The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Swim Instructor Common Question: Fear of the Water

Dear Swim Professor:

I want to ask you how you deal with young children who have fear in water? I’ve heard about lots of different approaches. Some say put them underwater so they’ll be forced to learn to swim. Others say let them play and have fun until they feel ready. And with these children to you think it’s better to give them support aids like life vests so they can just play in the water? Or will that delay their learning how to swim and help them rely on support and lose confidence in their own ability to swim without support?

Thanks for taking the time to read my question! I’m hoping you’ll be able to answer quickly.

Thanks again,

Dear Chavie,

I admire your dedication on teaching children how to swim. What is just as impressive is that you are taking the initiative to research the best way to do it. What I am going to do in this blog is give you my short answer, and refer you to other blogs that I have already written on your common, but excellent questions to give you more detail.

1. Always use a child-centered approach. NEVER force. The child’s enjoyment of the process is just as important as the outcome. In fact, it is more important.
2. While unstructured play is good and encouraged, you can and should also incorporate age-appropriate “activities” in your swimming lesson setting. In other words, you make learning to swim feel like play, though you are actually teaching the child how to swim. This is paramount when teaching preschoolers how to swim.
3. If you use one of the SLU approved “Progressive Flotation devices” CORRECTLY, your students will not only learn to swim faster, but swimming will be a more enjoyable experience (and a safer one).

Here is what I would recommend that you do:
1. Go to SEARCH BOX on the right side of this blog page and type in the following topics:
            Swim 101
When you search these keywords, you will find more specific information AND more thorough answers to your questions. Many of them also include video examples as well.

2. The second thing I would recommend is that you consider taking our Swim Lessons University courses. All courses are video-based and you can take the certification exams online. Swim Lessons University training and certification is now being used by YMCAs, Recreation Departments, Swim Schools, Pool Management companies, and private swimming instructors in 31 states and 11 countries.

Based on your questions today, I would get started on these Swim Instructor Training courses:
1. Teach Like a Pro – The Foundations of Teaching
2. From Tears to Cheers – How to Help Children Overcome Their Fears (audio program)
3. Swim 101 – A Comprehensive Video Course for Teaching Young Children How to Swim

Once you go through the video course, then  go to Instructor Tools to take your online swim instructor certification exam. We also recommend 3 hours of practicum training per course with a Swim Lessons University certified Learn-to-Swim Professional.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at or CALL us toll-free at 1-866-498-SWIM (7946).

Warm Regards,

Jim Reiser

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 is 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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January 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm Comments (0)

Flotation Devices for Swimming Lessons

Thank you, Coach P.D., from Australia, for your great questions regarding flotation devices for swimming lessons.  You asked about the one we are currently using at Swim Lessons University, the SwimWays Power Swimr, in particular.  Here are your questions, my thoughts, observations, and comments:

Dear Swim Professor:

The reason I write is (1) about the ‘POWER SWIMR’s’ that I’ve seen you use (I’ve watched some your DVD’s).  The training I underwent in Australia doesn’t recommend flotation devices at all because they think kids get dependent on it.  However, I’ve checked out how you use this Power Swimr and it appears to be an excellent tool.

Will you tell me a bit more about it and your experience with it?

Allow me first to say that children have been learning to swim for centuries, so there is more than one way to teach a child to swim. As long as the environment is safe and child-centered, to me, that is what is most important.  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.  I just want learning to swim to be a happy enjoyable experience.

With that said, however, personally I seek perfection.  I am always looking for a better way, and there are better and more efficient ways to teach children to swim, in my opinion.  Utilizing a “progressive flotation device,” in particular, is one of those techniques that provide you with an edge.

I have been using this particular device since 1998, and we have had enormous success.   The dependency issue is a bad argument.  My first hand experience, having taught children to swim both with and without floatation devices, is that by using believe a progressive buoyancy device, such as the “Power Swimr” does just the opposite–it encourages “independence.”

On the other hand, when a swimming instructor, or parent, is holding/ physically supporting a child to allow him to move through the water, that promotes dependency more than anything.   In addition, while it is not an approved “life jacket,” it also allows for a “safer environment.”  It only takes seconds for a non-swimmer to find himself submerged underwater.  How would that look in a swimming lesson?

Lastly, because the multiple flotation pads are removable, as the child gets stronger in the water, you can gradually give him less “support/flotation” until he/she is swimming on independently.  It’s a very natural progression, and the device allows for “real practice time” time before the child can swim.  As a swimming instructor, you have now afforded the beginner with invaluable repetition that is just like the “real thing” without him/her being dependent on you.

Practice time is the “mother of learning skills.”   A non-swimmer without flotation, on the other hand, gets very limited practice time, not to mention the practice time without a flotation device would be far from natural because the instructor is supporting them.

What are things I have to keep in mind while using it?

