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. This worked for us: modeling to her; helping her do things with us; letting her explore by herself. It’s based on a teaching model referred to as the “gradual release of responsibility,” also known as “to, with, by,” whereby it is the instructor’s duty to show students how to do something and to support them toward independence.
I let Molly try things that might feel a little risky but without endangering her safety, for example, rolling over in the tub. She 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. Water is part of her environment. I sing songs and chants I learned from my days in the pool to Molly; 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. (We LOVE that.) She floats on her back in the tub with my help and smiles when the water covers her ears.
Molly is confident with water, and in my experience working with older kids who are learning to swim, the greatest challenge for children who haven’t had this exposure is reteaching children in order to overcome their discomfort and fear. Kids who learn to feel comfortable in the water as babies will be able 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, something all children should know. 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.