Teaching your children to swim when they are young is essential for their safety and gives them a healthy activity to engage in throughout their lives. Starting your child in water-baby classes has many advantages because they develop physical and cognitive skills. Most of this learning will usually happen in pools, which doesn’t mean that your swimmer is prepared to go into the ocean during a family vacation. You need to take several steps before your young swimmer heads out into the warm ocean waters safely.
Start in the Pool
Even before heading to the beach, your young swimmer should become an accomplished swimmer in the pool. Most swimming lessons will teach how to float and submerge safely, hold your breath, and breathe on either side of the body when surfacing, depending on the stroke. Learning to float on their backs is a crucial aid for beginning swimmers and will be especially important in the ocean, where open-water distances are much longer than the pool.
Beyond floating and treading water, learning a variety of forward-moving swimming strokes and kicks is also part of the young swimmer’s necessary skill set. The pool is an excellent place to train in the doggy paddle, the backstroke, the crawl, and the sidestroke. There are several other variants, as well as different kicks. All of the techniques may be used in the ocean, depending on conditions.
Swimming in the ocean is a different experience from the pool. One thing that never changes is that young children must always be supervised closely by adults when in the water. Some education – and simulated practice in the pool – regarding tides and currents is critical.
A rip current can happen even in shallow water, especially at low tide. The shape of the underlying seabed causes a break in the waves coming onshore, creating a narrow strip of reverse water flow that goes back out to sea and can take even the strongest swimmer away from shore. The goal is not to try to fight this current but to leave the rip current by swimming across it, parallel to the shore – a rip current only takes you out to sea; it doesn’t drag you under. You could practice this in the pool, calling from the poolside “rip current” and have the swimmer turn in direction, from the end to the side of the pool, for example. At the beach, swim near lifeguards and ask if they’ve seen any such currents developing along the shoreline.
Before heading to the beach, study the weather for wind conditions – stronger winds will make rougher waves. Take seriously all advisories, remembering that everything is essential once your young swimmer is in the water.
Choose sheltered stretches of beach, ideally with a lifeguard, and perhaps with shallow shores to enter the sea. Remember, however, that the shallower a shoreline, the farther away from shore a swimmer will be when it gets deep. Sometimes, a plunge into a deep and sheltered lagoon (or a Cenote in Mexico) may be a better choice.
In the open ocean, it’s essential to stay aware of your location because tides and currents can move you farther away from where you thought you were in a very short time – and while flotation devices can help to stay buoyant, they can also carry you faster. We need to learn to help ourselves as swimmers. Every few strokes (as few as every three), your swimmer should have learned to raise the head and check the surroundings. Sighting is significant – we often must alter course and return to base. Set guidelines for how far out to sea and along the coast your young swimmer can venture without returning. Swim with your swimmer, and know all these essential tips yourself.
After the Swim
Pay attention to sun protection with hats and sunscreens before, during, and after swimming. Water magnifies the sun, as we know, so check for burning. Rinse off saltwater and sand. In the beginning, keep the adventures short. Keep your children hydrated. And be aware that swimming in the ocean is more tiring than in the pool, from the rapid changes the swimmer deals with automatically.
As your water baby turns into a skilled dolphin, graduate to snorkeling. This can be uncomfortable until you relax and learn to use the snorkel. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a great way to explore the ocean. Teach your curious child to respect all marine life and plants and not to touch or disturb anything – especially something unknown.
Ocean swimming is more challenging than the pool. It’s a fantastic workout, but it is easy to get tired and has more hazards. Open water swim training classes are available everywhere, and joining a swim group may be a good idea. In all cases, swimming alone in the ocean will never be as safe as swimming with a buddy or a group. Plan to keep your child company, or with some company, in the ocean.
Lastly – enjoy the water! We humans love the beach and love to be in the water, and that’s because it’s fun. And if everyone in the family is a swimmer, the world opens up for vacations and weekend getaways, or even with a Saturday at the municipal pool. Family bonding strengthens over a group swim. And nothing brings the smiles and laughter like splashing around.