Summer in Australia means swimming at the beach, the family pool, the public pool, the neighbour’s pool, the river, the local creek or in a farm dam or waterhole. It involves being in and out of togs (or bathers or swimmers depending on which state you live in) and having beach hair or chlorine hair. Heat and swimming go hand in hand, and Australian children start swimming lessons at an early age.
Most children have an innate love of floating in the water and jumping in waves, but for some, that glistening blue expanse of water results in panic and tears. Neither of my children are hugely confident swimmers, but to overcome this, we read lots of books about swimming and both were taught by a patient and fun swimming teacher who is a gifted educator. Their instructor, Boli, has these words of advice:
For little people with a fear of swimming, the biggest thing is reassurance, building trust and having way too much fun.
You will never teach or reach any goals until you have established trust and play-based activities are so important. Never, ever force a child to do anything that will panic them, but in saying that you also have to use encouraging persuasion. Thinking outside the box with games is a cracker. Piggy back rides to get away from the pirates may get them away from the safety of the side or looking for fairies on the bottom of the pool with your goggles on. Making up swimming/ocean stories with a bit of adventure is also a tactic I use a lot. As a teacher, I am a bit of a dag so I love these outrageous games and they can see that I am having fun and they learn to trust me through this and want to join in the fun.
The number one rule is slow and steady. Little steps each time will result in big steps for their swimming future.
Me being me, I like to match books to every occasion. I have books for visiting the dentist, doctor or hospital, books for starting school, books for dealing with grief, books for dealing with childhood illness and books for dealing with headlice…I have a book for everything. Trust me. Luckily, ‘learning to swim’ is a topic well covered in children’s literature.
It’s a wonderful thing for children to be able explore issues from the safety of the lap of a loved adult or in a kindergarten or classroom situation where they can discuss themes with their peers. Stories give children the words to express how they might be feeling and characters to connect with and empathise with. Role playing or retelling the storylines of books can be incredibly useful in helping a child to step themselves through different scenarios and anticipate what may happen.
The books below are my ‘Top Ten’ on this topic and I highly recommend them for home and classroom use… good ones to have on hand at your local pool perhaps!
11 Books to Help Overcome a Fear of Swimming
- ‘Ruby Learns to Swim’ written by Phillip Gwynne and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie. Gwynne text and Ainslie illustrations = perfect picture book. We follow main character Ruby as she has her swimming lesson and learns about bubbles, straight legs and kicking hard. My favourite part of this book is the lovely assortment of swimsuits and swimming caps that Ruby is featured in… the patterns and colours are just gorgeous and it would be great fun to make more swimsuit and cap combinations for Ruby as a follow up activity. This is a learn-to-swim book for the very young and it’s just delightful.
- ‘There’s a Sea in my Bedroom’ written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Jane Tanner. This absolute classic in Australian children’s literature was first published in 1984 and has remained popular ever since. My children have my own childhood copy of this book and every Summer we read it over and over and over. There is something truly magical about this book. Main character, David is frightened of the sea, but when he finds a conch shell, he can hear the sea trapped inside. This beautifully illustrated story takes the reader into a child’s fantasy world and explores fears (of swimming in the sea) and the wonder of imagination.
- ‘The Deep’ written by Tim Winton and illustrated by Karen Louise. Written by Tim Winton this book is just perfect for encouraging children to take the plunge (sorry for bad pun) into ‘the deep’, something that is so-very-scary for so many. Alice lives near the beach and she loves the sand and playing in the dunes. She’s not scared of many things at all, but she is afraid of the deep. We follow Alice as she enjoys the beach, but not the water until one day when she’s tempted in by some new friends.
- ‘Peppa Pig: Peppa Goes Swimming’ by Ladybird. If you have a Peppa Pig fan in the house, this is the ‘swimming lessons’ book for you. Peppa and George are going swimming, but George is a bit scared. How will Mummy and Daddy Pig ever convince him to get in the pool?
- ‘The Deep End’ written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Mitch Vane. I really love the Aussie Nibble books, and this one is particularly great. At swimming lessons, Becky all set to move up from the Frog group, to the Platypus group. She loves swimming lessons, but being a Platypus means facing…the deep end. An amusing tale about facing some swimming fears!
- ‘Granny Grommet and Me’ written by Dianne Wolfer and Illustrated by Karen Blair. This book has a surfing granny, so for starters it’s a winner! My granny and her friends go to the beach, and I go too. When they hit the surf, they duck and dive and twist and turn. It looks like lots of fun. But I don t want to go in the water. There are strange things under the waves. There is also some great tips at the end about visiting the beach. Perfect summer holiday read!
- ‘The Deep End’ by Rebecca Patterson. A funny look at swimming lessons, and the dreaded deep end of the pool! The main character decides that although swimming lessons are brilliant, the best part is the hot shower at the end! For early childhood and lower primary.
- ‘Grug Learns to Swim’ by Ted Prior. I grew up on Grug books and they’ve come back into fashion it seems, I’ve seen them for sale everywhere lately. In this title you can splash and paddle and float with Grug… this was a trip down memory lane for me!
- ‘A Swim in the Sea’ written by Sue Whiting and illustrated by Meredith Thomas. This gorgeous books deals with the age-old issue of the excitement of the beach trip versus the ‘scariness’ of the sea! Bruno was too excited for his jam toast. Today was his Big Day. Today, Bruno was going for a swim. A swim in the sea – the big blue sea. But will he be brave enough?
- ‘Maisy Learns to Swim’ by Lucy Cousins. I really like the Maisy ‘First Experiences’ books as they cover so many situations and this one is no exception; Maisy’s a little nervous, today she is going on her very first swimming lesson. There’s lots of hustle and bustle in the changing room and – wow! – the pool looks SO big and it’s ever so splish-splashy! Luckily, Eddie and Tallulah have come along too and they all have a great swim teacher called Poppy, the hippo. Everyone has lots to learn, including floating, kicking and blowing bubbles, but it’s a LOT of fun!
- ‘Clem Always Could’ by Sarah Watt. Clem was good at lots of things. He was always good at just so many things; well that is how he remembers it. So when he has to learn to swim…he has a bit of a confidence crisis when he find something he cannot do!
What kinds of books does your child best relate to?