The pools are open, and kids everywhere can't wait to get into the water! Swimming is not only a great way to have fun, but with all the concerns about children and obesity, swimming can help jumpstart a lifetime of fitness. Even kids who are not natural athletes can feel comfortable in and around the pool because water is a great equalizer (it's democratic).
In Your Water Workout (Broadway Books, 2003), Dr. Jane Katz, International Swimming Hall of Fame board member and World Masters swimming and synchronized swimming champion, introduces a holistic approach to family fitness, offering a soothing and strengthening program of exercises drawn from yoga, Pilates, tai chi and popular land sports like skiing and golf. The result: a highly effective, low-impact way to burn calories, build muscle, improve flexibility and have some fun together!
Here are a few of Dr. Katz's tips for optimum family fun and safety poolside:
- Use goggles! Children's goggles are comfortable and colorful and they work. Remember to place the back strap high on your child's head rather than at the base of the neck for the most comfort. There's a whole new universe when your child can see underwater!
- Blow bubbles! To encourage wee ones to submerge their faces in the water, make believe you're blowing out candles on a birthday cake by exhaling gently onto your baby's face, then repeat with your lips on the surface of the water. You can also use a straw like you're blowing bubbles in a plastic cup.
- Move face to face. When you take your child in the water, hold him or her so you face each other and make eye contact. This is a special time for bonding.
- For the reluctant swimmer, talk about water when you're not poolside. To focus children's thinking toward swimming, you can simulate water skills on land. You can also make or buy a sand and water table as a way to encourage your child to have fun with water.
- Put yourself in your kids' flip-flops. If you notice hesitation to their water experience, make a mental tour of their swim environment and consider anything that would make them fearful, physically uncomfortable or otherwise insecure, such as:
Is the water too cold?
Is the lifeguard "scary" or intimidating?
Are there any bullies in the locker room?
Are they afraid they will lose their belongings (shoes, towels, etc.)? Children who wear eye glasses might worry they will lose or break them.
Are they overwhelmed by an unfamiliar environment? (The acoustics of some indoor pools may be loud and strange to a sensitive child.)
- Talk to your child about anything that makes him or her apprehensive. Many things can be corrected or reduced if thoughtfully addressed. Even just being able to voice their concerns can be reassuring.
- Remember to bring a hat or towel cover-up for your baby (even if the environment seems warm), since approximately two-thirds of heat loss is through the head. And sunscreen is a must when outdoors (even when it's cloudy)!
- Young school children can do aqua "ABCs" by "writing" them underwater with leg motions. They can also sing or hum them underwater.
- For school-age children, organize some water workout games like swimming through hoops, ring toss, kickboard tug-of-war, water volleyball or dancing in the pool.
- Bring a water workout "goodie bag" poolside, complete with sunscreen, visor, water toys, cap and goggles, bottled water and healthy snacks for everyone. And pack an extra plastic bag. It will be sure to come in handy!
- Never, ever let your child swim unsupervised!