Coaching & PE
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Teaching children to swim: How to deliver effective swimming lessons

Swimming has long been recognised as an essential life skill. We’ve put together some sample exercises you can use when teaching children to swim.

The Importance of Teaching Children to Swim

The importance of teaching children to swim is widely recognised in society. However, Swim Group found in a recent report that almost a third (31%) of children leave school without being able to swim. These children also leave without basic water safety skills. What’s worrying is both these skills are listed in the current National Curriculum (NC).

The current NC doesn’t give teachers much guidance on the age at which swimming lessons should be offered. It merely states a swimming programme should exist at key stages 1 and/or 2. However, a study from 2015 found the ideal age to begin swimming lessons was between five and seven. You can find the full details in our post from March 2015, entitled Between five and seven is the best age to learn to swim.

The model for teaching swimming in UK schools varies considerably. And teaching children to swim is often viewed as a complicated process. Some teachers even question their own ability to deliver an effective swimming programme. However, in this blog post, we’ve put together some steps for delivering these kinds of swimming lessons, taken from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming.

The ability to swim is based on a number of key skills. These skills include the following:

  • Buoyancy and the ability to float
  • Balance and the ability to move the body into various positions
  • Submersion and breath control
  • Relaxation and a feeling of being at home in the water

Learning to Float

Developing the ability to float makes it much easier for learners to develop the swimming strokes. Swimming strokes require a horizontal body position. Making the transition from vertical to horizontal is a big step in helping children learn to swim. There are a few drills listed in the book that you can use to help children achieve this, we’ve included one below:

The aim of this exercise is for children to feel comfortable on their fronts and backs. They should also be able to regain a standing position.

You may also need the following equipment:

  • Pool divider to prevent access to deeper water
  • Floats or woggles
  • And an assistant in the water if possible

Teaching children to swim, learning to float exercise

Developing Backstroke

Back crawl and front crawl are often referred to as the alternating strokes. This is because of the nature of the arm and leg movements. This section not only emphasises the requirements each stroke but also the similarities and the positive transfer that can occur between them.

Whilst it is too simple to say that front crawl is the just backstroke turned over, the statement can help swimming teachers understand how learning in one area can be transferred to another. The leg actions are very similar and the arm actions in both strokes require the arms to travel out and over the water. These similarities can help learners move between the two strokes with confidence.

To enable swimmers to move from the readiness stage to the achievement of basic technique, you should use a variety of progressive practices. It’s recommended that you should help learners develop certain aspects of the stroke before putting it together to form the full stroke.

When introducing strokes to learners, a systematic approach like BLABT is helpful, which stands for:

  • Body
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Breathing
  • Timing

For example, if a student is learning backstroke, achieving body position is an important first step. If the correct body position hasn’t been achieved it’s important to address this problem before moving on to the leg action. Similarly, you should address an appropriate leg action before moving on to the arm action. The following outcomes have been taken directly from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming, click the images to enlarge.

Teaching children to swim, backstroke and front crawl

Teaching children to swim, backstroke and front crawl

Teaching children to swim, backstroke and front crawl

Complete Guide to Primary Swimming

Complete Guide to Primary Swimming

This blog post has been adapted from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming available to buy from Teaching children to swim has never been so easy with more exercises and learning outcomes featured throughout the guide. The guide helps teachers safely teach swimming, regardless of their experience levels. You’ll be able to teach your students about breathing, body position, gliding and developing their strokes.

This entry was posted in: Coaching & PE


Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.

1 Comment

  1. This looks like a complete guide for learners, every swim instructor should learn from this.

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