Teaching kids to swim can be a challenge. First, you have to make sure they have a good experience with the water so they aren't afraid. Then you have to get them comfortable in the pool, and before you know it, they want to go off and swim on their own — but can't (yet). With all the different floatation devices, how do you know which one will help your child? You may have heard of the Puddle Jumper devices, but do Puddle Jumpers hinder learning how to swim? Many parents worry about false confidence in the pool with a Puddle Jumper, as well as being a little constricted with the flotation device.
Puddle Jumpers are basically floaties for your torso. The product is a flotation device that straps around your child's chest and arms and clips in the back, allowing them to enjoy the water freely without sinking. My son loves his and is able to explore the water without help. It keeps his head above water and he can jump into the pool on his own — it's great. But does it hold our kids back when it comes to becoming stronger swimmers? I checked in with Laura Skilton, a swimming instructor and the director of Baby Squids, a swim school in the UK, to see if Puddle Jumpers were a good option for kids learning how to swim or if they got in the way of learning this very important skill.
Skilton says that using "floats and other aids like woggles (swim noodles) that can be used whilst freely moving" absolutely have a purpose when teaching your child how to swim. But when it comes to Puddle Jumpers, Skilton says that they tend to be "restrictive" which can mean that a child may "sit in the water unnaturally." When their movement is restricted in this way, it could impair their ability to "learn basic safety holds, turns and the strength to kick and paddle."
While Puddle Jumpers may not be the best tool when teaching your child to swim on their own, Skilton says there's still an advantage to using them because "children can float unaided, [which] can be helpful for a parent with two young children to manage effectively." She wants to remind parents that all things have their place, and Puddle Jumpers are still a useful tool during pool time. However, she also wants parents to know that they shouldn't be viewed as a device that's helpful for your child to actually learn how to swim. In fact, if parents depend on them too much and over-use them, "they are more harmful than helpful," because they cause "poor swim posture." She explains that "they force children into a vertical position with their head above the water, feet pointing down and arms out to the side, causing more of a cycling motion in the water. This is almost the opposite to the natural buoyancy position."
It's important for kids to know how to float in the water in case they fall in unexpectedly. The best advice she has for parents who want their child to be a strong swimmer is to start "teaching [them] water safety skills from a young age." This takes time and patience, but don't get frustrated because these skills are worth teaching your kids. It's also important to teach your young ones to "be respectful of the water, and not develop a false sense of security that they are safe by overusing flotation devices like Puddle Jumpers."
When asked if there were any alternative to Puddle Jumpers that may help kids learn how to swim, Skilton says, "the flotation devices that we love to use are woggles (AKA noodles). These are used regularly at swim schools in a variety of learning-to-swim activities and strokes. Typically they go under the waist/hips or around the lower back to assist body position, or under the armpits to support the upper body of the child. Woggles are not a wearable-type of flotation aid, so swimmers are liable to slip." She says that noodles are great because you can actually "shorten their length [with scissors], so buoyancy is reduced, which works well as your child increases in strength and confidence." In other words, these devices help kids actually learn to swim without a false sense of security. Using a noodle "encourages kids to kick towards the surface of the water and to place their face in the water whilst maintaining a horizontal body position."
But noodles require some skill, so if you want your child to remain safe while splashing in the water and aren't in the middle of a swim lesson, the Puddle Jumper is just fine. For parents who hope to teach their kids to swim this summer, try not to panic and have fun with the process. If you're laughing and having fun, your child will see that and follow along. Catch your child as they jump into the water, throw them up in the air, make bubbles with them on the surface of the water, and just have a great time enjoying the water with them. "If they have older siblings, get them in the water too and enjoy as a family," Skilton says. If your child is struggling, she says not to push them. "Take your time, [it's a] progression. Let them go at their own pace and choose when they are ready to push forward. If you go too quickly, then you can make bad associations and make things worse." So be sure to listen to them as you go. And when you need a break from consistent swim teaching, give them their Puddle Jumper so they can float and splash with glee.