Can You Teach a Child to Swim Without Paying for Lessons?

Updated on May 01, 2013
K.A. asks from San Diego, CA
28 answers

Alright, don't giggle. I'm serious. I really am curious if you can teach your child to swim without forking out the big bucks for swim lessons. And if so, Is it just put them in the water as often as possible and work on it? Do things like swim wings help or hinder?
I have 3 kids. Even at the "cheap" place (rec center) I'm looking at a good $200 for the 3 of them for just a few weeks of instructions, then the next level I'm looking at a good $200 again and so on. We are also a very busy and active family, especially during the summer, so trying to fit it in becomes difficult. We have their grandparents from out of state that visit, we have our one big vacation (local so technically as "staycation" as we stay at our house but we're going to a convention every day). My son injured his ear the one year we thought of getting lessons, typical. I also don't want my oldest to be the oldest in what is otherwise the "little kid" classes because of his skill level.
My kids are comfortable in the water and will splash around but I'd like them to properly swim so they don't drown and can play with their friends at swim parties that can go in the deep end.
They don't need to learn all the fancy "butterfly strokes" or anything, just how to keep their bodies above water and get from one place to the other.
Alright, now that you're all done giggling at me...can you teach a child to swim without paying for lessons?

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answers from New York on

My kids had access to a neighbors pool everyday and learned to swim well.
So yes they can learn without lessons.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

Depends. I was able to teach my kids all the basics but they were too scared to apply them. Once I put them in lessons with other kids and they saw they were scared too and they all tried together they got it very quickly.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

If you've got the time and patience, you can do it.

FREE online swim lessons:

Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

I taught mine! :)

I was actually a swim teacher for my summer job as a teenager, though. But what I learned there was, it's all about practice. Just like anything else in life, it really helps if you do it every day. Here are a couple of things that may be helpful, in no particular order:
* Never say anything like, "Don't be afraid" or "Don't worry" - it probably never entered the kid's head to be afraid or worry, until some well-meaning adult says this to them.
* Don't tell them to hold their breath - tell them to blow bubbles. For tiny ones, they can start with a straw (always a big hit! "You know how you never get to make bubbles in your glass of milk? Well NOW you can blow bubbles! Go ahead, make as many as you can!")
* When they run out of air, have them take a quick "bite" of air, and then go right back to blowing bubbles. (Learning to take a quick breath will help them when they're learning freestyle, so they don't doggy paddle every time they need a breath ;)
* Once little ones are past the "blowing through a straw" phase, have them put their whole faces in the water ("get your eyebrows wet!") and blow bubbles that way. If they're too intimidated by the big, big pool to do that, then add the intermediate step of having them fill your cupped hands with bubbles. Then move on to whole face in the water. You want them to open their eyes in the water; this is a sign they're comfortable in the water. I used to play imagination games with them - as in, we would all blow bubbles underwater until we ran out of air, and then come up and one by one, describe what wild circus animal we "saw" underwater (a polka-dotted elephant, etc).
* Little ones can go from there to swimming underwater. Have them kick their feet and blow bubbles. Stand ~5 feet from the wall, and give them a push toward the wall. They can put their arms out in front of them, like Superman, and kick like crazy. Back up little by little so you're further and further from the wall. Pretty soon, they will need to take 1 breath to complete the distance. Then 2 breaths.
* Once they can do that, move on to adding arms into the mix. This is hard for very little ones from a coordination standpoint. Usually kids who are ~6 have better luck with it, but it will take a lot of practice. Tell them to make big circles with their arms. Practice on dry land first, then in the water.
* From the start, completely separate from swimming/taking breaths, it's really important for kids to be able to float on their backs. Teach them how to jump in, come up to the surface, and then float on their backs. This is SO important, and can save their lives. If ever they're swimming and are too tired to make it to the edge (of the pool, a lake, whatever), they can always float on their backs.
* If they have a hard time relaxing enough on their backs to float, stand next to them (so your shadow keeps the child's face in shade - hard to relax with the sun blazing in your eyes). Put one hand on the child's tummy, and one under their back. Have them "make a pillow" with their hands under their head. Relaaaax, little child! Okay, so, once the kid is relaxed, slooooowly remove your hand from under their back. Keep your hand on their tummy. Most kids have no idea your hand is gone from their back, because they know your hand is on their tummy. Voila! Floating kid.
* Likewise, have them jump in to deep water, come up to the surface, swim to the edge, and hand-over-hand move themselves along to the nearest steps/ladder. Even really tiny kids need to know how to do this. They should also know how to boost themselves up and climb out, if no ladder is available.

If your kids can do all of that, then from there on out, it's just a matter of building up stamina, and refining breathing skills.

Good luck!

