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What is Swimming?

You might think this is a silly question, it's obvious right? Not really....

Why do we think that any activity that involves water is "swimming?" Because it isn't. We don't wash the car and say we are driving just because a car is involved.

A baby sitting with the aid of a bumbo can't sit independently. A child using a walker to move isn't walking. However, as soon as water is introduced, we call anything with water involved "swimming." Here at PPCD, we think this is part of the paradigm shift that desperately needs to take place.

Why is this so important to change our speech? Well, if we call it swimming, then our children think that they are swimming, too. You see, the trouble is that not only are we as caregivers becoming overconfident in our child's ability by saying our children are "swimming", we are also shaping over confident toddlers. Toddlers are already curious and adventurous; let's not fill them with confidence that is not based on a solid skill set.

So what SHOULD we mean when we say "swimming?" Swimming involves the act of independently moving your body (arms and legs) in the water to achieve momentum and therefore forward movement. So the act of swimming actually involves a few skill sets. See our explanation of "High Quality Swim Lessons."

For toddlers, swimming can only be achieved with their head in the water, which will also create a horizontal body posture. Toddlers cannot perform the "lifeguard swim" because as soon as they lift their heads, their body becomes vertical. In this position, their body is unable to move forward in the water. This position is also known as the "drowning position."

You might be also wondering about the dangers of a child putting their face in the water. Sure, if they do not understand the need to hold their breath and close their mouth, then yes, this can be dangerous. (Coming soon is a blog regarding the dangers of blowing bubbles). Therefore, the first actual step in learning how to swim is to understand how your breath relates to the surface of the water.

We hear so often from parents that their children love "swimming," but we feel like we need a closer look at this term. We decided to ask parents the question: "What does swimming mean to you?"

We created a survey for parents. For each age range we asked the question "What physical activities would you call swimming?"

List of behaviors to choose from:

  1. Playing on the steps of the pool

  2. Being held by an adult in the pool

  3. Wearing a "Puddle Jumper" and playing in the pool

  4. Wearing a Life jacket in the pool and playing

  5. Able to float on their back unassisted

  6. Able to put their face in the water and move their body in the water unassisted

  7. Blowing bubbles

We also gave parents the option to input their own answers (see *other).

Age category 0-4

*Other: Able to get to the side of the pool, playing in a baby pool (2 people), "let's go swimming" means any activity in the pool, "no little ones", performing a stroke from one side of the pool to the other (preferably beating the other children performing the same stroke)

Age group 5-12

*Other: able to tread water and exit pool by use of stairs, playing in a baby pool, being able to put face down and reach a distance with out touching the bottom and flipping over unassisted, swim on their own in any depth of water, Anything in a swimsuit and with any amount of water, can swim from parent to edge and pull self up, closer to 12 should be able to swim by them selves, but still have adult supervision. 

Age group 13-17

*Other: Able to tread water and get out of the water without using the stairs, reliably move from deep water to shallow water, traveling some minimum distance, to get to where one can stand and breathe ok or else climb out of the water, swim by themselves under adult supervision, For this age group, swimming is actual swimming, performing a stroke in a competitive manner from one end of the pool to the other as often as possible.

Parents answering who have adult children

*Other: Should be able to swim alone and help with younger children, actual swimming, regularly performing a swim stroke from one of the pool to the other during “off performance” seasons and when injured and unable to do dry land exercises.


  • This word "swimming" is used too loosely by.... well, it seems everyone.

  • We are underestimating our toddler's swimming capabilities.

  • Toddlers can swim (with their face in the water while propelling their bodies). Toddlers can float on their backs and breathe. It is our job as parents to ensure they learn this skill.

  • No child has ever died because they didn't know how to kick a soccer ball, or because they could not do a plie. But children do die everyday because they did not know how to swim or float.

What if we tell our children that they are swimming ONLY when they actually are swimming?

What if we collectively recognized the skill of swimming and floating as a Layer of Protection to prevent drowning (as the AAP supports and in addition to several other accepted layers)

What if we teach our children how to save themselves in a body of water BEFORE we teach them that water is fun?

What might change if we change? Could we change this endemic? Could we save lives?

*Survey results are based off of 100 respondents We also asked this of survey takers: If you are a swim instructor (or member of drowning prevention group), please do not take the survey.

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