how to teach a kid to swim - STEP BY STEP GUIDE [2023]
By Maria Rezhylo
3x World record holder in swimming & swim school owner
Jan. 9, 2023



Where do I start?

Steps to learn swimming for parents and their kids. It's easier than you think!

Teach baby to swim — how to swim step by step

With the rising number of kids drownings, every parent wants their kid to be safe in and around the water. We conducted 1395 kids swim lessons and created a plan that brings results. Let's dive in!
  • 1
    Create a plan for how you will teach your kid to swim. Every time you go to the swimming pool, there has to be a definite set of skills and exercises that you'll be working on. Make your plan logical and progressive, from very easy to more complex. Before introducing your kid to full-on swimming, practice breathing, kicking, and doggy paddling separately. We will cover the full set of exercises later in Chapter 2.
  • 2
    Be consistent
    Planning is essential, and consistency is crucial. Of course, life happens, and learning to swim is not always a priority. But if you are leaving for a trip, planning to relocate, or have changes to your schedule, don't postpone your kid's learn-to-swim efforts. Trust me, it's easy to lose not thoroughly developed skills. The best results happen when you stay consistent with your little swimming routine.
  • 3
    Learn by playing
    Playing games is the oldest way humans acquire different skills and knowledge. Recent research indicates that play-based learning is one of the most effective ways for kids to master something new. Traditional lessons seem to bring questionable results, and that's what we hear from our clients regularly. They have attended swim lessons at YMCA for years, and their kids still don't know how to swim. Based on our experience, toys and different water games tend to bring positive learning effects and association with water activities later in life.
  • 4
    Show visual examples
    Because swimming is such a complex activity, sometimes it's hard for kids to understand purely verbal explanations. They don't have the same context and knowledge we, as adults possess. The latest findings in teaching and learning suggest that a visual explanation of the task speeds up the process. If you show your kid first, they will understand what you want them to do faster and more easily. Focus on showing an exercise slowly, explaining verbally every step of the way.
  • 5
    Support & encourage
    Don't be hard on your kid, even if they don't get it right entirely after 100 tries. Instead, focus on all the little things that they did right. Every effort in swimming they make should have something positive about it. Make them feel they can do it all and that you are there to support them along the way. Every small victory matters!
  • 6
    Positive reinforcement
    Every tiny movement your kid nails in the water should not only be celebrated but reinforced. Positive reinforcement is one of the oldest findings in psychology. When your child achieves a small victory in the pool, reinforce that by getting a little toy, ice cream, or another favored item. That will develop positive stimuli (reward) associated with behavior (swimming).
  • 7
    Invite friends
    Kids tend to learn better in a group of friends, not because it's all fun and games. Recent studies suggest that kids tend to retain information better and be more engaged in a friend group. They also tend to help out and support each other. A fantastic bonus is that your child will develop soft skills like teamwork, communication, listening, and organization. So, next time you're planning to swim at the pool, invite your kid's friends and make the most out of it!
  • 8
    Be patient
    Your kid is not going to learn to swim in a day. It might take a few weeks, months, or a year. It doesn't mean that there's something wrong with them or you. Trust me, they will learn eventually. Every kid is unique, and so is their skill-acquisition time. As we said, swimming is a complex sport that requires a great deal of coordination. Be prepared to invest some time, comfort them in case of tantrums, and make it as positive as possible!
  • 9
    Get professional help
    Hiring a swimming instructor is never a bad idea. After all, that's what we are here for. Experienced swimming instructor dedicated their time, energy, and resources to learn about the field of teaching people to swim. Professional swimming instructor has years of experience and can bring results faster than you think! While it will be more costly than teaching your kid to swim on your own, an investment like that will pay off in no time.
  • 10
    Teaching your kid to swim is supposed to be fun! Don't stress about it. Instead, enjoy every minute you get to splash around with your little one. Teaching your baby to swim is such a unique experience. It's an excellent time to create a stronger bond and spend time together in a new setting. They will learn how to swim like a fish in no time. Make the most out of it!
steps to learn swimming

