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Teaching Preschoolers How to Swim

Oh No! I'm Teaching Preschoolers How to Swim

Have No Fear Toni's Here To Help. Toni is friend of mine with extensive experience in swim teaching preschoolers in centers all over the place and she has some useful advice for those of you that may be new to doing that.

Image of mother and toddler hugging and ready to swim: This article is about Teaching Preschoolers How to Swim
Ready to Swim Photo by Jessica To'oto'o on Unsplash

Teaching preschoolers swimming strokes can be tricky, for a few reasons. While children under five are an age where they can learn very quickly, some things need to be taken into account:
  1. Coordination- many young children have coordination problems, therefore even though they may know what you want them to do, they may not be able to process more than 2 or 3 actions at once.

  2. Body type – small children usually have different body types to older children, such as arms short in comparison to the rest of their body, lack of flexibility in shoulders/feet

  3. Short attention span – very young children, especially those who have not attended kindergarten or other group participation activities may have very short attention spans and you will need to move your class along, without prolonged waiting periods and with plenty of stimuli.

How do we combat these problems? There are a few ideas you may find helpful.


The general rule is that young children can do the same amount of things as their age...for example if they are 2 years old, they can coordinate two movements. I haven’t found this to be true every time, but it is a good guideline. I find that the ‘building block’ approach is a good one for these younger children. This means that we start out with one activity or movement, when they can perform it, you may add another.

For example, when teaching torpedo's I start with a glide. When they can perform a glide, ask them to glide and blow bubbles. When they can do this, ask them to add the kick and so on. Bear in mind that as you add each step, you may need to remind them of the previous step.

Another way to help this is to play games that enhance coordination. There is a fun game I play with my little ones when they are beginning to learn freestyle. It is called ‘Teacher says kick your legs’ and it goes like this:
Sit children on the ledge, and get them to kick.

Encourage the correct kicking technique. Then start to give instructions such as ‘teacher says touch your nose’ or ‘touch your chin’ or ‘clap your hands’. The rule is that they have to try to keep kicking. This will get them to focus on doing two things at once, and is also a good opportunity to go over different body parts that they need to know in swimming, such as shoulders, knees, heads etc.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here


With young children, you may find that their bodies are a little out of proportion, which means they are unable to perform certain things the way older children are. For example, due to the length of their arms in proportion to their heads, the streamline position can be a little tricky.

When fostering good body position in the water, it is important to note that the head controls where the rest of the body sits in the water, therefore having their hands apart with their head in the right spot is preferable to having their hands locked but their head up. When I am teaching preschoolers streamline, we usually do it with our hand a little farther apart than usual, and as their bodies develop we bring the hands closer together.

You may also find that they have trouble with an above water arm recovery in freestyle. This can be fixed by getting them to practice moving/lifting/rolling their shoulders. What this does is makes them aware of where their shoulders are and makes them a bit more flexible.

You may also get them to practice pointing and flexing their feet to increase flexibility. Ensure when they are ‘pointing their toes’ their whole foot is pointed, as young children can be very literal.


All children are different, and while some can have a great attention span at a young age (usually this causes me to ask the parents what they feed their kids!), others may get bored and fidgety very easily. For this reason, it is important to know what you are working towards in your lesson, and have a variety of drills/games that all work towards your goal. This way you are repeating the same thing, but it is still new and exciting for the child. For example when working towards getting a student’s head under, I may use up to 5 different games/activities in one lesson, all with the theme of putting our heads under.

You should also try to get them all moving at once, as young children don’t like to wait (just position yourself in a place where you can see each child).

Of course there is sometimes a need for one on one time in classes. If you need to work with each child individually, try not to be too slow. Another thing that will help is giving the other children a task while they’re waiting. Utilize your equipment here, I often set buckets along the wall and encourage the waiting children to play and experiment with them. The rule is that they may play with the bucket as long as they stay at the wall. If they move away from the wall, I take the bucket away until they return to the wall. I find that this works very well.
I hope this helps, try applying a few of these tricks to your lessons and see if you find any improvement.


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