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You can definitely teach them to stay afloat and get themselves safely to the wall if they're in the middle of the pool. Unless you have had extensive swim training yourself, you likely will not teach them correct form, though that doesn't matter since it's not what you're trying for.

Start by getting them comfortable putting their faces in the water and teaching them to float on their backs. Teach them how to roll over onto their backs and float if they ever fall into the pool.

Things like water wings will definitely hinder them from learning to swim, as it will give them false confidence and restrict their movement.

One potential downfall to teaching them yourself is that the kids might not respect you as an instructor. Sometimes kids are better for an actual teacher than they are for their parents. So be prepared for that as a potential roadblock.

It certainly won't hurt to try.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

It depends on how good of a swimmer you are, how patient you are and how much effort you are willing to put into it and make it a positive experience for everyone.

I was a lifeguard at a lake and a strong swimmer, however, when my daughter came along... I looked at swimming as a safety factor for her and I made sure she had proper lessons (not just a butterfly stroke), but lessons that taught her what to do in an emergency and get out of the water.

My thoughts are that you never compromise on health and safety, especially with children. It is not worth what you could potentially lose (your children) if you choose to cut corners like that with health and safety.

Along with lessons, we did swim together almost daily in the summer and whenever we could.

I guess it depends on what your $200 is worth to you.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

Depends on how good a swimmer and how good a teacher you are.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


I am of the opinion that swimming is a MUST HAVE - LIFE SKILL.

If you don't have the patience or the ability to teach basic strokes - crawl and backstroke or even floating on their backs, then pay someone to teach them. There are high schoolers who are certified life guards and trainers who may not charge as much to instruct your kids on swimming.

Personally - even as a life guard and certified trainer - I paid someone else to teach my children - and I got in to "help" but otherwise, stayed out of the way because it was easier for them to listen to someone who is not personally invested.

And nope - not giggling at you. Swimming lessons aren't cheap. IF you have the patience and skill to teach them - do it yourself.

Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

I never had lessons, but I learned to swim on my own. I am not a great swimmer, although I have always loved to swim, and now wish I had lessons. I felt that swim lessons were the most important activity to have my kids do, because we love spending time at the beach and at the pool. Do you have a YMCA in your area? At the Y swim lessons are included in the price of the membership, and if you cannot afford the membership they have all kinds of subsidy programs available.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I taught my kids to float in our hot tub but I paid for lessons to teach them the strokes. I highly recommend private lessons that are 1 on 1. I think kids will learn more in one private lesson than 8 group lessons.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

Yes you can! I taught both my kids and my husband to swim. My husband's Dad threw him in the lake (I think he really thought he could swim) and he was terrorized. When we had been married a couple of years I told him I could teach him to swim. We had a 4 ft deep pool and I told him if he started to panic he could simply stand. Now he loves to swim.

I started early with both of my kids (2-3). I NEVER forced them into the water. I always wanted them to love to swim not ever be afraid. My daughter is an excellent swimmer and taught herself how to swim under water. My son does a good job as well.

I always worked with my kids in the shallowest water. Partly because I'm short and partly because I wanted them to be confident they could handle it. I started with floating then followed with dog paddling. We gradually added other strokes and they've picked up other things from friends and family. I didn't allow dunking and horse playing when they were younger. Now they play chicken and do other things.

You can definitely teach your kids.

Blessings and good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Absolutely you can. Before we got too busy with two income households and all that other fancy stuff parents would take their kids to a lake or the pool and teach them how to swim. Most kids in the world still learn how to swim from their parents...

So if you are a decent swimmer I think you can do it. Take them to the pool and practice. It helps to get one of those styrofoam boards and practice arm and leg strokes separately in the beginning. Also teach your children to float on their backs without actual swimming and how to tread water - both are important survival skills.

Good luck.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Joplin on

I learned how to swim on my own. No lessons, no terror, no floaties, or anything. I've also taught my niece how to swim by holding her up and having her kick her legs and move her arms. She actually swims better than her brother who had professional lessons and it only took her ten minutes to learn what they taught my nephew in three weeks. Crazy, but true. So Yes you can do anything you want as long as you're willing and patient. Best of luck to you and your little ones!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

yes. but you need access to a pool often.. our nephew never had lessons but had a backyard pool and he learned to swim pretty good.

my kids have had lessons from age 3. after 3 years of swim class... they can sort of swim. but not great.

we have spent lots of money on lessons.. but it is fun for them..

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Yes. There are books in the library which can help you teach them. I had one titled something like pool proof your infant. a kickboard, a noodle, some heavy beanbags can help.

Rope in a favorite older cousin/ friend neighbor to be the demo guy. The kids might have an easier time learning if they have another kid modeling how.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

I did learn to swim at one of our city public pools.. I went every day and eventually, just got better and better..
However, do you live near Balboa Park? if so.. they offer this for FREE...