Exercises to do

Steps to learn swimming for parents and their kids. It's easier than you think!
Swimming exercises for kids — from simple to complex
Let's start with simple swimming exercises and build a perfect foundation for more complex skills later on.
  • Hug & blow bubbles
    We will start with an introduction to the water. It's a perfect position for a baby to get used to being in the water. In a hug position, you'll be practicing submerging and blowing bubbles. Kids tend to receive visual instruction better, so make sure to lead by example at all times. Submerge underwater and blow bubbles on your own first. Then, do it together with your kiddo. Make sure to emphasize, that when their head is out of the water, they should take a breath in.
  • Sitting flutter kicks
    Before introducing kids to kicking in the water, we should introduce them to the motion. Sit next to your kid at the wall and perform small up and down kicks. Kicks shouldn't be wide, with legs together, 5 inches up and down, and toes pointing forward. Make sure your kid understands the movement before jumping into the pool.
  • Chest supported front kicks
    Once your kid has mastered sitting flutter kicks at the wall, jump into practicing them in the pool. Grab your kid under the armpits, palms under their chest. At this stage, your kid wouldn't be able to build a sustainable speed, so make sure to take steps and move them around. If they struggle to keep their hips up, put one palm under their hips, one palm under their hips. Encourage kicking and making splashes. Once they are comfortable with kicking, pair blowing bubbles in this position.
  • Wall hold front kicks
    There are multiple variations of wall kicks. You can start by laying your kid's upper body on the wall with legs hanging in the water. Help them to kick by holding their feet and imitating the movement. Then, encourage them to try on their own. Once that becomes more comfortable, progress to extending arms and holding the wall with the hands. The final stage would include putting the head down and blowing bubbles.
  • Noodle front kicks
    Noodle is going to provide essential support for your kid's upper body. Swimming noodle should be placed under the armpits, supporting the chest. And, if their lower body sinks, no problem! Put a second noodle under their hips or support them with your hands on their hips. Practice kicking with noodles first, help them to imitate the kicks with your arms, and encourage blowing bubbles while kicking.
  • Supported kick on the back
    Swimming on the back might be intimidating for a lot of kids. That's why we recommend starting by supporting their back with your hands. One hand under their hips and one hand under their shoulder blades. Ears should stay in the water with their chin pointing up. Discourage lifting their head, looking at their legs, and breath holding. Practice flutter kicks in this position while constantly breathing in and out.
  • Noodle supported back kicks
    Once your kid becomes more comfortable with being on their back, step aside and add noodle. If hips are sinking again, add a second noodle under their hips. At first, encourage them to keep breathing and relax. Stand above their face, and ensure they are looking up at you. When they are used to the position, add flutter kicks. Remove the second noodle when ready, and emphasize constant kicking.
  • Kickboard flutter kicks
    Now, let's introduce a kickboard. Kicking with a board should be performed with the arms extended. It might be a little challenging at first, so let's simplify it a little. Add a noodle under the hips to hold them high in the water. Emphasize that they should kick without stopping. Again, kicks should be small and narrow, and knees should only be bent at 120 degrees. When ready, remove the noodle and let your kid learn how to kick with little to no support.
  • Kickboard hug
    A kickboard hug on the back is a good way to practice back kicking with less support. Remember, the chin should point up high while the ears stay in the water, belly button should be touching the board. Having no back support allows kids to build fundamental core strength to hold body high in the water. Encourage small narrow kicks and constant breathing in and out.
  • Doggie paddle
    This is your final destination in teaching your kid to swim. Start at the pool's shallow end, where your kid can stand. Show them how to doggie paddle: pull the water with your hands from front to back, one hand after another. Then, encourage them to try it while standing up. When ready, move to the chest and hip-supported version of the doggie paddle from the previous exercises. You can use swim noodles or support their body with your hands.

Equipment to use

Let's explore an essential learn to swim equipment for kids. Only budget friendly options!

