Some kids really do take to the water like little fish.

How to Teach a 5-Year-Old to Swim

by Lucie Westminster

If you think your water-loving little one has the potential to become the next Michael Phelps, then it's time to teach him how to swim. Even if you don't see him standing at the Olympic podium, teaching your child to swim is essential to keep him safe around the water. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that most children are developmentally ready for swimming lessons any time after the age of 4.

Introduce your child to the idea of swimming by reading a children's book like Sarah Garland's "Going Swimming." Talk about your own planned trip to the pool -- and make learning to swim sound like a fun adventure. The excitement and anticipation will keep her fears about swimming on her own to a minimum.

Take your child to the pool and get him comfortable in the water if he isn't used to it already. Start in the kiddie pool. If he's eager to get in the "big" pool, ensure that he's wearing an appropriate flotation device while in the water -- and don't let him out of your sight.

Enlist the help of a certified swimming instructor to teach your 5-year-old basic strokes and breathing techniques. While you might be the star of your water aerobics class, that doesn't mean you are necessarily skilled at teaching key concepts like floating and breathing to your little one. Contact your local Red Cross for a list of certified instructors in your area, rather than attempting to teach your 5-year-old how to swim all on your own. Observe your child's swimming lessons so you can help him practice what he learns.

Go back to your favorite pool and reinforce your child's newly learned skills. The old saying, "Practice makes perfect" definitely applies to learning how to swim. Water safety is a priority, so always stay within arm's reach of your little swimmer as you help him practice his swimming. Don't let him go without his flotation devices until his swim instructor ensures you that your child is ready to swim on his own.

Take your future swimmer to a local swim meet or team practice so she can watch the big kids swim. If this isn't feasible, then watch a swimming event on television. As the skilled swimmers swim freestyle and backstroke, talk to your little one about the different strokes and techniques you see. Watching other swimmers move their arms in the water and breathe to the side gives your child a good example of the skills she can develop.


  • Praise your child when he reaches achievements during swimming lessons like putting his face in the water or swimming a few strokes on his own. If he knows learning to swim makes mommy happy, he is more likely to try harder during his lessons.


  • Never force your little one in the water if she is fearful. Encourage your fish to face her fears, but let your little one's personality guide you as to how much you push her during the process.

About the Author

Based in Texas, Lucie Westminster has been a writer and researcher since 1975. Her work has been published in journals such as "Psychological Reports" and "Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior." Westminster's interests include developmental psychology, children, pets and crafting. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Miami University.

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