Water skills for babies
Whether you want to teach your little one to swim on your own during a local public swimming session, or practise between swimming classes, it is helpful to have a list of skills you could try working on with your baby.
As with all things baby swimming, the most important thing, above and beyond any skill or prescribed "tried and tested" progressive lesson plan is that you relax, work at your child's pace, watch them for any signs of distress and make their time in the water fun. You are in charge of helping them form a happy relationship with the water, not piling on the pressure or perfecting their skills - any Olympic level training can always come later! ;)
Here are some ideas for you to try:
Cuddle and bounce: This is always a good way to ease into the water. Cuddle your little one facing you, and gently bounce up and down to get used to the sensation and temperature of the water - you can default to this activity if they start to feel anxious or overwhelmed;
Motion in the water: Hold your baby facing you, drop both of your shoulders down under the water, hold them as lightly as you can beneath the chest and under the arms, and slowly walk backwards in the water, keeping your back straight so as not to slip. Check before you start that the coast behind you is clear. This will get your little one used to the feeling of moving through the water. You don't want to whizz along and create waves for your baby to be dragged through - keep your pace steady. Try holding your baby in different ways as you move in the water to find what's comfortable, but always make sure that their mouths are clear of the water
Blowing bubbles: Babies find this very hard to do, but will love watching you blow bubbles in the water. You can blow bubbles with your mouth at the surface of the water or underneath, you can blow big or small bubbles, make different noises or blow a small bath toy along the surface of the water. Emphasise taking a breath in, and purse your lips before you put your mouth under the water. Your baby will be fascinated, and eventually will try to join in;
Submersion: Put your face in and come up with a smile - or even try ducking right below the water. Your baby will watch you and be fascinated - she might want to give it a try herself;
Activities with another adult: If you are swimming with another adult, you could try passing your little one between you. Hold your baby under the arms, with both of you facing towards your second adult. Gently pass the baby across, keeping an eye that the mouth is always clear of the water;
Jumping in: Sit your little one on the side of the pool. If they can't yet sit unaided, support them completely, and if they're mobile hold onto them tightly. Give a cue (you could use a countdown, or the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" is a good one for jumping in to), and then gently tilt their upper bodies forwards before easing them in towards you in the water;
Sing! There are loads of songs to sing in the water! We love "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", "The Grand Old Duke of York" and activities like "Simon Says".
Giving your baby some relaxed time to enjoy being in the water and explore the new sensations of splashing and moving the water is the best way to help them learn to love swimming at this early stage. Even if you don't feel confident in the water yourself, stay within your limits and pretend to be confident to keep your little one's anxiety at bay. Always keep them safe - that should be your priority, and watch them carefully so you know when they're starting to get overwhelmed. Enjoy!