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Teaching Preschoolers Swimming and "Teacher Says" - A Game

Teaching Preschoolers Swimming Can Be Tricky

While children under five are at an age where they can learn quickly, there are quite a few things that you need to keep in mind when teaching preschoolers swimming. Here are some of them:

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

1) Communication

: If you are having difficulty getting a child to understand it is not necessarily your fault. It is mealy an expression of your getting to know the child and the way they communicate. Young children can be very literal and what they have learned as meaning one thing, particularly in the home, may mean something entirely different to you.

2) Coordination

: many young children have coordination problems. This is perfectly normal.

3) Processing information

: They may not be able to process more than 2 or 3 actions at once. Sometimes even a few as one. Again this is perfectly normal.

4) Body type

: all children have different body types but particularly younger children. Shorter or longer parts in comparison to the rest of their body, lack of flexibility in shoulders/feet or even the reverse of body parts being more floppy.

5) Attention span

: very young children, especially those who have not attended kindergarten or other group participation activities may have very short attention spans.

Here are some suggestions that may help:


Image of an happy little girl wearing goggles in the pool holding on to the edge: Teaching Preschoolers Swimming Can Be Tricky
Teaching Toddlers Swimming Can Be Tricky
Don't be afraid to get to know the parent and seek their advice on how their child communicates and what things to say and do to help the child understand.*


This is usually a perfectly normal stage of development. It's just young bodies learning. It is not unusual for them to know what you want them to do, they may be just having trouble doing it. Be patient!

Processing Information

It is said that young children can process the same amount of things as their age. For example, a 2 years old, can process two movements. I haven’t found this to be helpful.

I find if you give everyone one thing to do at a time when everything runs much more smoothly. Start with one activity or movement then leave that movement and do a different one. When they can perform that, move on to another. It is often called the ‘building block’ approach.

In any one class, you may teach several separate skills. When your student can do two sufficiently, you can combine those two but don't add a new one until the combining is consolidated. Don't stop teaching the skills separately just consolidate them as the students get better at them.

For example, you may teach kicking and floating separately and then when they can do those two sufficiently you can combine them. Play games that enhance coordination.

‘Teacher Says'

(instead of Simon Says).
Sit children on the ledge, and get them to kick.
Encourage the correct kicking technique.

Whilst they are kicking their legs give them additional instructions thus:

‘Teacher says touch your nose’
‘Teacher says touch your chin’
‘Teacher says clap your hands’.

They have to try to keep kicking the whole time.
No one goes out.
If a child makes a mistake you just say oops and keep playing.
This may help to get the focus on doing two things at once. It also helps identify the different body parts that they need to know in swimming, such as shoulders, knees, heads etc.

Body Type

Young children's, bodies are often a little out of proportion, which means every child will probably perform things differently to the way older children do. It is important that you adjust the skill you are teaching to meet the child abilities, not make the child fit your definition of the skill.

For example, the length of their arms in proportion to their heads may result in their hands needing to be apart with their head in the right spot instead of their hands being locked and their head up.

Attention Span

You will need to move your class along, without prolonged waiting periods and with plenty of stimuli.

Some children can have a great attention span, others may get distracted easily or get bored and fidgety.

Know your lesson plan well and keep it moving. Always have a lesson plan that has too much in it with the essential things being done in the first part of the lesson and the second part being the same thing but done in a different way. That way as soon as one child's attention span starts to slide you can move on and all the goals are archived.

For example: you may play lots of different swimming games that all teach the same thing.

Try to concentrate on activities that keep the whole class moving at the same time. You don't want children waiting for their turn if you can help it.

Sometimes you can't avoid children waiting for their turn. Some things can only be done one on one. But you need to minimize this as much as possible.

Giving the other children something to do while they’re waiting will help in these instances. Toys may help here. Set them along the wall and encourage the waiting children to play and experiment with them.

Be sure that you set a rule that they must stay at the wall. That is, they may play with the toy as long as they stay at the wall. If they move from the wall, the toy is taken away from them until they return.

I hope this helps. Good swim teachers learn from each other. If you have any ideas of your own I invite you to comment below.


*It is not your place to make a judgement on the child's state of development. If the child does have a developmental issue the parent probably already knows about it and you do not need to raise it. If they don't you still don't need to say anything because your conversation will always set a good parent on the path to getting professional help by themselves.

If they ask you directly if they should seek medical advice, your response should be “That's not my place to say, I am not qualified to give such advice”.

If they are not a good parent, there is nothing you can do or say that will change that, so stay out of it.


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