Tips For Teaching A 5 Year Old To Swim • Kath Eats

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We’ve been doing weekly swim sessions with Birch, and his progress has been amazing! Here are some tips for teaching a 5 year old to swim (without swimming lessons). 

Many of you may have kids who swam way earlier than five. Or, you might just think “put the kid in swim lessons?” Every child is different, and Birch is a very cautious child who is very nervous around strangers. We tried swimming lessons a few summers ago and he cried the entire time four weeks in a row. I think he was more scared of being with a new person than he was of the water. (We also tried having me be there with them and also nearby, but that didn’t go so well either.) 

But that’s all water under the….diving board…. at this point! 

Mazen learned to swim over a winter when we took him to the indoor pool so much he had no choice but to figure out it! That was the goal here too. 

A few months ago Birch was a very confident puddle jumper swimmer who had zero interest in taking his puddle jumper off. He refused to try goggles or put his face in the water. We decided to make the goal of taking him to the indoor pool at ACAC every week, sometimes twice, to build his confidence in the water. And within a few weeks he was swimming! It was nothing short of a miracle in our eyes. So while every child is very different, a few of you commented on Instagram that you’d be curious to learn the steps we took to get him swimming. There is no right or wrong way, but here are our experiences teaching a 5 year old to swim! 

Tips For Teaching A 5 Year Old To Swim

During every step of the way during this process there was some resistance to try anything new. I tried very hard not to push him to do something he didn’t want to do, and to instead inspire him with a challenge. A good example of this was bringing Mazen and his goggles along and asking Birch if he wanted to put his goggles on and see what Mazen was doing under the water. Once he did this he realized it wasn’t too scary, and then he did it 100 more times. So much of teaching him was building his confidence. 

Pre-Season: Goggles in the bathtub

The clue that we thought Birch was ready for some serious swim lessons is when he started to put his face in the water in the bath. We made sure his goggles were right there, and he started to use them in the bath. 

1) Forget the puddle jumper

Birch was so mad when I told him we didn’t have the puddle jumper. As I said above, he really liked it! He pouted on the side of the pool for a good 15 minutes before he finally broke a smile and decided to come into my arms. He gradually got comfortable floating on his back in my arms and swimming with our arms extended. 

2) Get Brave with Goggles

Our next goal was to learn to put his face in the water. Of course goggles help a ton with this! Having an older brother and cousin who also wear goggles and putting goggles on myself all helped Birch realize goggles are normal and fun. Once he decided to look under the water, it was all fun and games from there! He figured out how to hold his breath on his own, and we had lots of fun playing guess the finger and making silly faces. 

3) Swim to the step

Once Birch was comfortable going under water, he was ready for underwater swimming (which I think is much easier than above water swimming). I would give him a push to the steps and he would swim to them. This started with inches and moved to feet until he was swimming! Learning to move his arms and kick came naturally. Once he could go a little further, we started having him swim across the bench area, which in our pool is about 10 feet. He couldn’t make it all the way at first, but now he can do it no problem! One detail about our indoor pool is that there really isn’t a shallow end where he can touch, so it’s all deep water to him. I think this has helped with swimming because there is no “safe zone” for him to refuse to leave. 

4) Jumping in

I was shocked how fast Birch went from not going under water to doing cannonballs off the side! Early on, he spent an entire hour jumping in over and over he was so proud of himself. I made sure to tell him how proud I was of every step of the way. His love language is words of affirmation, and he ate it them up! Once he learned to jump in to me we practiced jumping in and getting to the side. 

5) Touching the bottom

Touching the bottom was a skill he was SO excited to try. I think he sees all the big boys going to the bottom and knew it was a cool thing to do. We started by me pushing him down and him springing back up. Day by day he has learned to dive down on his own, but he still needs a little help in deeper water. The next week we added dive toys! After borrowing our friends’ rings, I bought this set. The gems and rings have been so fun to hunt and dive for. 

6) Swimming farther 

Once Birch was confident swimming to the step and jumping in, we really worked on him swimming father distances. I made sure to stay by his side so that if he ran out of breath he could take a break on me. 

7) Treading water / taking a breath mid-swim

This has been the last skill for him to learn. Once he can tread water and/or take a breath mid-swim, he’ll be officially a swimmer. We are still working on this and I am never not right beside him (or he’s with his older brother) because he can’t quite tread water yet. I am confident he will be a full swimmer by the summer! 

And beyond!

Mazen never wanted to join the swim team at our pool, but we will definitely see if Birch is interested this summer. Mazen is a very strong swimmer at age 11 and never had lessons, so I do think that time in the water and practice is ultimately the best way to learn whether you have a coach or not. We are lucky that the pool at ACAC is heated to about 95 degrees, so it’s very parent-friendly! If it was a cold pool I’m not sure I would have the guts to get in it every week. I’ll report back with any updates as Birch gets even better!

If you have any tips of your own to share, please share them (so long as they don’t criticize other people : ) ) 

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