Preparing for Baby’s First Swimming Lesson

Published on: December 08, 2020

Gordon Ellard, the founder of Bangkok Dolphins tells us a few steps to keep in mind when enrolling your little one in a swim class.

By Gordon Ellard

What should I do before enrolling in swim lessons? 

Your first baby swimming lesson can be less anxious and stressful if you are prepared.  I would highly recommend that before attending your first lesson you:    

– Engage in some fun water play during bath times so water is not as frightening for the baby. Don’t worry if water splashes onto your child’s face in the bath.    

– Visit your local swim school and ask to be shown around.  Enquire if the water is heated (preferably to 32°C), check that there are plenty of changing facilities, the facilities are clean and maintained, and even stop and watch a class. 

– Check what time the lessons are so that swim time fits in with your sleep routine.  As we all know, a sleepy baby is not a happy baby!    

– Ask the swim centre what you should bring to your first lesson. Each centre is different but usually a swim nappy is a must.  

– Arrive with plenty of time for your first lesson, as Bangkok’s notoriously random traffic could make the first experience all rushed and hectic and is not the ideal way to start. 

How to get into the pool and how to hold your child

Swim centres should have non-slip steps into the pool so it’s easy to enter the pool. Take it slow and carry your child as you would if you were walking around at home or even walking down the stairs.  If there are no steps ask your instructor on how best to enter the pool, or ask for someone to pass your child to you once you have entered the water first.   

Once you are in the pool it’s important to hold your child close to you and facing you, keeping eye contact.  The swimming pool will look like the ocean compared to the little bathtub at home, so this could be quite a daunting experience for your little one.  It’s important, even if you as the parent are not a strong swimmer or even can’t swim, that you remain happy, relaxed, and calm through the whole experience as this will ooze confidence to your child.   

In your first lesson, the instructor should show you ways to hold your child in the water.  The varying ways depend on age, size, and which activity you are doing.  However, for the first lesson, it’s important to take it slow.  Cradling your child close to you, slowly get used to the temperature of the water by dipping their legs in, then their tummy and chest.  As mentioned above, keep eye to eye contact and keep talking and reassuring your child, so they feel safe – even sing their favourite song which you sing at home during bath time.    Once you have acclimatised, start to move around the pool.  For small babies (normally under 3 months old) you may have to support their head more than slightly older babies.  It’s important to ask your instructor if you don’t feel comfortable or have any questions. Your instructor is there to help and loves questions.    


Little babies are naturals at floating and if you have practised in the bathtub, this should be no different in the pool.  Start by floating your child on their back with their cheek touching your cheek, with your hands supporting the small of their back or under their thighs. (See the picture of the lady reading her child a book in this position.) Then slowly swoosh them to the right and left, keep singing, and reassuring them.  As they get more relaxed, their ears and feet will submerge under water, and you will then be able to slowly move your child away from you until you are able to have them in front of you.  Keep eye contact at all times.  As babies start to crawl (usually around 6 months old) they will be happier to be on their front, so don’t be surprised if they get a little cranky – this is where a toy or book comes in handy to distract them.   

Face wetting

Once they are happy in the bathtub, try the same routine in the pool, by cradling your child in your arms whilst you are sitting on the steps or platforms with your child facing you.    The instructor can help by pouring water over your child’s back and shoulders, then slowly wet the back of the head before trickling water from the back of the head over the face.  Try not to wipe the water off their face, just let it flow off naturally.  

Remember that babies learn through 3 main ways: seeing, feeling and hearing, so through this process, you can let them see the shower, touch the water and even hear the water raining into the bathtub or pool.

Sing songs like “Incy Wincy Spider” or “I’m a little teapot,” so that babies will associate songs with activities and will know what to expect next.  Once your baby is happy with water on their face – turn them away from you and try it again.  Over the coming weeks and months, not only will your baby gain confidence, but so will you and this is when you will start submersions and dipping your child under water.   

Fun and encouragement  

Children learn best through having fun.   

As babies develop not only physically but also through increased confidence in the water, they are able to progress doing different skills whilst using new equipment and toys.    

Bright coloured toys will encourage play and stimulation, helping cognitive development, while encouraging them to reach out and grab the toys enhances physical development.    

From being held by you to grabbing a ball for the first time, make sure that each step along the way is met with plenty of praise and encouragement regardless of how small the step may be.     

We as parents are the best teachers for our children, as they trust us, and we know them better than anyone else.  Please remember that there is always tomorrow!  If your baby is cranky for any reason, cuddle them and only continue with the activity when they are ready. 

It is important to remember that babies feel the cold a lot more than adults, so try and keep their shoulders under water and keep moving around the pool whilst doing different activities.   

How to get out of the pool  

After the lesson, leave the pool as you entered, holding your baby close to you, and wrap them in a towel as soon as you get out so they don’t feel the cold.  Babies will be hungry and tired, so give them a drink as soon as you can and they will be ready for a long nap! 

About the Author

Gordon Ellard is the founder of Bangkok Dolphins which was established in 1997. Gordon has a passion for all things swimming and has worked to establish a programme at Dolphins that is accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education. His favourite age to teach is babies and the learn to swim range.  Gordon is married and has two teenage children, who he taught to swim.       

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