Swimming equipment for kids

Learn what equipment we use to teach kids to swim. Only budget-friendly options for dedicated parents!
Swim noodles
Foam swimming noodles are an excellent addition to teaching kids how to swim. A good thing about swimming noodles is that they are versatile yet inexpensive. They can provide additional support by being under the armpits or lower back and giving an extra challenge when needed.
A kickboard is an essential part of the equipment that you will need. It'll give your kid extra upper body support when mastering the kicking technique. Best of all, they are usually very durable, inexpensive, and can be used by the whole family.
Swimming goggles
Swimming goggles is an essential piece of equipment for kids when learning how to swim. It will help them navigate the water more efficiently and execute exercises better. Additionally, they will avoid the discomfort of getting water in the eyes.
Water toys & games
Water toys & games are a great way to make their swimming sessions more entertaining. It's a motivating tool that helps to engage kids better and retain their attention. Learning to swim should be varied and exciting. So make the most of it! Get water toys and prepare games for your next day at the pool.
Fins can be an excellent addition to older kids. Fins provide significant support to the upper and lower body by increasing propulsion from kicking. Using fins, your kid can master all the exercises perfectly with less effort.

Worst Mistakes

We discuss what mistakes you should avoid when teaching kids to swim.
Mistakes to avoid in teaching kids to swim
Let's start with simple swimming exercises and build a perfect foundation for more complex skills later on.
  • Losing temper
    Kids are going to be kids. They might cry, get on your nerves, and refuse to do what you want them to do. And that's okay! The worst thing you can do is lose your temper. They might listen to you at the moment, but it won't work long-term. Instead, it will create a negative association with swimming. So, keep it cool!
  • No consistency
    For a child to learn swimming, they need to practice freshly introduced skills regularly. You can't skip swimming for a few months and then return to where you were. Most likely, your kid will forget everything you learned, and you'll have to start from scratch. It's not the end of the world, but this way, it might take them years before they start swimming. Be consistent and include a few short swims weekly!
  • Using complicated exercises
    If your kid has no water skills, start with the simple things. Don't jump right into straight-up swimming. They won't get very complex coordination movements. And, chances are, failing from the beginning will be nothing, but damaging to their learning process. Instead, play with them, try blowing bubbles, and step-by-step progress to more advanced exercises.
  • Explaining too fast
    Don't explain movements too fast. You'll lose their focus, make them bored, and ultimately they'll give up. Instead, explain everything slowly and thoroughly, repeating it a few times. Ask if they understand, and answer all the questions they might have. If they do the movement wrong, stop them and explain one more time. Do that cycle until they get it right.
  • No fun
    Swimming is a tough activity that requires a great deal of coordination and focus. And why would kids be engaged in something like that? Unfortunately, you can't motivate them with the importance of water safety. This concept is mentally too vague for them. Instead, allow them to have fun, play with the toys, and splash around. While we understand that you are not there to play games, it'll make them more engaged in the process.
  • Not showing support
    Kids want to hear words of encouragement! The worst thing you can do is move on to the next thing after they do something right. Instead, take your time, and celebrate every little thing they did right. Show that you are happy and excited for them! Your kid shouldn't feel performative in the pool. After all, it's not their job to learn to swim. So make them believe that swimming is something they are very good at!
  • Giving up
    It might take your kid 2 or 5 months to swim, maybe a year. Maybe, more than a year. But it doesn't mean something is wrong with them or you. Nor it means that they won't ever learn to swim. The truth is every kid learns to swim at their own pace. Don't start your journey with false expectations that will make you quit early on. Take it one swim at a time for as long as it takes.

How long does it take to learn to swim for a child?

Many factors affect how long it'll take to learn to swim for a child. The latest research among 24 months and older kids suggests that at least 12 weeks of formal swimming lessons are required to learn to swim. Factors include age, swimming pool access, qualified instruction, prior aquatic experience, equipment, and teaching methods.

What affects your kid's ability to learn to swim?

