Learning to swim

Learning to swim

  • This article has tips and advice on increasing your child’s water confidence and getting them ready for swimming lessons.

    Alongside the obvious safety benefit of helping to prevent drowning, learning to swim can have physical and emotional benefits for children with additional needs. Swimming is a great activity for children with low muscle tone or balance and co-ordination difficulties. Many children enjoy the sensory experience of water and swimming can be calming and reduce anxieties. Michael Phelps, who won 23 Olympic gold swimming medals, was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 9. He couldn’t sit through lessons without fidgeting, but he could swim for hours after school. He has said that “being in the pool slowed down my mind. In the water I felt, for the first time, in control.”

    Whatever your reason for encouraging your child to swim, the starting point is water confidence. Before you think about formal swimming lessons, introduce your child to playing in water (bath or swimming pool) as early as possible. What you are aiming for at this stage is that they should be happy to be in the water, experience the fun of splashing and not be afraid to get their face wet.

    As their confidence grows, you can introduce games that encourage them to put their face in and under the water, such as blowing bubbles, picking up toys from the bottom of a shallow pool, jumping into deeper water, or shaking hands on the bottom of the pool. Adapting familiar songs and nursery rhymes for the pool can help. For example, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to encourage your child to float on their back and look up at the stars (swimming pool lights).

    Let them experience the freedom of the water. If they are wearing a buoyancy aid (such as armbands), then you can support them lightly by holding a hand – don’t cling together. To be successful at teaching water confidence, you need to be positive and encouraging, and you must overcome or hide your own fears and anxieties. If your child accidently swallows water or is splashed unexpectedly, don’t panic! Smile and make a joke of it and they will be reassured.

    When you think they are ready, ask at your local pool about swimming lessons. All swimming teachers should be able to include children with additional needs and adapt their lessons accordingly, using swimming schemes that reward smaller steps in progress. If you think your child will find mainstream lessons too difficult, speak to the swimming co-ordinator about specific lessons for children with disabilities and/or 1:1 lessons. NB not all pools offer disability swimming lessons, and those that do may have a waiting list.

    All children should access swimming lessons through school because swimming and water safety are part of the national curriculum. Lessons usually take place during primary school. Contact your child’s school and work with them to plan for a successful outcome:

    • Ask them about the swimming teacher’s experience of working with children with disabilities.
    • Make sure they have established links with the local authority to access any special provision.
    • Push for one-to-one support in the water for your child, if needed.
    • Don’t take no for an answer. Your child is learning a life skill just like every other child.

    Ask your child’s swimming teacher if they use visual aids to help children with additional needs to follow instructions, for example SwimPix cards.


    More information

    Find your local swimming pool here: www.swimming.org/poolfinder/

    Swim England’s free My Learn to Swim app allows children to gain extra rewards and unlock new features as they develop their swimming skills and water confidence: hwww.swimming.org/learntoswim/my-learn-to-swim-app/

    Always supervise your children near water to prevent drowning.

Page last updated: 16th April 2020