for afterwards too, as small children are usually hungry and tired after a swim.

Ben's swimming tips

For your little one, it can be quite scary getting into the water for the first time, but once they get used to it they will soon be having a ball! Our CBeebies presenter, Ben Cajee, has a few top tips to help your child sail through swimming.

  • Ben suggests taking your children to the swimming pool and try splashing the water around. It's great fun and it will help them get used to the water on their face. Have a splash-a-thon and make a game out of it!
  • Why not try putting your face in the water and blow bubbles? Encourage your child to do the same, and to make them feel more comfortable you can stand together in the shallow end or hold onto the edge of the pool. 
  • If your child is starting to show more confidence in the water, you can try throwing a sponge brick or stick to the bottom of the pool and ask them to retrieve it. It's great fun and they get used to the water as a result.

If you would like to find out more, watch Ben and his troupe of swimmers here to encourage your little one in the pool. 

Our CBeebies presenter Ben has top tips for swimming!

Swimming games for children

Here are some swimming games you could try next time you’re at the pool to help build your child’s water skills and confidence:

  • Sing ring-a-ring-a-roses with your child and spin them around in the water, encouraging them to go under the water if they’re able when you sing ‘we all fall down’.

  • Put your child on the side of the pool, while you’re in the water in front of them, and sing Humpty Dumpty together. When Humpty falls off the wall, hold your child’s hands and bounce them into the water with you. As they get older, they may even be able to jump in on their own!
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