Best Ways to Teach Your 3-year-old to Swim.

What's Covered

Did you hear about the 3-year-old boy who drowned after falling into a canal in Berkshire, United Kingdom? This was an extremely sad ending to a possibly preventable solution. Teaching your 3-year-old to swim is such an important decision to make. Hopefully, events like this do not go unnoticed so that parents can make the right choice to teach their 3-year-old to swim. Below will be a few reasons why you should teach your 3-year-old to swim, the supplies you will need, and the best ways to do so.

Why should you teach your 3-year-old to swim?

In 2014, about one third of the toddlers who died from unintentional injuries, did so because they drowned. According to this article,[1] drowning is a leading cause of injury-related deaths in many countries. Below is a table showing the pros and cons of teaching your child to swim. The pros clearly outweigh the cons.

1.      Water Safety

I believe this is the most important reason to teach your 3-year-old to swim. Teaching your child water safety, rules of the water, and how to swim that could prevent accidental death.

2.      Life Skills

Swimming is something that is a skill that your 3-year-old is going to need throughout their life. As they get older, they will use that skill more often than you realize. It also teaches discipline that they will use throughout their life.

3.      Exercise

Did you know that swimming is exercise? Swimming is a great way to have your 3-year-old exercise and burn energy. Exercise is so important to your child’s development.

4.      Fun

Teaching your 3-year-old to swim is more fun for them than just floating around in floaties. Something like diving for toys allows them more freedom to have fun than just floating on top of the water in circles around the pool.

5.      Immune System

Swimming can strengthen a child’s immune system by exerting effort on their muscles and cardiovascular system. Toning those muscles increases endurance, strengthens their nervous system, and improves movements.

6.      Cerebral Development

By teaching your 3-year-old to swim it increases their lung capacity and promotes blood flow to the brain. It also helps to enrich the brain itself with oxygen and helps your child to cope with any kind of overload.

7.      Mental Health

Learning to swim can help your 3-year-old’s mental health by increasing their confidence in themselves, as well as their self-esteem.

How do you prepare your 3-year-old for the best ways of teaching your 3-year-old to swim?

Before teaching your child to swim, you must first prepare them for the swimming lessons. It is important to familiarize your child with water before trying to teach them to swim.[2] Listed below are the best ways to prepare your child for swim lessons.

1.      Blow bubbles during bath time.

This fun game never gets old with a 3-year-old. Put your face under the bathwater and blow bubbles yourself. Encourage your child to do the same. By doing this, they have developed some breath control and gained more confidence about coming up for air safely.

2.      Submerging and breathing.

During bath time, have your 3-year-old put their face or whole head under the water while holding their breath. Make sure to remind them to close their eyes, or you can give them a pair of cool goggles. Have them do this for a few seconds at a time. Then start making it a game to see how long they can hold their breath every time they do it. This helps to teach them breath control, which is an extremely important skill when learning how to swim.

3.      Introduce them to the pool.

It is exceedingly necessary to help your 3-year-old familiarize themselves with the pool where you will be teaching them to swim. All too often, the fear of swimming comes more from the fear of an unknown place rather than swimming itself.[3] Spend an afternoon or two in the same learning pool that they will be taught in allowing, them to get comfortable with the surroundings and the body of water itself.

4.      Pool toys in the bathtub.

Allow your child to take pool toys into the bathtub. Now, I know this sounds a bit silly. But these tools will be a great teaching tool, and you will want your 3-year-old to be familiar with those tools before trying to teach them to swim.

36 PCs Diving Pool Toys
These diving toys are perfect for your 3-year-old to get familiar with tools they may possibly use while learning to swim. They will love the many colors and going under the water in the bathtub to find them.

What are a few tools you need to teach your 3-year-old to swim?

When teaching your child to swim, you are going to need a few tools to help them start out. These tools will be helpful in the process and make it much easier on you and your 3-year-old.

1.      Kickboard

Kickboards are used to introduce the movement of your 3-year-old’s legs to paddle themselves through the water. They are commonly used for new swimmers. They support the upper body while allowing free movement of your child’s legs.

Junior Learn-to-Swim Kickboard
Your 3-year-old will love this kickboard because it will make learning to paddle their legs so much easier.

2.      Swim Noodle

These are great because your 3-year-old can place them up under their arm, and it will help balance them. It also has a similar purpose as a kickboard but, instead of your child having their arms straight out, they learn to tread water.

Hollow Foam Pool Swim Noodles
This product is a wonderful choice for your 3-year-old to learn to tread water. They will love the different color choices as well.

