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Tips for simplifying swimming with kids

Girl in swimming pool with sunglasses

They’re old enough that an afternoon of swimming together is pretty relaxing. But when my kids were younger, getting everyone to the pool and back in one piece and without a major meltdown felt medal-worthy. The schlep factor was high, and I had to be in the pool with one or both of them. Swimming with kids was a major production with many pitfalls along the way, including broken vending machines, sunburn, forgotten goggles, stubbed toes not to mention the anxiety that comes with making sure one’s kid’s head is above water at all times.

I wasn’t alone in my love/hate relationship with taking young kids to the pool. Every summer, “streamlining swim day” is a ripe topic at Parent Hacks.

To help you kick off swim season on the right foot and in the right frame of mind, collected here are some helpful tips I’ve received.

Keep a stocked “pool bag” for spontaneous swimming

For me, the hardest part about going to the pool has always been remembering all the paraphernalia. Invariably we’d decide to go swimming minutes before the pool’s open play swim time would start, and I’d scramble to find clean towels, goggles, sunscreen and swimsuits…which lead to forgotten items every time, and, in one case, a bad sunburn.

The solution just took a little advance planning. I now keep a swim bag stocked with the following items so we can just grab and go:

  • Swimsuits and/or swim diapers
  • Sunscreen
  • Swim goggles
  • 1-2 small swim toys (old bath toys work well)
  • $5 in cash for snacks
  • Rolled up towels
  • Travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair ties (or a swim cap)
  • Cheap flip flops
  • Hats
  • Cheap sunglasses
  • Change of clothes
  • Lip balm with sunscreen

I rarely use all of the items in the bag, but it’s a relief to know everything’s ready to go. It’s worth picking up an extra swimsuit just so you can keep one in the bag at all times.

While you’re at it, toss an ice pack in your tote as you head out the door, because your sunscreen will be more effective if kept cool.

By the way: my swim bag is just one way I’ve created using those freebie reusable bags I’ve gotten from conferences and other events. Reuse this tip to create portable “activity totes” for anything your kids like to do.

Smart swim gear suggestions

Getting the gear together is half the battle, but having the right gear is also helpful. I’m not usually one to tout gear, but with swimming — as with camping — sometimes the right gear makes the difference between an enjoyable outing and a major bummer.

Board shorts work for both boys and girls — offering a little more protection from sun and scraped knees. Choose a distinctive, consistent color so your kid is more easily visible in a crowded public pool.

Inflatable floaties and vests are questionable because they give kids (and parents) a false sense of security and can delay swim learning. Kids MUST have an adult nearby and paying attention. This Slate article is a frightening reminder that drowning is often silent.

Water shoes help traction around the pool and protect feet from scratchy pool floors. One Parenthacker says that even regular socks work.

Apply sunscreen before you leave

Sunscreen application is a drag for everyone, but it’s non-negotiable. I apply non-greasy sunscreen lotion to my kids BEFORE we leave home. Not only does it give the sunscreen a chance to absorb, the kids are less antsy without the pool right there beckoning to them.

I avoid spray sunscreens which seem to get everywhere (including in eyes and noses).

At the pool

Having a well-stocked swim bag will take care of most problems that come up at the pool. Swim staff will have first aid supplies on hand if need be. My general rule when the kids were little was to “leave them wanting more.” I kept pool visits relatively short, thereby avoiding problems that would predictably arise when my kids were hungry and/or tired.

Our last stop before leaving was the pool shower: soaping and rinsing while at the pool got the chlorine out of the suit and saved us the hassle of an evening bath.

Keep car seats cool and dry with an extra towel

On a warm, sunny day, the inside of the car gets hot. For the drive home, protect bare legs from hot car seats and seat belt buckles with a towel. I keep a couple extra towels in the trunk all summer, but the damp towel your kid just used to dry off will work as well, and will be cooler. Any dampness that remains on the seat will dry quickly enough.

Asha Dornfest is the publisher of Parent Hacks and the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less.

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