Why is bath time so useful to learn basic swimming skills?
There are many options for baby swimming classes at your local leisure center or private facility these days. They are offering lessons for babies and their parents as young as 3 months old. Is this really necessary, as a baby can't learn to swim that young surely?
Well babies come in to our crazy world innately able to move in the water, in fact the water is known to be a familiar sensation for a young baby as it has just been floating around in the womb for the past 9 months. The sounds when their ears are in the water and the feel of the water on their small bodies brings back the only history they know.
Unfortunately this beautiful and natural response can diminish around 12 months old. Fear can start to set in and what they have just learnt for the past 6 months could potentially go out of the window. This change of heart happens because they become more aware of their surroundings and their emotions and feelings develop which they are yet to fully understand themselves.
This is why bath time can have such a positive and crucial impact. This is why utilizing this time in the water can be used (informally) as a training tool.
I would advise to start incorporating certain elements to bath time as soon as you start bathing your baby. I will be posting more information about this in future blog posts.
Here are some tips about what you can practice during bath time with your child that helps with the swimming skills learnt at swimming lessons. Make sure you individualise them according to their age, their comfort level and their mood.
1. Using verbal cues
With any action you take, talk it through with your child. Word association with the action (which is fabulous for word recognition and speech development). Start this right from the get go! So if you are washing their bodies, you will use the anatomical wording of where you are washing. Adding in song format is perfect - "This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands, this is the way we wash our hands during bath time". Then carry on with the other areas: belly, shoulders, feet etc.
When you pour water on your child's head, I recommend you start with a sprinkle from your hand coming from the back of the head then move forward to the forehead and face. Before you do this, it is essential to use 1,2,3 cues to give your child the opportunity to understand what action you are about to take. It's important that you start with small trickle of water for them to get used to the verbal cue and why you are using it. It would be an awful experience if you start with a big cup and don't say anything and they breath in the water making them cough. Start small and work your way up to the cup. I'll explain more further down.
Other cues/wordings used in swimming lessons are - "splash, splash" (hands), "kick, kick" (feet), "bubbles" (you show them first then when they can, they copy) which you can do during bath time too.
2. Being comfortable on their back
During the first couple of months of your child's life most children do not show any discomfort of lying on their backs in the water. But some right from the start hate having their nappy changed being on their backs or you lie them down and they want up. Sometimes this happens later on. Well in the water this could happen too. One minute they are totally fine doing a part of the lesson on their back then it changes and they scream or try to wiggle and worm their way out of it.
During swimming lessons, I never force a child on their backs if they don't want to and if you are attending lessons where they do they I would strongly advise to talk to your teachers about that. Physically and emotionally it is not good to make a child do something in the water that they are not ready for or in the right frame of mind to do so.
If they love it and are very relaxed then continue with this skill.
This is where bath time comes in. Right from a young baby, I advise that you get in the bath too. Your body will provide them a safe and comfortable platform to lean on. It might feel strange at first but not only are you ensuring they feel emotionally safe but also you're having a lovely bonding time too. This trust you gain will later prove extremely beneficial during swimming lessons.
There are progressions that you can do with a young baby from you holding them to when they float by themselves with no assistance from you. These progressions will be explained in another blog.
With an older child/toddler encouraging them to go on their backs during bath time is adviseable. Getting them used to the sensation of the water in their ears and the feeling of floating in a smaller area will later help them when they transfer this skill in the pool.
This is also a great way to wash the shampoo off their hair too.
3. Practicing breath control
In my 27 years of teaching experience, I would say 90% of the children I have taught really struggle with putting their faces in the water around 2 years old. It doesn't even matter if they have had baby swimming lessons where they were performing submersions they decide that water on their faces is a no go zone. The 10% of children, all ages will be totally comfortable no matter what.
For some children it may take a very long time to entice them to put their faces in the water confidently without hesitation.
This is where bath time is so great.
Again if you perform this skill correctly right from the beginning you will be a winner. Using the verbal cues (stated above) is crucial when putting water over their heads which is the start to feeling ok about the gush of water going on them.
In swimming breath control is a vital skill to learn. If the face (not head) is not is the correct position, the rest of the body will be all out of alignment and the child will have to work harder so much more (I am all about ensuring the child moves efficiently through the water).
There are 2 methods of breath control:
> Blowing Bubbles - breathing out and
> Breath holding
You can practice these essential skills every time your child accepts the opportunity to. If they do not want it is important not to force them (especially not during swimming lessons either). Encouragement is key and using toys and activities will be helpful during this process.
I will go in to more detail about what activities you can do during bath time in another blog post.
4. Multi-sensory domain
Attending a large facility for swimming lessons can be quite overwhelming and stressful for some children. The sounds, the smells, the experience of getting changed, the social interaction with other people that are new to you, the swimming teacher who calls the shots is new. A child's senses are all on fire therefore having certain item recognition and songs for example can really enhance their learning experience.
Item recognition could be toys that you play with in the bath that are similar to what the swimming teacher adds to the water during lessons. They would recognise what activity you used them for. For example: some eggs with fun mini toys inside for a breath control activity or a hand/finger puppet for face submersion practice or a watering can and some cups for exploring the movement of the water.
Singing the same songs are really great too. I used to have the same welcome and goodbye song every lesson. The parents could learn the songs and sing on their way to lessons or whilst they were getting change so that the child recognised where and what they going to be doing.
Other common songs can be sung too which can transfer to bath time. You could be playing with farm finger puppets and singing "Old McDonald" which was the action song you sang during swimming lessons or you have little frogs and you can do a counting song - "5 little frogs sitting on a log..." This might have been a song sung when learning to jump in from the side of the pool.
Bringing something from home too is encouraged; a snuggly towel you use or the same shampoo or lotion that smells familiar or a soft toy to hold close whilst getting changed.
All these little things are huge in a mini persons world.
5. Play time and water confidence
I encourage that you view bath time as an extension to your day of play (learning). The more time your child has playing and exploring in the water will in turn mean a higher confidence and comfort levels.
They understand if they get splashed in the face they can respond a certain way or if they twist and turn in the bath how to be body aware and control their movement, if I learn to look down under the water finding candy canes in the bath I can do the same thing in the swimming pool and what does the water feel and sound like when I lie on my back with my glowing lilly flower on my belly.
NEVER leave a child unattended
NEVER leave a child with a sibling to look after them
NEVER put a child in the water before checking the water temperature
ALWAYS have a ton of fun
ALWAYS snuggle up together afterwards
ALWAYS wait until your toes and fingers get so wrinkly
ALWAYS have some cool toys and activities at the ready
Interested in EPIC Bath boxes - activities purposefully designed for bath time? Designed with your child's developmental stages in mind. Click here for more information.
Are there other bath time activities that you know work well for water conditioning? How do you get them comfortable in the water? Share your thoughts in the comments below!