How to Teach Children Swmming Safety and Basics with Games

Hide Frog, Hide!

Hispanic girl swimming under water
JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

The secret to success when teaching young children is to make learning like play. One of my favorite activities for teaching young children first-time facial immersion, breathe control, and breath holding is an activity I call "Hide Frog Hide." I love to use this game with beginners between the ages of three and five years old. It is a fun activity for the teacher and for the student.

Please note that instructors - in this or any activity - should never forcefully submerge children underwater.

Children learn just as well in a child-focused, learning environment where they can trust their teachers and go swimming class with nothing to fear and lots to look forward to for each trip to the swimming pool. Most don't look forward to being pushed under the water

Here's how we do a fun activity for teaching young children the first time facial immersion, breathe control, and breath holding:

  • Instructor: "We're going to play a game called Hide Frog Hide! What sounds do frogs make?"
  • Children: "Ribbit, Ribbit, Ribbit!"
  • Instructor: "Now in this game, I am going to say the name of different sea animals and fish that frogs might be scared of and need to hide from. When I say, Alligator, you pretend you're a frog hiding from the alligator, and put your face in the water, blowing bubbles out of your mouth and nose. If I say Octopus, hide again!"

Teaching Tips

Use Demonstrations:

  • Instructor: "Let me show you. Let's pretend you are me! I will pretend I am you! Now, swimmers, say Alligator."
  • Children: "Alligator!"
  • Instructor: Submerge underwater, demonstrating how to blow out the mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Now say Tiger Shark."
  • Children: "Tiger Shark!"
  • Instructor: Submerges underwater demonstrating how to blow out the mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Now do have the idea? This is fun! Your turn!"

Use Progression

  • If your student is not ready to put his/her whole face in the water, then just have him/her put their lips in the water. Then progression is:
    1. nose
    2. eyelashes
    3. eyebrows
    4. hair
    5. etc
  • Another part of the progression is to increase the number of the "scary sea animal names" you use. This way you increase the repetition and decrease the duration of time the children have to get back under water.
  • This way they are not only learning breath control, but the children will learn at a rate in which they are comfortable with and skill ready.

Let's get started:

  • Instructor: "Ready . . . Shark!"
  • Children: Submerge and blow out their mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Electric Eel!"
  • Children: Submerge and blow out their mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Swordfish!"
  • Children: Submerge and blow out their mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Jellyfish!"
  • Children: Submerge and blow out their mouth and nose.
  • Instructor: "Crocodile!"
  • Children: Submerge and blow out their mouth and nose.

Of course, you can do less or more, but in a 25-30 minute lesson, we generally spend about 5 minutes on breath control and breath holding. Now let's look at how we use this activity for breathing holding:

  1. Instructor: "Now we're going to play the game a little different so you can work on holding your breath. This time when I say the name of one of those scary sea animals I want you to hold your breath for 2 seconds before you come up for a breathe. If you do, the sea animal will not be able to find you. If you don't, the sea animal will get ya (playfully making the children laugh)!"
  2. Teaching Tip: Again, use progression. Start with 2 seconds, and then increase to 3 seconds, 5 seconds, 7 seconds, etc.
  3. Instructor: "Ready . . . Sea Snake!"
  4. Children: Submerge and hold their breath for 2 seconds. If the child does it, praise him/her and then add another second or two to the breath holding progression. If the child is unsuccessful, the teacher can playfully pretend to "get him/her" and make the student laugh and then try again.
  1. Repeat!

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on February 29, 2016