Once children learn to breathe in swimming they become truly independent in the water. This independence is great for children’s confidence and self-esteem as they learn their capabilities in the water.
While we want to foster children’s independence we need to make sure that the environment is safe for the child. Therefore independent play must always be strictly supervised by an adult. No child is drown proof and it is irresponsible and dangerous to leave children unsupervised even if they are mobile in the water.
A child’s ability to get a breath when they swim will be determined by their growth and development, physical strength and exposure to water. While we have observed a number of children perform independent breathing as early as 18 months this is an exception. The average child with one or two lessons per week will be ready to swim and breathe at around two a half years of age.
Once children learn to breathe they often drop into a vertical position and will no longer swim long distances. This is often disappointing for the parent and teacher as the child seems to lose momentum and even go backwards.
For this reason it is important to focus heavily on propulsive skills and drills to build the children’s strength so that they find it easy to move from the vertical to horizontal plane. To do this we use a variety of breathing drills that promote a horizontal body position. Even at this early age we are building towards a great streamline body position.
Assisted kick bubble and breathe, is an ideal drill to perfect the breathing skill. In this instance the propulsive drive is being refined while the child is supported by the board as they lift their head to breathe. The child should be assisted on the way over and given the opportunity to practice independently on the way back. It may take some time to perfect the independent breathing skill. Exposure and opportunity to practice will have a huge bearing on how soon the child will master independent execution. Remember children of this age need constant direction and manipulation to develop great propulsive skills. Always follow the “show, practice” teaching axiom, work at the child’s pace and slowly build their confidence.