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My mother tells a tale….

Of how when she first came to Canada, upon marrying my father…

She observed all the lakes and rivers that surrounded our home in the nation’s capital…

And of how she decided, upon this observation …

That her kids would learn to swim!

She then goes on to tell …

Of how she took my youngest brother swimming for the FIRST time at three-months-old.

And of how she got in the water with him and he determinedly pushed off her stomach … and swam off.

Of course, he hadn’t the neck strength to lift his head up to breathe at this point.

So she would lift his head up to breath… then he would carry on swimming.

This family story fit well with where both my brother and I ended up, aquatically speaking.  We both, not only learnt to swim, but excelled.  We both swam competitively.  And did so quite seriously.

But my brother, who, please remember, swam from three-months-old, was the protégé. Nationally ranked in his teens for the 1500 freestyle.  Placed top eight at University Nationals.  Medalled provincially.

Me?  I made Youth Nationals.  I won regional competitions, competed well provincially and qualified to compete in Eastern Canadian competition.  When I quit at 15 I went on to lifeguard at various pools and beaches across Ottawa:

That's me on the chair; guarding the beach at H.O.P.E. Volleyball tournament - a large annual tournament held each year at Mooney's Bay in Ottawa

That’s me on the guard chair, July 1997; guarding the beach at the H.O.P.E. Volleyball tournament – a large annual tournament held each year at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa.

I also taught swimming lessons and coached novice, developmental age group and Masters swimming for about 10 years.  When I got to university, I returned to racing and swam varsity for five years.

That apparently wasn’t enough water for me.  I’m still the alumni rep for the Swim Team for my university.  We pub once a year.  I figure that involves liquids.  So it’s thematic.

My brother - air born in pool, circa 1983.  So yeah, he could also fly.

My brother – air born in pool, circa 1983. So yeah, he could also fly.

All that say: swimming?

I gets it.

So when I had kids?

I figured, they’d be those kids who pushed off my belly at three-months-old and never looked back.

Like my brother.


Not so much.

I dutifully started taking my eldest swimming at three-months-old and when, by six months, she hadn’t spontaneously started swimming, my mother ‘fessed up that maybe she’d given a wee bit of …. scope …. to my brother’s origins of swim story.

“Maybe he was more like three-years-old,”  she admitted.

Right.  Thanks mom.

But that helped.

I gave up the expectations.

And four+ years into parenting we swim 1-2 times a week together.

I tried formal lessons for a while with my eldest, but then decided at this stage I can probably teach them myself.  I figure, if they are comfortable in the water and given the opportunity to try things and practice, they will learn when they are developmentally ready to learn and lessons aren’t going to make them learn any faster.

When they get a bit older I’ll put them back in formal lessons.

That said, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve tried and done with my girls.

General Tip: Location! Location! Location!

First: water temperature is key with very young kids.  Warm is good.  If the water is too cold, they won’t last long.

Second: water depth is also key.  I’ve done well with leisure pools that offer a variety of depths: a baby pool, a hot tub and beach entries.  It gives a lot of different options for splash play at varying depths as confidence increases.

I’d note I initially thought not being able to stand would encourage my child to learn to swim.  While I’d say that motivated other kids I’d taught over the years, it didn’t motivate mine.  It was a good lesson for me re: listening to and figuring out what works for my child.

Before They Can Walk

I focussed on making the experience fun and comfortable.  Lots of cuddles, lots of movement.  I use to swim on my back with them on my tummy so they got use to movement.  I dipped them underwater so they knew not to be afraid (with a countdown and signal + blow in face so they knew it was coming and closed their mouth).  I’d try to get them to blow bubbles.  We also did lots of splashing and kicking to show it was fun, not scary; and did lots of floating in life jackets so they got use to that feel, and that they could float without me holding them.

As Toddlers

We spent (and currently spend) a lot of time exploring the baby pools and shallow ends of Ottawa.  When both my girls were just learning to walk on land, it was actually easier to walk in water, so they liked that.  Also, again, lots of kicking, lots of rides, more going underwater and blowing bubbles and life jacket fun, and I encourage them to do star float positions and jump off walls and push-off me to another adult when I have one with me (“blasting off”/beginning to swim).  At one pool we go to there are two benches in the hot tub and we practice jumping/gliding between them (which was how I initially got my eldest to figure out she could swim).   I bought my eldest goggles when she was about two and a half so she could explore the world underwater.  She liked that, and it helped keep her in a better position to work on swimming on her front.  We also do jumping games (at varying depths).

Finally, this was the age I started teaching basic water safety (eg: not running on deck; not getting in over your head; waiting for mommy or another adult before going in the water etc…).  It’s stuck, and they now know the rules for playing safely around water.

As Preschoolers

We keep building on the above skills.  My eldest can now float on her front and swim about three metres, so we work on building that.  She’s starting to try to bring her arms out of the water to pull now, which is exciting.   She can almost float on her back, so we’re practicing that, and spend some time swimming on our backs in life jackets.  She’s also now mastered jumping into the shallow end.  My new quest with my eldest is weight transfer/getting rings off the bottom (pre-steps for diving).  It’ll take time, but with no fear of going underwater she happily tries to get rings from the bottom with her hands over and over again (and lets me “dive her down”), so it’ll click.  We’re also doing more trips to deep water with noodles and life jackets.

My eldest; ready to SWIM at the cottage; around two and a half years old.

My eldest; ready to SWIM at the cottage; around two and a half years old.

So what have I learned these past four years swimming with my kids, other than that my mother exaggerates?

Well, that at this stage, the most important part is making it fun; teaching them water safety; and giving them the pre-swimming skills they’ll pull on when their bodies are ready to learn how to swim.

I also learnt that, if some days, we spend most of the time in the baby pool playing with watering cans and balls, well, that’s okay too.  Not every day at the pool needs to be a “lesson”.  Sometimes it’s just fun time with my kids.  That happens to take place in the water.  I like that they will associate fun with water.

I’m hopeful the result of THAT will be an activity we enjoy together for years and a lifelong love and respect for the water.

And if they make the Olympics one day?

Well, then I could live vicariously through my kids, right?

Oh.  Not how parenting is suppose to work?

[Flashback to various crazy swim parents observed in my youth]

Right.  My bad.

Really.  As a water baby from way back (seriously, I even have a Pinterest Board – check it out), I just want them to respect and enjoy the water too.

Perfection Pending

Linking this post up with Meredith’s Manic Monday’s Parenting Hop over at her fabulous blog Perfection Pending.  Do spend a moment checking out what other parents are thinking about this week.