Yay! Hot summer days are finally here and there is no better place to spend them than in the pool!
As an Adaptive Aquatic Specialist I truly believe that swimming is one of the best recreational activities for child development, and really the whole family! It provides endless social, emotional, and physical therapeutic benefits. Children can enjoy hours of fun while strengthening their bodies, gaining endurance, improving their flexibility, and increasing circulation and muscular flexibility. Water enables a child to learn body dimension and awareness. Also, the pool is a great place for exploration of movement and emotional outlets, building confidence and developing relationships. Did you know that swimming can also reduce anxiety, decrease agitation, and improve self-image and self-esteem? The water is a great environment for exploring surroundings and for undergoing a variety of learning experiences. For children in wheelchairs, it breaks down the barriers of the disability stigma. Also, swimming is such a great social activity. For my family, swimming is our favorite shared activity – we gather at the pool with friends for fun, interaction, and play!
For some children and parents, swimming can be intimidating and scary. So, where can you start if your child is afraid or fearful of the water? Here’s some advice to help your child learn to swim:
-Start where children feel comfortable: on the wall, sitting on the steps, or in a very shallow part of the pool. I always point out where the pool begins to get deep and the places where they can or can’t reach the bottom.
-Do lots of splashing and playing to relax. Getting children used to having water on their faces without wiping it away is an important step in learning to swim. Practicing blowing bubbles in the bathtub and in the pool will help children get more comfortable with having their faces near and in the water.
-Practice reciprocal paddling with the arms. I tell kids to pretend that they are scooping or digging the water to their bellies. We practice in a seated position on the side of the pool or with full support in the water.
-Finally, work on kicking while fully supported on the wall or steps.
-For some children the motor planning of putting all of the movements together can be difficult. When practicing with your child, make sure to break down each movement into its basic components, practicing and building upon each of them. It is important that a child is able to perform each of these individual tasks before you try to put them all together.
Most importantly have fun!! Don’t force children to do something if they are not ready. You don’t want to lose their trust and have their fears grow stronger. Always make sure your child is safe and never leave them unattended in or around the water! Remember that everyone moves at their own pace, some kids will be natural swimmers and some might move at a much slower pace. The more exposure children have to the water the easier it will be for them to learn!
Keri Osolin, CTRS, has worked at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital for Rehabilitation for 14 years with both inpatients and outpatients as an Adaptive Aquatic Specialist. She has always had a love for the water, being a certified lifeguard and instructor for over 20 years. She is a wife and mother of two children, 3 and 5 and loves sports, traveling, and photography.
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