The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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How to Teach Baby Swim Lessons: Swim Instructor Q & A

Today’s blog is in a Q & A Format, as I answer questions from a baby swimming teacher from Thailand:

Thailand Instructor: After almost 9 years experince babies and toddlers to swim in Asia, Australia, and UK I am looking to find the best method for submerge progress. What I trying to know is that babies from 3 to 11 months are capable to hold their breath without doing any conditioning or water pouring activities?

Swim Professor: Babies do have an Epiglottal Reflex (Gag Reflex) that is well defined at birth and diminishes over the first 12-18 months of life.  So when water accidentally enters the mouth an involuntary spasm of the glottis and epiglottis occurs, keeping water out of the windpipe (trachea). This does NOT prevent water from entering the esophagus, which leads to the stomach.  At Swim Lessons University, our official Parent & Tot course does not begin until 12 months of age, although we make exceptions to start as young as 9 months.   There are three reasons:

1.  The American Academy of Pediatrics new recommendation is that swimming lessons can start at 12 months of age.

2. We want a baby’s pediatrician to approve of the activity.

3. Babies under 12 months of age are very limited from a motor skill standpoint. This prevents them from mastering real swimming skills in a joyful, positive environment.  Instead, we recommend our Bathtub Baby 101 Program.

Thailand Instructor:  If we prepare babies with stimulus activity such as pouring water with a full cup over head or with sprinkle, do babies accustom to this activity every time when they come to pool?  By pouring the a full cup of water will babies stop breathing? I experiment two different techniques. The first is pouring water over baby’s head and let baby know the verbal READY GO then gentle pull baby to self. In third class, after READY GO,  i pause a second then submerge the baby. The result was good, no crying, no coughing it was just positive reaction.

Swim Professor:  At Swim Lessons University, we use water-pouring activities ONLY as warm-up activity to get infants and toddlers comfortable with water on the face.  Your “Ready Go” command is fine (we use 1, 2, 3, breath cue) BUT the key is that your start command is consistent.  In other words, since our cue to the baby is “1, 2, 3, breathe” is the “signal” to the baby that we are going under water, we “condition” the baby “so to speak” that when they hear “1, 2, 3, breathe” that the submersion follows.   Here is a video example of this:

HOWEVER, if the baby communicates that he is scared thru verbal or body language, we would NOT submerge the baby.

***ALSO VERY IMPORTANT:  Just because a baby isn’t coughing or gagging DOES NOT mean that the baby isn’t drinking the water.  This is one reason we think it is critical to go under water and watch the baby during submersions. In addition, we think it is important to limit the number of submersions you do with the baby over the course of a 25 minute lesson.

Thailand Instructor:  In another technique, I did cup conditioning for two weeks. READY GO then pouring a full cup of water over baby’s head. Running the water fast and smooth only for a second (practice as long as baby was happy, 5 times).  So, in third week when i hold the cup and i say the READY GO then suddenly baby reacts such as closing the eyes and intense face. I did submerge baby positively same as first one, but i relized that i have to do cup conditioning for before first submerge in every class.

Swim Professor:  Again, I would just look at the “water pouring” as a warm-up activity during a song (as seen in the Parent & Tot DVD), not as part of the conditioning process.  In addition, we don’t necessarily wait for a “certain number of classes” to let our toddlers perform breath holding or breath control activities.  If the toddler is receptive to the skill on the first day and you are using a child-focused progression and common sense, you will find many toddlers are ready for facial immersion on the first day.  On the other hand, any indication that the child is not ready should be the instructor’s sign to come back to it on perhaps the following class.   All skills should be done at the child’s pace, NOT the parent’s or instructor’s.

Thailand Instructor:  Would you please help to know more about holding breath progress and also about baby’s reflexes?

Swim Professor:  Of course I discussed the Epiglottal Reflex earlier.   In terms of breath holding, it’s all about the child’s readiness.   In our Parent & Tot Certification Course, we cover this in detail.  But we combine breath holding with the Surface Swim Progression.  Here is a look at the first two steps of our 3-STAGE PROGRESSION:

Here is Stage One of a Surface Swim with 21-month old, Saylor. Watch how I keep my eyes on her face to ensure she is happy throughout the process, I never let her go, nor do I take her underneath the surface of the water. Humans swim at the surface, therefore, especially when you introduce swimming to young infants and toddlers you avoid taking them under the surface or dunking them. You gently place the face in the water after giving a 1-2-3 start command. Secondly, you bring them up for air when they are ready. Don’t overstay your welcome. Their facial expressions and their body language tells you everything you need to know in order to keep the task child-focused.

Here is Stage Two of the Surface Swim Progression. Notice how I watch my student under water ensuring each moment of the swim is a positive one. Now that Rex successfully performed stage two, he is ready for stage three which is the “pop-up breath.”


The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim was the first American to win the award in 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about the Swim Lessons University certification program and curriculum, make sure to visit us at 

We have training and certification programs designed for both private instructors as well as organizations like YMCAs, Recreation Departments, Athletic Clubs, and more.

Swim Lessons University is currently being utilized by recreation departments, YMCAs, America Camp Association swim lessons programs, as well as by private swimming instructors in 45 states and over 30 countries!

You can also call us toll free at 1-866-498-SWIM (7946).


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November 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm
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