Is There a Gentle Way to Teach Babies and Toddlers to Swim?

Alicia Bayer, Mankato Attachment Parenting Examiner – July 22, 2010


A child in the Baby Swimming program happily swims underwater Photo courtesy Rob McKay


Recently, I heard from several mothers who had their infants and toddlers in “Survival Swimming” classes in order to teach them to keep themselves safe in the water. One mother told me, “I’d rather listen to her cry than find her face down at the bottom of the pool.” I went in search of a program that could teach young children swimming and survival skills in the water, but would do it in a gentle, playful way that would not traumatize little ones in the name of safety.


I found Baby Swimming: The Gentle Journey and the DVD series Diaper Dolphins. I asked the founder, Rob McKay, if I could interview him about his program, philosophy and advice on how to teach babies and toddlers to swim.  He generously agreed.


Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your company?


Back in the 1960’s I was the age group region 7 YMCA and AAU champion in butterfly and backstroke. Region 7 included Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. When I was 14, the meet was held in your home town at Minnesota State.


My wife Kathy and I have been teaching children to swim now for the past 29 years specializing in infants and toddlers, here at our home base in Boca Raton, Florida. We are located at Florida Atlantic University. Our company, Lifestyle Swim School, was developed to be a holistic, child- centered, developmentally and age-appropriate approach to teaching very young children to swim, be safe and love the water for a lifetime.


We have always structured our learning environment to be family friendly with parents in the water with their baby in the lessons acting as co-teachers. All the same elements you would


expect and desire in a land based program for this age group is present in the pool–a stimulating and rich learning environment with colorful toys, textures, songs, games, manipulative etc.


For my readers in Minnesota and other states far from Florida, your Diaper Dolphins DVD series seems like a good way for parents to use your teachings. Can you talk a little bit about it?


We have had over 25,000 people purchase Diaper Dolphins I and II with many teaching their own children to learn to swim in a gentle, playful way. It also shows how to work with babies in the bath tub to prepare them for their first lesson in the pool. And now our book, Learn to Swim (DK Publishing), has been on the Amazon best seller list for swimming for over 5 years.


Is the series only for babies and toddlers, or can older kids using it as well?


Yes, many older children have greatly benefited by watching the DVD’s themselves. They are inspired by seeing the happy faces of the children swimming in the DVD’s both above and below the water. The video includes many entertaining songs.


Will little ones who go through your training learn survival strategies in the water for instances such as accidentally falling in?


Yes, though we prefer to call the strategies safety skills. Survival swimming normally refers to the aggressive methods that have no regard for the child’s well being during the lessons. Most gentle swim programs teach safety skills based on the child’s age, experience and development. For example, a child who has been in our program from infancy will not only benefit from the day to day lesson experience, but by age two will be able to fall in to a pool and swim back to the side with ease and confidence.