10 Teaching Tips for Swimming

  • 10 Teaching Tips for Swimming

    Swimming is an excellent activity for developing gross motor skills. Also water can have a calming effect on some children, thus aiding in sensory integration. It is important to observe, understand, and assess the child before beginning swimming instruction. This enables the instructor to tailor the program to fit the child’s needs.


    1) Is the child comfortable in the water?  If he is uncomfortable in the water or frightened by it, he needs to be acclimatized to the water in smaller, gradual steps.  Start with playing in the sprinkler and getting wet.  Try a wading pool.  Sit on the edge of a swimming pool and splash your legs in the water.

    2) Is he sensitive to smells, especially chlorine? You will need to find a chlorine free pool.  If the child is sensitive to temperature, look for a heated pool.

    3) Does your child stim in the water?  If so, some instructors use a separate, highly desirable stim toy to reward the child during breaks.  In order to earn it, the child is required to not stim on the water.

    4) Processing verbal instruction while other noises are prevalent is often hard.  Use lots of visual cues (finger pointing and other gestures) as well as laminated picture cards.

    5) Use repetition to teach various movements and strokes.  Some instructors use a song – while this helps some children remember the sequence of steps, others may not be able to replay their skills without the accompanying song.  In this case, instructors gradually fade out the song by first leaving out bits for the child to fill in silently in his head.

    6) Playing fun games in the water helps kids relax and treat it as a fun experience.  Blowing bubbles in the water, throwing a toy and retrieving it, and playing catch are games that can distract kids from the stress of trying to learn something new, or overcoming fears.

    7) Show the right way only. Do not show the right way and the wrong way, this can confuse the child.  Break down each goal into smaller steps.  If you get stuck on a step, break it down even further.  Or try a different approach such as changing the reward, taking more breaks, or going back a step until the child is ready for the next one.

    8) Use a child’s special interests. Many kids on the spectrum may be excessively interested in a certain character, a movie, a toy, or even an everyday object.  These can be either used as rewards or incorporated into the teaching.

    9) Never force the child to do something he’s unwilling to do.  It is very important to build a trusting relationship with the child.  Always get his permission before doing something and always alert him to what you are about to do.

    10) Take it slow.  Some children love being in the water but they enjoy it so much that they may not focus on the instructions. Other children may be afraid of the water and need to overcome their fear and get comfortable before they can learn to swim.  A good instructor is someone with lots of patience who knows even a small step forward is a win.


    Contact your local YMCA to find out about swimming classes for special needs children.

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