3.      Swim Belt

A swim belt can be used to keep your 3-year-old from going side to side while learning to swim. It also helps your child to practice breathing technique by using minimum effort to turn their head to breathe with each stroke.

Digcreat Swim Training Belts
This belt will make it so much easier for your 3-year-old to learn breathing control.

4.      Pool Toys

Pool toys help you to teach your child to dive, hold their breath under the water, and increase their visibility under the water.

Fayoo 23 Pack Underwater Swimming/Diving
Your 3-year-old will love diving for these colorful pool toys. They will think they are so cool.

5.      Goggles

This helps your 3-year-old to see much better when diving under water to practice their breathing. Make sure the pair you get fits your child properly, otherwise you may have some issues with them sliding off their face.

Kids Swim Goggles
These goggles are perfect for your 3-year-old to go underwater. It will make them so happy that they do not fog up and they fit exactly right for them.

6.      Pool Shoes

Pool shoes help keep your child from getting pool toe or sores on their feet from the bottom of the pool. They also keep your child from slipping when walking around the wet surface surrounding the pool. I put pool shoes on all my kids. These shoes will be perfect for your 3-year-old.

Toddler Kids Swim Water Shoes
Your child will be so happy to wear these pool shoes because they will keep their toes safe and help them not to slip around the pool when learning to swim.

7.      Pool

You are probably going to need a pool to teach your 3-year-old to swim in. This one listed below is perfect and shallow enough your child may even be able to touch the bottom while learning to swim.

Ultra Frame Rectangular Pool Set
Your 3-year-old child will most definitely love learning to swim in this pool.

What is the best way to teach your 3-year-old to swim?

Swimming experts recommend starting to teach your child to swim at a young age. Before we go into methods, I just want to say that before trying the methods below, please make sure to familiarize your child with water first. Spend time with them going over water safety. Familiarizing your 3-year-old with water will make the learning process so much easier.


One of the best ways to teach your 3-year-old to swim is to enroll them into swim lessons. This is particularly apparent with toddlers, as stated in this article.[4] Lessons help teach your child water safety plus the instructor teaching the lessons is a professional in teaching children to swim. Safety first! This is the best way to teach your 3-year-old to swim.

Lessons also offer different levels to begin at. What I mean is, you talk to the instructor and see what class your child should be in based upon the amount of experience your 3-year-old has in the water. Beginner, intermediate or expert. There are other levels as well these are just the most common.

How do you teach your 3-year-old to swim at home?

If you choose not to enroll your child in lessons so you can teach them to swim yourself, I totally understand. Swimming lessons can be expensive. That is why you spent the time preparing your child to be taught to swim. That extra time you spent taught them a good bit and some things to expect when teaching them to swim. Please go over the preparations again to make sure you have done everything you can.

1.      Assessing fears

The first thing you need to do is ask your 3-year-old if they are afraid. If they are not, great! Move on to step 2. However, if they are, you need to find a way to help them relax. To do this, you must first find out what your child is afraid when it comes to learning how to swim. If your 3-year-old is afraid of being in a new place, take the time to walk them around the pool area then taking them back into the water. But maybe they are afraid of the water. If they are, then you should hold on to your 3-year-old and walk around the pool with them, or have them use the kickboard you brought and drag them around on that. Allow your 3-year-old time to get used to the water and the pool area they will be learning to swim in.

2.      Look at the bottom

Start by helping your child get a pool noodle under their arms to help them float safely. Then, put your own face into the water for a few seconds and then look up, smiling. Encourage them to put their own face into the water for a few seconds, then have them come back up for a breath. When your 3-year-old does this it is teaching them breath control as well as how to tread water. But it also helps them get used to their face being in the water. Continue to do this until they are totally comfortable putting their face under water. If it helps, encourage them to blow bubbles under the water and talk back and forth with each other underwater. After a while, teach them to blow air out of their nose as they are putting their face underwater that way, they keep the water from going up their nose.

3.      Paddle

The next step is to teach your 3-year-old how to paddle. To do this hold your child around the waist and start moving around the pool with them. While you are walking around with them, have your child start to move their arms in a motion similar to what they would need to do to guide themselves through the water. You can make it a game, yelling “stroke 1, stroke 2, stroke 3, you’re out!”

