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Swimming through playing: Why is it important for children to learn how to swimby playing?

Why is it important for children to learn how to swim by playing!? First of all, it encourages a healthy development of breathing and thinking. Playing is the strongest antibiotic for everything, be it on the dry or in the water. Playing makes you laugh, fantasize and think. When playing, children move and make others move too. While playing, children learn how to share things and sometimes they also whisper to each other. Playing brings joy to their faces. While they are swimming and playing, children learn things about the others and also about themselves. They find it much easier to make distinctions between what is deep and what is shallow, what is close and what is far away… of course if there are yellow rubber ducks aligned on the edge of the pool.

And secondly - do you know what is the largest “playground” in the world? Water is the largest “playground” on the planet Earth. Its volume equals to around 800 trillion Olympic-size swimming pools! Are all children ready to play in it today?

What made me think of play-based swimming?

From their very birth, babies start swimming and playing along with songs!

When it comes to the play-based swimming and exploring, I completely changed my perspective once I started working with babies in the pool. Especially when I became a dad.

My children have been in the water since the age of four months. That does not mean they had trainings every day… but that they got relaxed enough to enjoy the water. They learnt how to swim with a smile on their face, while playing in the water and around it. Little Shark learnt how to swim when he was two and a half, while Little Fish made her first swimming strokes when she was three.

How to motivate children to learn and swim?

It’s easy! You should awaken their curiosity. Motivate them with playing. In order to play and be safe at the same time and enjoy the largest “playground” in the world, they need to know how to swim. Swimming, as any other acquired skill, is a process. Yes, it takes patience, on both sides.

By using the play in the water and by presenting the pool as a playground, I motivated my Little Shark and Little Fish to start loving the water, swimming and enjoying it. People would often give me a strange look because I had my own way with kids in the shallow part of the pool, where I would sit under an umbrella, play chess, splash in the puddles in my wellingtons, draw, play the guitar, sax, sing, dress myself in costumes and then dive with babies under the water, put on a mask and make children laugh… I didn’t care about those strange looks. This is why whenever we played in the water my kids grew more and more relaxed, curious and lively (that could last for more than three hours with no breaks) without even noticing that they were in the deep water, that nobody was holding them, but that they were swimming on their own.

This is why Little Shark, who was barely two at the time, once he felt safe in the water, managed to swim 10m of the hotel pool after having mastered the floating technique - the so-called starfish floating with the face down in the water and floating on the back. He was as happy as he could be, and I couldn’t wipe a smile off my face. We went on playing and exploring in and outside the water. And finally, when he was only three years old, after some time of playing and diving together with me and after a jump he made from the start block, he managed to reach a toy from the bottom of a 2m-deep pool, all by himself. Unlike him, Little Fish was much more cautious while playing in the water and around it. I respected that.

What is the best way for children to learn things? They learn while playing, but also by watching others. We, as parents, coaches, teachers… are the best example they can follow, but also other children in the water and around it can do.

Swimming through playing - my little survey

Swimming through playing should become a child’s routine, because playing as a trigger will never get redundant. The question that arises is - how? There’re a lot of ways of learning through playing and exploring, but this is my way!

Wanting to test the play-based swimming, not only with my children, I have created a programme, a little survey, with the support of the parents. In the period of sixteen weeks, I was observing the development of sixteen children in the pool, age three to five, both boys and girls of the same swimming level. The idea was to have the children divided into four groups of four children. Once a week, the children of all four groups attended the swim lessons for 30 minutes, which is 16 lessons of half an hour altogether. Two groups were working in line with the “school” programme, strictly following it every time, while the other two groups were more flexible. They were learning how to swim and how to do all other swimming-related elements in the same way as the first two groups, but exclusively by having great fun, playing and exploring.

How did we play, explore and swim?

The goal of swimming for preschool children should be swimming and having fun at the same time, because that approach helps the children become independent and safe in the water. And on the other hand, it makes children curious, persistent, creative and open to hear and learn new things.

The children’s environment, whether they are at school or in the water or around it, changes every day. It means that our way of transferring knowledge and swimming skills should adjust to children on a daily basis. On the other hand, every single child is an individual of his/her own, which makes the challenge of playing and mastering life skills even bigger.

What is the easiest way for children age 3 to 5 to learn how to swim, float on the water and enjoy it? The task of the both groups was the same. To master the elements of floating, moving through the water with and without props, to grab an object from the bottom of the pool at the depth of 1m, to jump off the pool’s edge into the 2m-deep water, with and without the Noodle. The only difference between the groups was the approach in learning and mastering the skills in the water - with or without playing.

Learning how to swim by playing gives brilliant results!

The group of playing children did not only create the future swimmers, it created the team players, future leaders with critical thinking inside and outside the water.

  • Children from the flexible programme, with playing and exploring, made a better progress. One of the reasons was because this interesting programme made them interested in learning and achieve the result, compared to the dull and “boring” repetition, due to which they would lose interest quite easily.

  • The atmosphere in the water with the playing children was always relaxed, more positive, with lots of fun. The children were getting in and out of the pool with a smile! However, the thing that got me even more excited was the fact that the children in the programme “by the book” also showed good spirit after the classes. This just shows that swimming as a physical activity has a positive impact on the mood in any case!

  • The children who were playing and swimming were extremely interested in what their peers were about to do and how they were to master the elements necessary for the benefit of the entire group. In this way, they learnt much better and they evolved together as a group, learning not only based on their own experience, but also the experience of one another. The thing I also found surprising was that they were much more careful and focused, which made the work with them easier.

  • The playing children made excellent intrapersonal relations and became friends outside the pool, which I was told later by their parents. They had a communication with no restraints and peer pressure. They were more open for cooperation, free and ready to make their own initiative for another play.

Children will do anything through a play and for a play.

This is why it is important that we give it to them.

What have swimming and children’s games taught me?

That you don’t lose the sense for play as you become older.

That children are always ready to play, whether in the water or on the dry!

That if we want to motivate the children to learn, the easiest way to do it is by playing.

That children bringing and showing their feelings “at the playground” are more ready for the future!

That a curious child is always ready for any challenge at any “playground”!

By swimming with playing and exploring we “feed” our children with knowledge, skills which trigger not only their mind and body, but also their heart, the skills which awaken their dormant curiosity for their entire life. Our task is to help them master the swimming as easily as possible, if possible, in the most interesting way, so that they could feel safer and more secure today and tomorrow at the “playground”. This is what gives me strength every day to jump into the pool and teach children the most wonderful life skill.

A child’s smile is what proves that we are genuinely, with all our being, in the play, and at the right “playground”! It is up to all of us to inspire the children, to be their support, both in the water and on the dry through curiosity and acceptance, as the outcome of playing leaves a mark not only on them but also on us.

When was the last time you played?

Life is better when you are swimming!


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