HAPPY SWIMMERS Private Swim lessons at Home, Serving Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Phoenix since 1991.

Here are some key pointers in working on Learn-to-Swim skills with 3-5 year olds:

General Philosophy

First, be aware that teaching small children in a private swimming lesson is most effective if our swim lesson teacher instructs from playfulness and enthusiasm versus rigid structure.  Personally, I see it as 80% enthusiasm and 20% technique.  Aim to play along with the child’s individual personality and have a fun time, using child-friendly voices, songs, water games, water toys, whatever is your own style.In adult private swim lessons, obviously it’s not games, but trust of the instructor that works best. 

With child swim lessons, be aware not to be manipulated by the little ones.  Many children will say, “Let’s do such and such…” and I will usually counter with, “OK, but first, let’s do this, then we can do a bit of that,” and the child almost always agrees.  If I sense the child continually looking to call the shots, I’ll say coyly with a grin on my face, “Now who’s trying to be teacher??” and the child knows playfully he/she’s been caught… and I take charge once again. 

The overall mission of our style of swimming lessons is to transfer to the child water safety swimming—if the child were to fall in accidentally, they’d hold their breath (5-7 seconds), be able to turn themselves around, get a kick going and get back to the side and climb out or monkey-walk to safety (terms to be defined below).  The whole purpose of swimming lessons in the parent’s eye is so that their child won’t drown.  This puts you as a trusted and intimate role in this child’s life  <<that has me feel warm inside just writing that>>.


Begin usually by re-affirming the basic safety rule:  “Never go in the pool without mommy, daddy, or teacher.  Do you know why?”  Child usually responds:  I could drown, or get a boo-boo…”  I say, “Yes, and we don’t want that to happen do we?”  Noooo, says the child.  This brief safety principle is a beautiful reminder for the child right at the beginning.

Goggles are ok for 3 year olds and up during swimming lessons—IF they fit well and don’t leak much.  Encourage parents to get quality goggles, like Speedo’s for children, not the $1.50 pair from the drugstore which leak incessantly.

Bubbles practice.

Kicking seated on the steps focusing on keeping legs straight and toes pointed to the other side.  Then flip over on stomach and repeat then in pool with instructor.  Also, I encourage with the children to play “Red Light/Green Light” game whereby the kids and instructor hold onto the steps in the water, belly down, and first the instructor calls out “Green Light!” and everyone kicks, then instructor calls “red light” and all stop kicking….and this goes for a few cycles with maybe a yellow light, or a purple light thrown in for creativity…Then also I offer the child to call the light color and we follow.  They like calling the shots of the game.  It’s a good warm up for the session, and it builds kicking strength.

Hold the child, your hands to theirs and walk them around the shallow end of the pool kicking and then kicking and blowing bubbles simultaneously, face “in the sea” as much as possible.

Next, work on face in the water and “superman/woman glides” (arms in front and only kicking with face looking at bottom, no arm strokes.)  Instructor is relatively close to the student, maybe 3-6 feet in front.  (Child negotiation of comfort zone distance from instructor is normal here, and we need to honor their requests as much as possible here to foster trust. )

Speaking of trust, whenever the issue seems to present itself, I encourage you to say to the child, “I ‘ll never let go of you unless you say it’s ok…I promise… (and stick to that).”  Even moving back while a child swims to you can erode that trust.  Be careful of your word.  Children remember everything!


Swim Swimming lessons At Home

16600 Calneva Drive, Encino CA 91436
Phone and fax: (818) 530-4117

Service                           Compassion                          Integrity
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

“When we look for the good in others, we discover the best in ourselves” –Martin Walsh
Give permission to love yourself today….
Children learning hand by hand to move down the lip of the pool to a safe zone area where they can touch bottom or go to the steps.

GETTING RINGS on the steps or bottom of the pool:  Incrementally place the rings a bit deeper throughout the swimming lesson visits.  Offer for the child to grab the ring with one hand while using their other hand to hold your hand for balance.  Offer your hand likewise if taking them to the ring on the bottom too.
Whenever going under whether for rings or other swimming or jumping from the wall, QUEING is key.  What’s queing?—Saying “Ready… (Child repeats back, “ready”…. One…two…three. <and go under, or jump, etc>

When taking a child under, do so smoothly and then take them back up to
the surface smoothly.  Explain for the parents to do so too in practice with the child.  100 times over, the parent when taking the child under will be very abrupt going under and coming up, and the child responds to the force of the parent’s movements much more so than the actual going under.  Explain once again…. Smooth and calm submersions.  A child can hold their breath easily for at least 5-7 seconds.  That’s a long time.  Give it a try…. A thousand one… a thousand two …a thousand three…a thousand four…a thousand five…a thousand six…a thousand seven (plenty of time
to do it smoothly and gently.)

ACCLIMATION TO THE DEEP END:  I suggest monkey walking with the children down to the deep end of the pool to a step or ladder safety zone for rest for the child, and doing some brief work there, like small glides out to you (use a kickboard or noodle float for your own floatation etc. while out there).  Demonstrate to the children that the deep end has just the same water as the shallow end but that you can’t touch here.  Acclimation to the deep end takes the fear out of it.  Yet do respect the sensitivity of the child if they are cautious in the deep end.

JUMPS FROM THE SIDE:  This is self explanatory.  Done in the medium depth of the pool.  Reinforce “Toes on the edge” before jumping so the child has good footing of the side.  Reinforce the QUEING .  Ready, one, two, three, jump!  Allow the child to hold your hand(s) if requested, but progressively through the swimming lesson visits, move to holding only one hand, then jumping with no hands, then increasing distance and adding the kicking to you.

I give the children milkshakes or wash machine rides.  For milkshakes, I hold a child facing me, and swish from side to side while singing the milkshake song with them.  Then I go, “1-2-3, and lift them high out of the water to the right, then down and to the left, and once more up to the right and down, height done to their comfort level, sometimes even gently tossing them up into the air.  The milkshake song words go:  “milkshake, milkshake, chocolate and banana, make ME a MILKSHAKE as fast as you CAN-NA….1-2-3, <and up we go>.  I’ll also ask them prior, “what flavor would you like to be today?” Oh, Strawberry….Good!”

Wash machine Fund game is a variation of the “motorboat game” of Red Cross WSI training.  Where by the child is held facing the instructor again, and the child gets to be the inside of the wash machine as we pour in the soap and clothes, and go into wash cycle back and forth and spin cycle, etc.

ARM STROKE SKILLS:  Small children can propel themselves by either the big arms (crawl stroke) or alternately by a breaststroke arm motion (which I call “Pizza making arms” to them and they love the term.  (Pizza making because we spread the tomato sauce on two large pizzas in big circles). 

Theory behind arm use:  Children age 2-3 1/2 start out using arms not for propulsion in the water but for navigational use—going to the left or right. 
Propulsion through the water at this age is by a strong kick, often with some bent leg action.  This is normal.

TEACHING EXITING THE WATER:  Child holds the wall, lifts usually dominant leg (right handed children typically use right leg, left handed, left leg) and lifts him/herself out, sometimes with a gentle boost from the instructor.


Along the way with the child, don’t forget to enjoy the love and pride coming forward in the kids for themselves and you as their teacher.  You will likely be an integral part of their memories of childhood for the rest of their lives.  <<I know I still remember my favorite teacher of swim swimming lessons, and the fun I had, don’t you?>>

Have a beautiful day,
And know you make a difference in the lives of every child you teach,

 John Tyler