Learning to swim – or at least learning to be safe and comfortable in and around the water is a valuable skill for anyone, especially for children with special needs. Water has always been a part of my life. My career with water started with all the typical learn to swim programs and has spanned swim teams at the club, high school, collegiate, and masters levels in addition to my work as a lifeguard, swim instructor of all ages, and a swim coach. I am probably more comfortable in the water than on land, and I have seen firsthand the amazing things that can happen when children with special needs are given the opportunity to learn to swim.
All children need to learn first how to just be comfortable and calm in the water. Water can provide new and beneficial sensory experiences for children. The feeling of water against the skin, the sensation of floating, the sounds of submerging the head, can all allow a child to experience something completely new.
A good way to start teaching comfort around the water is to begin at home with the bathtub. Work with your child to submerge little by little, and modeling the behavior calmly along with your child. Starting small with your child is key. Some beginning steps include “okay, let’s get our chins wet! Now let’s get our cheeks wet! Okay, let’s listen to the fishies!” and place your ear on the surface of the water. Staying calm and positive and praising any gains is crucial to your child feeling safe in water.
Rachel Davis currently lives in Tampa, Florida where she gets to be surrounded by water every day. Rachel is a middle school special education teacher in an inner city school in Tampa, her educational philosophy consists of educating the whole child and using their exceptionalities, cultural, and linguistic differences as strengths. She will be beginning graduate school in the fall. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org