Here are some bullet points of pointers that I train my staff to keep in mind:

  • Give the learner enough buoyancy that he can successfully swim the allocated distance with confidence in a near horizontal position in the water.
  • Once the child’s skills have progressed to the point that swimming that allocated distance is comfortable and fairly easy (say 15-20 feet for 3-5 year old), then remove one (1) buoyancy pad to make it a little more challenging without compromising safety or even technique.

***SIDE NOTE: Another tremendous advantage of the flotation device is the child can learn to swim in a horizontal position from the start, reinforcing good flutter kick fundamentals.   What happens when a child doesn’t have any flotation or not enough?  The learner starts getting diagonal or even vertical encouraging a bicycle kick, thus developing bad flutter/freestyle kick habits.

  • Continue to think “progression.”  When the child masters that swim in a near horizontal position, remove another buoyancy pad.  You may take out 2 or 3 pads in one class and zero for the next three classes, and then 1 pad the following class.  The bottom line is you want the progression to be natural and comfortable for the child, going at the child’s pace with just a little “push” from reducing the buoyancy which also incorporates a form of the progressive overload principle used in strength / weight training.
  • Eventually, at the child’s pace, you will have developed a swimmer, who is now skill ready to learn formal strokes, which leads me to your final question:


Does it keep the kids in a ‘streamline’ swimming position?

If you’re referring simply to a “horizontal position” or “in-line position” as I call it in the Swim Lessons University DVD’s and Lesson Plans, then yes–it certainly encourages and helps children achieve that position much sooner.  I think this is another great advantage of using the device.   Because without it, beginners almost always resort to poor kicking technique, which eliminates that body position, you’re striving for in your swimmers.

Lastly, please review my Youtube videos on floatation devices.  I have taken clips from the various Swim Lessons University DVD’s where we discuss this topic.

Thanks, Coach P.D., for your questions and hope I have helped you and many others in their pursuit of excellence in swimming instruction.

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 is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

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

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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December 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm Comments (0) publishes “Should Flotation Devices be used in Swim Lessons?”

I received an angry phone call from a parent (the parent was not at the swimming lesson): “My son is on a swim team and doesn’t need a life jacket. Why does he have to wear a life jacket during swimming lessons?”

Read my answer and insight on whether or not flotation devices should be used. View my entire new article just published on

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December 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm Comments (0)

How to Teach a Child to Swim Using a Progressive Flotation Device

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Have you wondered how a flotation device could help a child learn to swim? In this article (and video below), you will learn and see the tremendous difference a progressive flotation device can make, and why!


  1. Give the child’s self-confidence a boost. Are you confident about skills you can’t do? Of course you aren’t. And you hesitant to try something new that you know nothing about? Of course you are. Not to mention the added hesitation if you feel that you may be injured in the process of trying it, let alone drown. So the progressive buoyancy device gives the child confidence he needs to start practicing and developing swimming skills.
  2. Increase practice time. The bottom line is that learning to swim is no different than learning any other sport skill. Improvement requires practice. If you can’t practice, you can’t learn. It’s very simple. If you utilize a progressive flotation device correctly, your students will improve skills quickly because of the increased practice time in which they are afforded due to wearing the device and not be dependant on someone to hold them.
  3. Eliminate gross technique errors. Because the extent of the improvement is limited to the mechanics being used to perform the skill, the flotation device can really help a child’s ability to perform skills he/she wouldn’t otherwise be able to perform. Technique problems arise for the simple reason that the young children are survival swimming instead of being able to concentrate on doing the skill properly. One good comparison is asking a child to swing a major league size baseball bat. The child would be so busy just trying to lift the bat he couldn’t begin to swing it properly. This is precisely what occurs in the swimming pool. The child’s so busy trying “not to drown,” he has no chance of doing the skill correctly.
  4. Motivate the learner using the “removable flotation” pads as rewards. As you will see in the video below, we call the flotation pads “bones” and in the first class, we tell the children that if they “swim like a puppy,” they will get a bone! We even have them bark and pretend they are puppies. Of course, as seen on the video, once the children are capable of swimming with their face in the water we teach them to do a “pop-up breath” and discontinue the dog paddle, but they still LOVE to get their bones!
  5. Make learning to swim achievable and fun by giving the child enough buoyancy to be successful. Once again, as seen in the video below, you want to give the learner enough buoyancy to be successful. If the child is successful with a given amount of flotation, then you remove “one flotation pad” and let them try it with a little less buoyancy. By using this progressive buoyancy device with 9 removable flotation pads, you can take “baby steps” to swimming success, while you are making learning to swim challenging–but achievable.


Watch how Jim Reiser, the author, teaches a small class of three and four year olds to swim using a progressive flotation device.

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Teach a Child to Swim Using a Progressive Flotation Device. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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December 22, 2009 at 6:07 pm Comments (0)