Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Throw your floaties out!

Many people erroneously perceive floaties to be tools that help children learn to swim. I believe they do the exact opposite, and work against anything a child has ever learned in a swim lesson. these flotation devices teach kids to operate in the water in a vertical (straight up and down) position. That's great if you are running through the water or practicing your water-treading skills. But moving vertically through the water is incredibly inefficient - think about how hard it is to walk through your pool submerged up to your waist or chest. "Swimming" vertically tires you very quickly - that's why we teach kids to roll over and float rather than tread water at our swim school. But I digress - more on that in future blogs. Bottom line - if you want to make efficient progress through the water you need to get your body in a horizontal position - this means face in the water, hips up so you are swimming in a plane across the water, and then using your arms and legs for propulsion through the water.

Floaties create a false sense of comfort in both the child and the parent, even though each pair is printed with the warning, "Not to be used as a lifesaving device." As a parent, you see your child motoring around the pool with their face out of the water, propelling themselves from below with their legs. You (erroneously) feel a little safer because your child is wearing a flotation device, and your child likes the fact that his floaties allow him to jump in the water and pop back up to the surface. But what happens when he takes his floaties off in the deep end, or jumps in without them and doesn't pop right back up to the surface? The risks of floaties are many - they can slide off, pop or deflate, but the real reason to discourage their use is that they do not teach children the correct body position or movement in order to swim.

At our swim school, we are firm believers that there should be a consequence whenever a child steps off the side of a pool and enters the water. That consequence is that the child goes under the water and has to learn to surface and get back to the wall or step or roll over and float. The child learns never to enter the pool without being invited in or without planning a way to get to the side and get out. Floaties teach kids to jump in and let the floaties do the work of popping them back up to the surface. They learn to run and jump with complete abandon and use the floaties to raise them high in the water rather than relaxing and trusting the water to float them.

So what do you do as a parent of multiple children who doesn't feel comfortable with everyone in the water without floaties? My first suggestion is to enroll your kids in swimming lessons - at our school or at any other location recommended on the US Swim School Association website, or at your local city pool, red cross or YMCA. Secondly, look for some other device, such as a life jacket or something you can place the child in securely. While these are not ideal, they provide more safety features than floaties. Thirdly, make sure that the last memory a child has before getting out of the pool is of swimming without any devices. Let them float and be free and remember how their body reacts to the force of the water.

Children have a great ability to adapt to their environment and they can learn to swim and float at a very young age. Give them the chance to use their own little bodies and minds to figure out their buoyancy, breath control and propulsion issues. Check out this article from Swimming Technique magazine by Kathy Hubbard about letting children experiment and swim - or as the Beatles said, "Let it Be."


Jeppesen Family said...

I'm so excited about your new blog! I've really been missing you guys since my move to Chandler.
I also really appreciate this post! As a former lifeguard and former swim instructor for Hubbard, I find it so frustrating when parents put thier kids in floaties. Especially when it's my friends or family members. I try to educate them on the dangers and other problems with the product, but this post say it all!
Hope all is well with your family!

Swim School Bob said...

You'll have to come by and say hello at our new location at Mesa Riverview - we hope to open in the fall!

Angus Family said...

I was told about this website by my friend Mrs. Jeppesen (ha ha) and have a question for you. I have a 3 year old boy, a 22 month old girl and a 3 month old baby boy. Gunner, my 3 year old has recently started being afraid of the pool and I can't figure out why. I want to try to take them all swimming every day because I have no vehicle to go to lessons (and the class for Gunner says he needs to be potty trined, which I am afraid to say, he is not.) The problem is, It's only me and 3 little babies who don't know how to swim at all. Do you have any tips for me as to what I can do?? I want them all to learn how to swim early and Gunner should already be on his way there, but he is not. Thanks :)

Swim School Bob said...

Angus Family -

Wow, three kids under three, that is a handful. My simplest advice would be to try and coordinate swim time for one or two of the kids when it is nap time for another. Placing a baby monitor by the pool can give you comfort that the sleeping child is fine while you swim with the older children.

With the baby, I would encourage you to play with her in the bathtub. Check out
this article
from my first blog entry about showering with your baby. You can get a lot done in the tub with the infant as well as the two and three year old. My daughter reports that her two kids aged 3 and 2 love to play seal as they slide in and out of tub. It might cause a bit of a wet floor, but it's great if they are getting their faces in the water.

Finally, find a time when dad or another adult is around and get in the water with all three kids. We believe in once a week 30 minute swim lessons as slow sure way to develop the children's skills. So even though we are in those hot summer months, take your time and be comfortable as you find gaps in the day to spend time with each child. And there is nothing wrong with a playpen on the pool deck corralling two of the kids as you play in the water with the third!

Anonymous said...

Hello, my son is 5 and has been taking swimming lessons for over a year now and hasn't made much progress. Is this normal? We go the local Y and they do use floaties there (the ones on the back. He started with 4 floaties and after a year can now go in with only 3). How do I find a place that doesn't use floaties? I don't know if he would even go in the water without them at this point...

Swim School Bob said...

I find that most swim schools teach without using floaties. My best advice is to find some place recommended by friends and go check out their lessons --- If you are swimming with your child alone in the pool --- just go slow --- let them explore the pool from the steps and be there to help them --- but gently and do not use the floaties !!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
I am one of those parents and thanks for this article. My son has taken swimming lessons for three consecutive rounds at the YMCA when he was 5 and 6. He is still 6 and is afraid of going without his floaties. We are planning a trip next week with pool swimming and I have decided not to take the floaties. Does this mean I have to stay in the water the entire time with him? I have gotten in with him in spurts in the past w/o floaties but he screams. I can be tough if I knew what to do. should I get one of those vests you mentioned so he can get horizontal?