To get to where we are today, I approached Molly’s experiences with the water wearing a few hats, so to speak: my parent hat, my teacher hat, and my swimmer hat.
Teachers use lots of methods for instruction. Modeling for her, helping her do things with us, letting her explore by herself… these teaching strategies combined make up the “gradual release of responsibility,” also known as “to, with, by;” the instructor’s duty is to show students how to do something and to support them toward independence.
Mostly, I let Molly try things that others might deem a little risky. For example, I let her roll over in the tub, and she quickly learned that her mouth and nose go underwater when she does that. It surprised her, and she certainly learned from the experience because now she’s found a way to handle it. “Experience” pairs with research on the way our brains are shaped: through experiences.
Water is part of Molly’s environment. I sing songs and chants I learned from my days in the pool to Molly, and new songs we’ve learned together; she’s learned that bath time and swimming are fun times. She blows bubbles into her cup of water at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and transferred this skill to the tub… and in this scenario, we didn’t teach her this skill. Molly figured out blowing bubbles all by herself. She splashes in the puddle on the kitchen floor after tipping over the dog dish. She floats on her back in the tub with my help and smiles when the water covers her ears.
Molly is confident with water. Having worked with older kids learning to swim, the greatest challenge for children without these kinds of early experiences is overcoming their discomfort and fear. Kids who learn to feel comfortable in the water as babies or toddlers will be more likely to learn water safety skills sooner, and therefore be safer around the water for the rest of their lives.
Now is the best time to start developing a baby’s sense of the water. I’d go so far as to encourage everyone to use whatever means you can to make this happen. Maybe all you have is a bucket… use it! Maybe you have a baby bathtub, a shower, a sink, or swimming pool. Any space available with access to water is a perfect place to begin. There’s no rush, other than to begin.