Some of my happiest memories of childhood involve swimming outdoors, but there are some extra considerations to take into account when swimming with children to make sure it is a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. As well as following our general safety advice for open water swimming, here are some ideas for fun and safe swimming with kids.
Choose a safe spot
Safety is always paramount when wild swimming, and is even more important when swimming with children. When swimming with kids choose a spot with shallow entry and exit points that shelves gently with no sudden deep pools. This will allow younger children to paddle safely and older children to swim within their depth before gaining the confidence to explore deeper water. Buoyancy vests or arm bands are a great idea for smaller children. Check the depth and the river- or lake-bed before your kids take to the water.
Check for litter, broken glass and any other hazards on the shore before your children take off their socks and shoes. If there are sharp stones underfoot then neoprene shoes will make things more comfortable for smaller feet when getting into the water.
Don’t swim after heavy rain. As well as pollutants in the water, rivers can be more fast-flowing with dangerous currents. Choose your location carefully: never swim in canals. As well as poor water quality there is the possibility of obstructions under the water, boat traffic, strong currents near locks and the steep sides make entry and exit difficult.
Children can’t regulate their body heat as well as adults, so make sure you keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t getting too cold. Remember that even in the height of summer, UK water temperatures won’t be as warm as indoor swimming pools. Shivering and blue lips mean it is time to get out and warm up! Wetsuits are available for young kids to keep them warm and more buoyant; for older children who are keen swimmers, open water swimming/triathlon wetsuits are sold by most major swimming wetsuit brands. Warm up your kids before getting in the water as well as afterwards – try a game of tig or running races. Remember to take warm layers to put on after the swim.
Most of all, make the trip to the water a fun and memorable day – and leave your kids wanting more so they are keen to swim again. For older children, somewhere to jump into the water is always fun (obviously check water depth and for any obstructions before jumping). Think of games to play both in and out of the water: catch, invent a new swimming stroke, I-Spy things on the riverbank, swimming races, who can balance the most stones, leaf and flower pressing. A day spent in, on and by a river is a joy: remember to pack a picnic, suncream, goggles or masks (even a snorkel) and towels. If you have inflatables always keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t drift off, especially if being used by weaker swimmers. Buoyancy aids are safer.
Open water venues
An open water venue is a great way to introduce your child to open water swimming: as they are lifeguarded you can be confident that they are swimming in a safe environment. Different length loops can offer challenges to children of all ages. Swimming “the big loop” with your child will be a massive achievement for them and a great bonding experience for you both.
Outdoor swimming with your children is a great way to not only form a unique with them, but also to ensure that they continue participating in sport as they get older. Children whose parents exercise together as a family are more likely to continue that participation into their adult lives. And don’t forget that as well as the physical benefits of outdoor swimming, your children will also take advantage of the mental health benefits of being outdoors in nature and in the open water.