Before we dive into swimming aids and float around some ideas of what helps and what doesn’t, it’s essential to keep in mind that no matter what situation, supervision is key to any child near water, and nothing will ever replace a strong foundation of swimming and water safety skills

There is no argument that swimming lessons are the best skill to have onboard when it comes to babies and kids in or near water. Learning how to swim and awareness of water safety is paramount in keeping yourself, your children and others safe, and no floatation device will ever act as a replacement.

For first time parents or parents with a young child, dipping into the water, like a warm pool, most likely involves two arms secured around them and probably some extra arms waiting in the wings, like mums, dads or grandparents. As your child gets older, however, those secure arms you’ve been offering all of a sudden get rejected by your child, and they may attempt to make a swim for it. This is most likely the time when you start to wonder about swimming aids, and there are a few to choose from on the market today.

But when it comes to little ones, is it ok to use a floating device when in the water?

Here are our tips from our experienced Just Swimming Swim School Coordinators and teaching staff on the most commonly used swimming aids in Australia:

The Arm Floaties

If you’re over the age of 20, chances are you probably had a pair of these when you were young and learning to swim yourself. The blow-ups wrap around the little one’s arms between the elbow and shoulder. They come in all sorts of colours and brands and are easy to put on, making these attractive to little ones.

While arm floaties will aid in keeping kids afloat, they are easily removed, and a child can do this themselves.

We wouldn’t recommend using arm floaties for learning to swim; however, they are fine to use when in the water, like a pool when you’re on holidays and when there is strict supervision being within arms reach of your children. We’d also strongly recommend only using floaties for kids that have attended swimming lessons and have some skills on hand, such as knowing how to turn on their back and float or tread water, if needed.

Back Bubbles

These devices strap around your little one’s waist and clip into place, and have a pack on the back made of foam. Some others have removable foam pieces to allow you to reduce the amount of floatation available. Like arm floaties, they will keep your little ones afloat but will need some kicking and arm digging movements to assist. We have seen little ones tilt forward with their face landing in the water with these back bubbles and struggle to pull themselves back up and vertical in the water, which can be dangerous.

We would not recommend children who cannot walk independently or have not yet developed mobility skills use back bubbles. They are fine to use with constant adult supervision and will give little ones some freedom to jump in the water and help them to pop back up.

Life Jackets

If you’ve swum with us before, you’ll know all about Water Safety Week. An entire swimming lesson is dedicated to water safety and learning what to do in those sticky water situations. You’ll probably even have been sitting in a boat in the pool, with a life jacket on. Life Jackets are essential on boats, and for a good reason – they will keep a person or child upright if they fall into the water. As a swimming aid in the water, they aren’t ideal for learning to swim as no skill is required to stay afloat or upright with a life jacket. Plus, they can be quite bulky. Life Jackets should have the straps adjusted, fitted correctly and the right size for the person wearing the jacket.

While we love life jackets and their ability to keep everyone wearing one safe, they don’t give any incentive for kids to use their swimming legs and arms.

Blow up Rings

The only floating devices in our entire Learn to Swim Program here at Just Swimming are blow-up rings in our Starfish program. We use these with a baby to help keep them comfortable when starting in the water to help with water familiarisation.

It also allows the parent and child to have some (not much) distance in the water, helping their child to develop the confidence to be independent.

They are ok for little ones when an adult is within arms reach and preferably holding each hand to ensure they don’t slip back into the water. If your ring has a built-in seat, it’s still imperative to be close by and to steer the ring. It is also recommended to check the age range and weight capacity for the rings you are purchasing.

So, what’s the verdict?

As we mentioned, nothing beats learning how to swim. Having lifelong swimming skills and water safety awareness is crucial. But we understand that holding your baby or toddler when in a body of water for long periods can get tiring, and let’s face it, the kicks to the stomach when they attempt to make a break for it, hurt – a lot.

But while we talk about kids having a false sense of security while wearing a floating device, we want to highlight that this is also quite common for parents and carers too. When you see your child in or having a floating device, you might get distracted with a quick phone call, duck inside to grab something or just general attention diversion, so common for all of us. So with potentially both the child and the parent relying on a floating device to keep your child safe, now we’re getting into dangerous water territory! Most swimming aids will warn that they do not prevent drowning and should only be used under constant supervision – and we strongly agree.

We like to look at it this way; there is undoubtedly a place for floating devices, and if you want to use one for your baby or toddler when in water with them and having a leisurely swim, go for it, but keep that extra cautious eye on them. Never leave them alone when around water and always stay within arms reach. But keep in mind, they are not necessarily the best thing for learning to swim, and nothing replaces swimming lessons.

If you or your child is learning to swim, we don’t believe swimming aids have a place unless you think it will assist your child in gaining confidence with water familiarisation.

The only other floating aids we use in the Just Swimming program are teaching aids such as kickboards and pool noodles. These are to support learning and are not really a solution to supporting a child in the backyard swimming pool.

Remember, there is so much to love about water and swimming – we know, we love it too. But knowing the dangers is the vital key here.