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How to Teach a 5-Year-Old to Swim

by Carolyn Robbins, studioD

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in children ages 1 through 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teaching your child basic swimming skills and water safety is one of the best ways to protect him from injury. If you are not an expert swimmer yourself, consider enrolling your 5-year-old in swimming lessons and then practice with him at home. No matter how great his skills however, never leave your child unsupervised in the pool.

Have your child practice submerging his face in the bathtub at home or in the shallow end of the pool. Many children hate getting their faces and eyes wet. Distract him by showing him how to blow bubbles under water. Have a towel ready to wipe his eyes. Invest in a pair of goggles so that your child can see under water.

Squat in the shallow end of the pool and encourage your child to lean back and rest his head on your shoulder. Instruct your child to push his toes off the bottom of the pool so that his body is floating. Gradually, move his head so it rests in the crook of your arm. When your child is comfortable with this position, ask him to reach his arms over his head and hold onto just your hands.

Sit on the stairs and practice kicking. Show your child how to point his toes and keep his legs straight. An up-down motion with alternating legs is called the flutter kick.

Squat in the water about 5 feet away from the pool wall. Put your child on your lap with his knees bent. Instruct him to put his arms in front of him and, on your count, to push off your knees. Have him flutter kick to the wall with his face submerged.

Have your child hold onto your fingers while you walk backwards slowly. Instruct your child to practice kicking, and give the verbal cue "kick, kick, kick" to establish a rhythm. Encourage your child to submerge his face.

Instruct your child to hold onto the wall with both hands and bring his knees up to his chest. On your count, your child should push off the wall, bring his hands behind him and float backwards. Instruct your child to push his hips up if he starts to sink.

Practice arm strokes out of the water. Show your child how to bring his fingers together to make a cup with his hands. Your child should bring his arms down to his sides, then pull his elbows back to bring his arms up. Instruct him to extend his arms fully to reach forward.

Combine the arm stroke with a basic flutter kick in the shallow end. Stand a few feet in front of your child and hold out your hands. Instruct him to reach for you every time he brings his arms out of the water, to encourage him to fully extend.


  • Get certified in child CPR before you attempt at-home swimming lessons.
  • According to KidsHealth, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at least 15 to 30 minutes before you get in the pool.


  • Don't allow your child to eat for at least an hour before he gets into the pool. Swimming on a full tummy may cause cramps.
  • According to Safe Kids, USA, take the following steps to prevent drowning: never leave your child unattended; install isolation fencing around your pool; install multiple drains to reduce suction; install door alarms to alert you if your child goes near the pool; keep rescue equipment near the water; and learn child CPR.

About the Author

Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.

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