Bathtime can be learn-to-swim time

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published December 24, 2014

METRO DETROIT — Bathtime is more than bubbles and toys.

According to the United States Swim School Association, bathtime is the perfect time for teaching infants and toddlers beginner swimming techniques.

And although a bathtub is smaller than a pool or lake, adults should be supervising children 100 percent of the time, said Sue Mackie, executive director of the United States Swim School Association.

“If kids are taught at a young age how to swim, they have the ability to be active in the water their entire life,” Mackie said. “The water is a great source of activity for kids, and it goes throughout old age.”

The United States Swim School Association works with independently owned swim schools that teach swimming to all ages.

Though children cannot start swimming lessons in a pool until 6 months of age, swimming techniques, like blowing bubbles and floating, can be taught as early as the first bath.

“We like to teach parents not to be afraid to get the child safely wet. … Children who are reluctant of the water, a lot of it is they have never had water on their face,” Mackie said. “If a parent is working with a child in the bathtub before they get to the point of a swimming pool, it can make things go a lot smoother.”

Before dumping water on a child’s face, parents should give the child a cue and start with a trickle of water so they are prepared. Parents should refrain from covering the child’s face.

“Eventually, they’re loving the fact they’re getting water in their face,” Mackie said.

West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Commission Recreation Coordinator Ted Davis, who is a certified American Red Cross water safety instructor and a lifeguard instructor, said bathtime is a great time to gain comfort and confidence in the water. The bath is also the perfect place for a child to learn that their body has natural buoyancy.

“When they’re really young, it’s an adjustment. It’s an acclimation time, which is great,” Davis said. “How many kids don’t know how to swim and have a fear of the water? To be surrounded by all this water and have a fear of it is a bad thing.”

Younger infants, with assistance, can be taught to float on their backs. If the bathtub is big enough, Mackie said, parents should get in the water to provide assistance.

“A toddler can lay on their back and float unassisted, and they can submerge their head,” Mackie said, adding that by submerging their heads, toddlers become familiar with getting their ears wet, which can be a “weird sensation.”

Toddlers can also be placed on their stomachs and taught to put the side of their face in the water.

Blowing bubbles in the water should be introduced as the child progresses and ages.

When Davis taught his children to blow bubbles, he told them to pretend they were blowing up a balloon and slowly put their mouth in the water. Parents can also have the child move a Ping-Pong ball across the water by blowing with their mouth above the water and then with their mouth in the water.

“I think the biggest thing, too, is making it an enjoyable experience. … The last thing you want to do is push them too much and have it be a negative because then they’re not going to want to (swim) and they’re not going to think the water is someplace they want to be,” Davis said.

When a child reaches 6 months of age, they can be placed in swimming classes, which, Mackie said, teaches safety around water and respect for the water.

“You want your kids to want to be in the pool and the water. You need them to understand the inherent risks of it,” Mackie said.