Swim Lesson to Teach Swimmers the Back Float

Teaching Preschooler Swim Lessons

Back Float Practice
Relax and float in a 1-minute swim lesson. Jim Reiser, M.S.

I'll never forget my first time teaching a swim lesson. I was working with a young swimmer at their home pool. I was struggling trying to get the young lad to back float when his younger sister hit me in the back of the head with a branch! I didn't know how to respond! After a collected my thoughts, I realized I was teaching the back float wrong...this is when I began this method.

When it comes to teaching swim lessons to true beginners who are at least 3 years of age, the back float can be taught in 60 seconds or less. Am I kidding? No, I am not. But let me explain an approach that will not only allow you to teach preschoolers to float on their back in 60 seconds or less in one swim lesson, it will also help you teach preschoolers to swim sooner too.

Floating on the back requires a swimmer to relax. How do you teach someone to relax? Forget about the complexity of trying to persuade someone to relax while swimming and, instead, try a very simple concept: develop your student's ability to swim first, and the ability to relax in the water will easily follow. Because relaxing is a prerequisite to floating, the approach is simple. Drop the back float from the lesson plan all together until the child has developed some foundation swimming skills.

Young children are eager to learn and try things that aren't too frightening to them, so make learning like play. Use props and toys, use a progressive flotation device, like a noodle, and have your young students work on the following skills before teaching the back float:

  • kicking on the belly holding the noodle under the chin
  • kicking on the back holding a noodle behind the neck
  • holding the breath and practicing the air exchange
  • paddle stroke
  • swim with the face in the water on the surface

Why? All the skills above can be performed to some degree even if the child is a little bit nervous. All of those skills require movement. They will improve the child's ability to swim, thus increasing the child's confidence and ability to relax in the water.

When you are spending valuable practice time trying to teach a nervous child to "stay still" in the water and float, you are actually wasting valuable practice time in which you could be teaching the child to swim. Floating isn't a "physical skill" that requires any muscle memory or motor skill development. All back floating requires is the confidence to do nothing and relax!

Put simply: if you teach your student skills that propel them through the water, the confidence and required relaxation will be incredibly easy to teach because your student will be "mentally ready" to relax. As a result, your students will learn to swim faster and learn how to back float in a fraction of the time. In fact, my experience is that if I drop floating from my early lesson plans and add it after the child has developed some basic skills, I can teach any child to back float in 60 seconds or less!