Floating on tubes, toys, air mattresses, water wings or those long, colorful plastic "telephone poles" appeal to nonswimmers. Accidents can happen on inflated toys, floating kickboards, improvised floats and water wings. In one of Missouri’s beautiful state parks, I started to wade across a small, knee-deep riffle to greet a friend and was tossed and bruised by strong current that looked as quiet as a pond! A parent sometimes swims or walks into deep water with a little fellow clinging to his or her body. They occasionally take little tykes into deep water as some sort of reward or show-off.
Doing fun things - age-appropriate stunts and games - can produce lasting memories. Follow the leader is a game for starting. As the parent, you’ll choose things kids might do on the playground and have never tried in water: growling, rolling, floating, creatures walking or swimming under water. Imagine fish, turtles, monkeys, frogs hopping.
Let’s say your child is preschool age, eager to learn new fun things with patient parents - treasured moments when no cell phone jingles, no doorbell rings, no cake is in the oven - just parents doing fun things with their own children without interruption. What a rare thing! Take time to photograph it and repeat it often.
A little one doesn’t care who swims better, who wins the Olympics or who swam the English Channel! He or she wants to wade in water, run through it, beat it with a stick, sit in it, splash it with his or her feet, turn "belly down" and "walk" with both hands on the pool bottom with his or her legs kicking or just trailing along behind.
Soon, he or she is creating mouth sounds like a motor boat or going down to let the fish see his or her eyes. Your little tyke is doing what he or she wants to do, and that is really important. If you suggest something that is too difficult, just say, "We’ll do that when you’re bigger." Ask whether the child wants to learn to swim, and he or she will say, "I am fimmin!" and run off to splash more water.
Parents, you can teach your child to love and respect the water. "Not to drink!" you warn. You cup your hands and bring up water in them and wash your face. Sprinkle some water on your head, and your child will do the same. Have him or her sprinkle water on your head. Then ask whether you can sprinkle some water on his or her head. If the child says "No," forget it!
Asking your child’s permission is a way to build his or her trust. Some day, wear an old straw hat to the pool. Scoop the hat through the water filling it and quickly flip it on to your head. Your child will love seeing the water streaming down your face and might want to put a hat full of water on his or her own head.
Make up games, but avoid water fights. Be gentle and kind and enjoy the experience. Don’t stay in too long. When he or she is having a good time, say, "In two more minutes, we must get dressed to go." And do it! Have a stack of big dry towels ready. Get out before anyone gets chilled, fussy, tired, sleepy or hungry. Play with your children so that they will enjoy swimming with you.