How to Teach Your Baby to Swim: Kicking

When I decided to raise my baby to love the water without formal swim lessons, I wanted to see what I could teach her to do at home in the bath using what I know as a swim instructor. The good news is that it’s going well, and I’m excited to share with other parents who are ready to do it, too!

To teach your baby to swim, you need to know what to look for AND have faith that playing in the water can be safe as long as you are a responsible parent: stay within arm’s reach of your baby in the water at all times and believe in yourself to help her gently experience the water in a way that will help her grow into a confident swimmer.

If you are ready to help your baby feel comfortable in the water, I’m happy to lend a hand.

What does a strong swimmer do? How does someone behave when they feel comfortable in the water? Think about the parts of the whole, and break them into bite-size pieces.

In today’s post, I’m focusing on kicking. I write about:

  • Three types of kicking I teach to beginning swimmers
  • Why they’re necessary for self-rescue
  • Which kick to focus on with your little one

Talk About Kicking
Once our newborn baby began moving in ways that emulated the parts of swimming (ie, kicking her feet), I gave the movement a “name,” talked to her about it pretty much each time she repeated it, and in that way, assigned value to it.

Attune to skills you know they need, and watch for them; labeling desirable actions attaches significance to them, making it meaningful. Communication not only supports language but also skill development.

It didn’t matter if she kicked on her back on the changing table, kicked on her tummy during tummy time, or splashed her feet in the bath tub. She and I have been talking about kicking for a loooong time now, and when I began teaching her about swimming in a pool, kicking was a concept she already understood. We could focus on making her kick work for her.

Kicking helps propel swimmers forward through the water in any direction: up or down, side to side, and horizontally.

Three Types of Kicks
The most common style of kick is probably the easiest to learn: the flutter kick, “a brisk, alternating, up-and-down movement of the legs.” Via Swimmers use a flutter kick while prone on their fronts in crawl stroke and backs in backstroke.

For the flutter kick to power the swimmer, the top of the foot needs to push the water down. Too often, older kids push with the bottoms of their feet, as if “walking.” Many animals can actually swim the same way they walk; humans cannot. Sorry if this is disappointing news.

Another challenge I see is when kids bend their knees so much, they practically kick their themselves in the tush. For babies and toddlers, though, focus on “playing kick”: see what size splashes you can make with different sized flutter kicks. We want your little one to get to know flutter kicking really well.

The second kick I want kids to learn is frog kick, a symmetrical movement which draws the feet together toward “the body with the knees bent… and then kicked outward before being brought together again, all in one continuous movement,” thrusting the swimmer forward. Via Swimmers frog kick on their fronts, backs, and while treading water.

Finally, the scissor kick is a kick “in which the legs make a sharp snapping movement like the blades of a pair of scissors.” Via I think of it as a combination of flutter and frog kicks. It’s technically used for sidestroke swimming. Lots of children will inadvertently switch to a scissor kick, though, during other strokes because it feels very natural.

When young swimmers become fatigued in deep water, one way I teach them to rest and recover is by back floating. Then, they can gently kick to a ladder, steps, or the wall. For longer distances, intermediate swimmers learn sidestroke and elementary backstroke, two ways to swim and conserve energy.

Invest in a Good Flutter Kick
If I attempted to teach Molly a frog or sidekick in her first two summers, I don’t remember… the reality is that a flutter kick is pretty easy to teach! Weak kicks won’t move your baby through the water. Neither will an overly vigorous and splashy kick, but in general, most kids tend to need more vigor when they kick. Practice flutter kicking (and “playing kick,” mentioned above.)

One way to help baby get the right idea is to gently hold her feet and kick them up and down for her, while calling, “kick! kick! kick! kick!” Molly thinks I’m hilarious when I do this. I chant it like a drill sergeant in the pool when she tries to swim independently, too.

Make little kicks and big kicks in shallow water, on steps, while holding the wall, and on her tummy and back. It’s a whole-leg movement… and something to do when kids need to burn off a little extra EXTRA energy!

What other swimming goals do you have for your little one? Send me a message or leave a comment below!

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Published by Pool Mom

Hi, I'm Jenny! Educator, swim instructor, and mom.

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