After they get the arm movements down, then you can move onto the leg movements. Ask your 3-year-old to hold on to the kickboard and start kicking slowly. As your child gets more comfortable, ask them to kick a bit harder. Then, when they are propelling themselves through the water let go of the kickboard and have your child kick even harder. Let them balance themselves using the kickboard and walk over to the other side of the pool. Ask them to kick themselves to you.  Once they get the hang of it, you can start having races. Your 3-year-old will love that!

4.      Freedom

Now that your 3-year-old can paddle and are comfortable putting their face in the water, it is time to let go. Now, I know that you do not want to let them go. I understand that completely. But, before you let them go, have your child practice with your hand place under their belly. Have them swim in circles while you have your hand on their stomach. That way they are balancing on you, but almost swimming on their own.

Now it is time to let go! So, remove your hand from under their belly and do it. Let go! They may sink a bit and that may scare them. Stay with them to comfort and encourage your child to keep going. Do not just walk away and expect everything to be fine. Stay by their side and help them when they need it.

What games can you play with your 3-year-old to help teach them to swim?

Once your 3-year-old has the basics down, it is time to start playing some swimming games to help build upon those skills your child just learned. Below are a few games fun games your child will love to play.

1.      Red light, green light

This game is fun in and out of the water. But let’s talk about in the water right now. Have your 3-year-old hold on to the wall of the pool. Start at red light, meaning they are still. When you say green light, ask them to start kicking as fast as they can. After a few seconds, say yellow light and they can kick slowly. Red light means stop. Variate between the three and keep doing that for a while and it will help to build up their swimming stamina.

2.      Ring toss

Once your 3-year-old has mastered breathing and paddling above water, it is time for them to work on going under the water. The pool toys you got for lesson preparation will come in handy now. Throw a couple of colorful sinking rings down to the bottom of the pool. Teach them to use their goggles and set them free. Have them hold their breath and dive as far down as they can. Keep having them do this until they can make it all the way down to grab the ring. I did this with my 3-year-old to teach him to dive and it was so helpful. I recommend this game highly. When your child gets the hang of it, start throwing more down at a time. The longer they are down there, the more stamina they build up for holding their breath and swimming.

3.      Superhero flying

My 3-year-old loves superheroes. I bet yours probably does, too. Even if they do not, they will love this swim game. Ask your child to hold onto the wall and turn towards open water as far as they can. Then, when you say go, they should push themselves off the wall of the pool and propel themselves forward. When they do this, it teaches them balance and swimming stamina.

4.      Seal

This teaching game is perfect for teaching your 3-year-old balance in the water. You will need a beach ball for this game. I have listed one below. Seals balance beach balls on their nose when they are trained. Ask your child to do the same thing, but have them swim the length of the pool like that. Doing this helps them balance so they do not have trouble with sinking or going to one side when they are swimming.

Emoji Party Pack Inflatable Beach Balls
Your 3-year-old child will love the happy little faces on these beach balls and they will make your child happy.

5.      London bridge

This is the swim version of the game “London Bridge.” Obviously, you cannot shut them in the bridge, but you can squeeze them a bit when they swim through. You stand with your legs spread apart underwater. Then you start singing “London Bridge.” When you start singing, have them try to swim between your legs your other side before the end of the song. This helps with their diving technique and breath control. And, as a plus, they will love this fun little game.

Final thoughts.

There are many tools you need and many ways to teach your child to swim. But we have taken the time to find the best ways to teach your 3-year-old to swim. Remember to take into consideration the preparation and tools you will need to help teach your 3-year-old to swim. We really hope these are helpful. Please remember to be safe if you choose to teach your child to swim at home in your private pool. To help you get started I would personally recommend:

Teaching Swimming,

[1] Brenner, Ruth A., Gitanjali Saluja, and Gordon S. Smith. “Swimming lessons, swimming ability, and the risk of drowning.” Injury control and safety promotion 10.4 (2003): 211-215.

[2]Ahrendt, Lilli. Toddler Swimming: The Fundaments of Child Development and Guidance Through Parent-child Swimming During the 2nd and 3rd Years of Life. Meyer & Meyer Verlag, 2005.

[3] Shank, Carolyn B. “A CHILD’S FEAR OF THE WATER ENVIRONMENT.” Children’s Environments Quarterly (1987): 33-37.

[4] Moran, Kevin, and Tony Stanley. “Parental perceptions of toddler water safety, swimming ability and swimming lessons.” International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion 13.3 (2006): 139-143.

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Vivian Perry

Vivian Perry

Mother of 3 kids. Enjoy reading parenting books and studied child care degree. Vivian loves to learn and write about parenting tips and help her kids to grow positively with grit mindset.