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Swim-in Zone Magic: Tips and Tricks on Back Floating

Written by Erika Schrothe

December 22, 2020

We get a lot of parents who come up to us and say, “how did you do it? I’ve been trying to get my child to do __________ and I just couldn’t! What is your secret?” The secret is…there is no secret! Just gentle repetition, practice, and a lot of distraction.  

Here at Swim-in Zone, we use gentle techniques to get your child to do skills, particularly with back floating. Generally, kids HATE back floating. They hate back floating like they hate broccoli or anything else that is relatively healthy and good for them. The issue with back floats is water gets in their ears, and it is uncomfortable. It’s easy for most adults because we are used to it. We have adjusted. But for kids, they need more practice.  

We like to start our back floats by having the kids rest their heads on our shoulder like it’s a pillow. This close contact gives them the security they need. We also only have them practice for about 3–5 seconds, and we count with them or sing a song; anything to distract them and make them forget they are on their back. Once they are comfortable, our instructors are able to sink down lower and start to gently get the kid’s ears in the water. We also practice on the steps, by having the kids use the top step as a “pillow.” In my classes, I tell the kids to take a nap, and we all snore while practicing our floats. We are still only trying this for a few seconds at a time.  

I like to break it up and practice several times per class, especially in my younger Level 1’s. We practice back floating on the steps, and with me, we also practice back floats after we jump in. Practicing back floats after a jump is vital. It helps reinforce the idea that if they fall into the pool, they can float on their back and kick to safety or float until help arrives. Most importantly, floating on their back enables them to breathe or possibly call for help if needed.  

Once kids are comfortable on our shoulders, we start transitioning them to floating with our hands behind their head. Because kids like to be in control, our instructors let the kids put their hands around their ears, then the instructor can put his/her hands on top of the child’s. This also helps change the child’s center of gravity and is less invasive than if the instructor was holding their head. They eventually get used to this as well, and then we are just holding the back of their head, and soon, they are floating by themselves!  

The most important part is patience! All of this takes several weeks, if not several sessions. I do not expect my Level 1 Beginners (Reds) to be comfortable on their back. I do not even expect my Level 1 Intermediates (Red/Oranges) to be very comfortable. However, by the end of Level 1 (Orange), they should be comfortable, and the instructor should be almost able to let go of the child’s head for 2-3 seconds.  

While this may seem like magic, it’s merely practice. And you can help us! Remember, we have free Friday Family swim times from 1–230 and 630–8, where the immediate family may schedule a 45-minute block to practice and have fun in the pool. Also, throughout Winter Break, December 27–31st, we have Family Swim times for $10/45 minute session, which may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. Bring all the kids and get their energy out (and get them out of your house!) 

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