Summer Portable Pool Program

This program is offered at many recreation centers throughout the City of San Diego during the summer months. Portable Pools are designed to bring swimming lessons and recreational swim opportunities to communities without local permanent pools.

At Portable Pools, swimming lessons follow the Learn-to-Swim Program format. These lessons are provided either FREE or at a reduced rate and are available to children who are at least three feet tall and toilet trained. Participants may register for these classes at the host recreation centers; registration is on a first come, first served basis. Portable Pools are not open on registration days.

See the Portable Pool Schedule for this summer's dates, times and locations.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Me? My dad taught me to swim & dive in our pool.
My brothers? Same dad thre them off the back of our boat into the river. 20 seconds of terror & they were swimming.
My son? I taught him in the pool on vacation.
We all can swim & like swimming. None of us are afraid of water.
You dont "need" swimming lessons!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

When I was a kid, everyone learned how to swim, without paying for lessons.
We just learned on our own, from our parents.
That is how I learned as well.
Here in Hawaii, many learn to swim and surf and dive and snorkel, without paying for formal lessons.

For learning about water safety... and how to save others/yourself and how to actually learn water safety/swim techniques/floating/treading water, then formal lessons are worthwhile.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

CAn you swim?
Did you have lessons?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

No giggling from me! Your kids can absolutely learn to swim without fancy lessons. Both of mine learned to swim without a single lesson. The key (at least for us) is just bringing them to the pool - often. Let them play around. Eventually they'll be swimming. I didn't even tell or show mine what to do. I did play with them in the water though. It helps that I love the water. Also, I disagree with anyone who says flotation devices will prevent your kids from learning to swim. The one that worked for us was this yellow tube thing - looked like a girls bathing suit with an inner tube around the belly. Both of my girls were in these at around 15 months. What I liked about them is the kid actually has to kick a little bit or they'll roll back a little. Not enough to go under water, but enough to freak them out so they keep kicking. Both my my girls were 3 1/2 when they said "All done with the tube!" I took the tube off and they were swimming. No lie. Of course, this happened at the end of the summer for each of them, and we'd been going to the pool practically every day for 2 months. I'm not sure what they'll learn if you go once a week. My girls have been on the swim team now since they were 7 and 5. They're 11 and 9 now, and loving the swimming!! So to answer your question, "Is it just put them in the water as often as possible and work on it?" - in my opinion, YES!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Of course you can teach them to swim without lessons. Did you take lessons? Just get in the water with them and teach them the way you were taught.

I will say that I've tried to teach my granddaughter to swim using the same techniques I was taught, but she doesn't want to do what I ask her to do. She just wants to have fun. Imagine that! So, while I know it is possible, it is only possible if the kids cooperate.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Absolutely!!! I never had a lesson as a kid and neither did my 3 siblings. We all learned to swim. We had our own pool so we practiced every day during the summer. Practicing a lot is essential whether they have lessons or not.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

My 9 year old swims all the time at the IL's during the summer. He's never taken a formal lesson. His uncle works with him on trying new things like diving etc. My friend says that my son cannot swim because he has never had a lesson and does not know the fancy strokes like her kids. (Whatever)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wichita Falls on

I never had lessons and spent every summer from age one to eighteen in the water. It does take patience, start out one-on-one. Your local library may have some instructional books on how to start.

I remember starting with breathing in the water (put your head in the water face down and blow bubbles, turn head to breath in, repeat), treading water (bicycle kick legs, cup hands and move arms front and back on water), dead man float (too complicated to explain here) and the basic crawl stroke. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Its a matter of safety training, more then swimming. When an insrtuctor teaches a swim lesson, the kids are taught to jump in and turn around quickly and grab the wall, they also work on monkey walk wich allows the child to use the wall and lip of the pool to safely walk them selves to safety should they fall in, part of the leason includes learning to float on their back should they need to conserve energy while they wait for help .. The skills are more then just swimming its also the ability to save themselves if they do fall in. Although no child should ever be left alone around a pool ..swim leasons are also safety training around water.


answers from Houston on

Go to a pool where there is little traffic.



answers from Wausau on

I can swim, and I've never had lessons. As a kid, a large number of my summer days were spent at the local pool or at the lake. The key was being in the water more days than not.

My dad can't swim and my mom didn't teach us. We just....did it.


answers from Washington DC on

of course you can! We taught our kids how to swim ourselves and they are now great swimmers. My daughter was 3 when she was swimming across the length of the pool by herself. My son was 4 when he could do it. We are at the pool almost daily in the summer. There was no method to it. We never used arm floaties or life jackets. We would just play and they would learn through that. I was on swim team and water polo growing up and my husband was a lifeguard in high school. We are a total water family, lol!

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