As a part of our case study, we conducted a review of research studies that suggest what might affect your kid's ability to learn to swim.
  • 1
    Age is proven to be one of the determining factors when learning to swim in younger kids. Studies suggest that the perfect age start swimming ranges from 5 to 8 years. Kids of that age develop the muscle strength and stability required to learn to swim successfully. Although you can start learning to swim at a younger age, older kids progress faster and learn more advanced water skills.
  • 2
    Prior aquatic experience
    According to the latest research, prior aquatic experience was among the strongest influencing factors. Kids with a negative experience in the water tend to develop aquaphobia, which influences their learning. Aquaphobia affects the duration of swimming lessons, limiting how far they will get.

    Related: Everything about fear of water and how to overcome it.
  • 3
    Parental encouragement
    Supporting children as they learn to swim has many social and emotional benefits. Parental support and encouragement are fundamental to helping kids learn to swim well and become competent in the water. A supportive environment from caring parents can also help build a child's confidence when trying new things - especially when learning to swim.
  • 4
    Parental influence
    Learning to swim can seem daunting for kids, but when parents step in the right way and learn alongside their children, excellent results can be achieved. By engaging directly in the learn-to-swim process, parents show their children what is possible and inspire them to keep going even when they feel like they cannot do it anymore.
  • 5
    Medical conditions
    Parents of children with existing medical conditions should be aware of how this may influence the rate at which their children learn and progress in swimming. Issues such as asthma, allergies, certain heart conditions, balance issues, learning disabilities, or mental disorders can affect the skills learned in swimming and how far these skills can take a child.
  • 6
    Frequency of water exposure
    Recent research shows that when children get exposed to water regularly, they learn to swim faster, have greater skills in the water, have greater awareness, and improve safety while swimming. This is an exciting finding since it provides parents with new ways to help their kids learn how to swim. Beyond traditional swim lessons, parents can also bring their kids to beaches or lakes, allowing them to explore their environment and learn real-life water skills.
No matter your child's limitations, they can still learn to swim. They will overcome every obstacle with little time and their parents' patience and support.

Parents' Questions and Our Answers

We answered the most common questions parents and caregivers have about swimming.

— What is an optimal duration of the swimming session?
— It all depends on your child's age and level of skills. For infants, one lesson shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes to avoid hypothermia. Start with the short sessions if it's a toddler or an older kid. Anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes should be good. Once their skills progress and stamina increases, you can increase the duration of the swimming session.
— When should children learn to swim?
The latest guidelines from American Pediatric Association suggest that kids aged 1 and older can benefit from learning to swim. New research suggests that the optimal age to start learning to swim is between 5 to 8 years. Ultimately, every kid is unique and understands better at a different age. It's up to parents when they want to start introducing kids to basic water safety skills.
— What is the best way to teach a child to swim?
— There's no such thing as the best way to teach a child to swim. Every kid is unique and requires a different teaching approach. The best way is the one that works great for your kid. We recommend introducing your kid to the water on your own with the set of exercises that we've provided. Learn more about what works well for your kid in the water and what doesn't. Hire a professional swimming instructor if your kid doesn't progress under your instruction. Share your findings and let them tailor a swimming program to your kid's needs.

Related: How to find a private swimming instructor.
— Is it too late to become a good swimmer at 16?
— It all depends on your definition of a good swimmer. If you want your kid to swim all four swimming strokes, then no. It's never too late to become a proficient swimmer and master all the strokes. They might also have a fair shot in competitive swimming. It all depends on the kid, motivation, and willingness to learn.
— Should my kid wear a lifejacket after they learn how to swim?
— Absolutely yes! Even the most proficient swimmers should wear a lifejacket as a layer of protection from drowning. Most drownings happen very quickly in the presence of family and friends. Therefore, you might not react as promptly as needed, and wearing a lifejacket can determine your kid's survival.

Related: Everything you need to know about drowning and how to prevent it.
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Now it's your turn!
I hope you enjoyed our swimming guide for kids. What swimming exercise are you going to try first? Let us know in the comments below!