Everything You Should Teach in A Child’s First Swim Lesson

I always find teaching the first swim lesson to a child the most intimidating as you don’t know quite what to expect from the new student.  Teaching a child to swim is a process and like all processes it needs to start somewhere. A swim instructor’s goal during a swim session is to help develop each student’s proficiency at swimming, but often the first swim lesson can be intimidating for the child as well as the teacher.  A swim instructor may know where they want a child to grow, but may be a little unsure about how to start that process.  This article will help you uncover the best way to begin your swim lesson.

Despite what age you are teaching swim lessons need to begin with an assessment of basic skills.  The skills most specifically needed are:

  • blowing bubbles,
  • submerging underwater,
  • kicking,
  • floating, and
  • gliding.

These skills are the building blocks for all swim strokes and therefore necessary for a child to know before they can become proficient at any strokes.  Once these skills are mastered, it is much easier to move forward onto specific strokes or goals.

To most matured swimmers, these goals seem rather simple and it is hard to imagine that assessing a child’s skill would fill a whole lesson, but this is a misconception.  The skills mentioned above can be very challenging for first time swimmers young and old. These skills take an understanding and mastery over one’s body while in the water.  They require the swimmer to show control over their breathing, buoyancy, and body movement in a new environment.  The principles are the reason any first lessons should involve a review of these skills at the very least.

Blowing Bubbles

Anyone who has had a glass of chocolate milk has most likely figure out that exhaling into liquid can produce some pretty awesome bubbles.  Learning to blow bubbles in the swimming pool, however, can be a bit more intimidating for a kid than blowing into a glass of chocolate milk.  This skill is so important because it is teaching a child that they have the ability to breathe underwater and begins to teach them the rhythm to breath while swimming.  Children who refuse to blow bubbles into the water will struggle to master other skills such as side breathing, breast stroke and side stroke. Many children will be able to already blow bubbles into the water, which will help them develop a stronger stroke further along in lessons.

teaching first swim lessons

Fully Submerging

One of the hardest things any child will be asked to do is to fully submerge themselves underwater.  Many children are more than eager to show off their bravery, but others will completely break down at the very thought.  This skill is necessary to all future swimming endeavors.  The unwillingness to go underwater is evidence of a distrust of the water.  Any child who distrusts the water will be unwilling to do any skill unassisted.

If a child is unwilling to go underwater, this is a perfect place to start as a teacher.  Developing this skill will really depend on the child’s level of distrust.  Most children are simply nervous about this new adventure and need a little reassurance before they are willing to go under by themselves.  Other children have a deathly fear, for one reason or another, and this is a skill that will take much longer to perfect.

This is a good time to mention that just because a child has not mastered a specific skill during the first lesson does not mean that they shouldn’t be exposed to the other skills while working on the ones that need more attention.  Going underwater can be very overwhelming and a full lesson devoted to only this skill may be intimidating for a child and can create a negative experience and atmosphere for future lessons.  Once you have come upon a skill that the child has not mastered, it is valuable to take a moment to focus on that skill.  This can be done through repetition, playing games, activities or building on other skills to transition.  Blowing bubbles is a great skill to use if a child is struggling to go underwater.  The child can start by blowing bubbles through their mouth, then through their nose and continue until their entire face is underwater and eventually their entire head. All you are seeking during your first lesson is an assessment in skill and improvement in one or more areas.  They do not need to be perfect at a skill before you move onto another, they just need to have made some progress.


Kicking is a skill that every child will need to master before becoming a proficient swimmer, but it is also one that does not always come naturally.  The best way to develop a strong kick is through a lot of practice.  By assessing a child’s kick during the first lesson, you are able to understand how much time you will need to devote to practice before moving on to more difficult skills and especially before moving on to developing strokes.  Even when a child has a perfect flutter kick with straight legs and pointed toes, you will still want to assess their endurance.


Swimming involves a lot of different elements, but the largest one involves an understanding of the buoyancy that humans have in the water.  Although this sounds like an interesting science lesson, there is no need to understand the mechanics as long as new swimmers can master the practical application of floating in the water.  Not only is floating a vitally important survival skill, being able to float allows a child to begin learning to swim.  Before moving on to forward motion, a child should be able to maintain a back and front float for approximately five seconds without struggle. Holding a float will help foster the ability to control body movements in the water, which can be difficult for new swimmers.  Floating is one of the most difficult skills for early swimmers to master; therefore, assessing this skill in the first day will show you where your focus as a swim instructor needs to be.


Gliding is a slightly more advanced skill compared to blowing bubbles, kicking and going underwater, so not every beginning swim lesson will get to this point.  If you think the child is capable of trying a glide, it is another base skill that prepares a new swimmer to learn individual strokes and how to coordinate multiple movements at once.  Gliding helps accomplish this because it is the first time their entire body is moving unassisted through the water. Since the goal of swim lessons is to help children to move through the water, freely gliding a great step.


The main goal of any first swim lesson is to assess the skills of student.  This means that not all of these skills will be covered during the first lesson. Often a new student will show their weaknesses early on, which will help the instructor set out a schedule for learning. A child who is struggling to blow bubbles will most likely struggle to go underwater and float.  Instead of overwhelming the child by testing them on other skills they won’t be successful at, it would be more beneficial to spend the remainder of the lesson as well as others focusing on those fundamental skills.

Just as you will have children who struggle with the first few skills mentioned, there will also be students who breeze through the assessment.  If this is the case, you can continue to test out various strokes until you find where they have not learned, noting any weaknesses in their swim that can be improved.

The first lesson of any activity is one where a teacher can really get to know their students.  Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a student helps to guide the entire lesson plan throughout the session.  A good swim instructor tailors their lessons to the needs of the student rather than sticking to a firm curriculum.  Taking the first lesson to understand the student’s current level not only guides the lesson but it give you time to develop a relationship with the student.  By beginning with basic tasks, young students have a chance to express concern and worry while also feeling successful when the master one of these tasks.

One thought on “Everything You Should Teach in A Child’s First Swim Lesson

  1. I am looking for a infant/child certified swim instructor in the Los Angeles (really San Fernando Valley Reseda) area to start in June for a 10 – 12 weeks, M – F, 8:45 am – noon. Would you know where I would go for leads. Your site looks amazing for children learning to swim. I’m hoping maybe one of your students.

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