Advancing Skills in the Pool
Playing in the pool can be so much fun, and has so many therapeutic benefits for children. The water has many inherent properties that make pool play therapeutic. Swimming can decrease impact of exercise on joints, provide whole body awareness due to the sensory input of the water, promote motor planning and coordination of body parts, and gives a child the opportunity to exercise by using the whole body, with excellent cardiovascular benefits.
Below are a series of ways to make pool play more challenging, while still being fun!
1. Straighten out! Tell your child to use STRAIGHT arms/legs while moving through the water. The longer the limb is while moving through the water, the harder the task will be. On the other hand, bending arms and legs before moving through the water will make moving that limb easier
2. Play with toys! There are several pool toys that your child can play with in the water while developing strength and endurance! Moving TEXTURED things (i.e., textured pool noodles) through the water and things with HOLES/SLITS creates drag and resistance, making the task more challenging.
3. Play CHASE! Walking directly behind your child creates an effect in the water that makes it easier for you to walk but harder for your child to walk, forcing them to use more effort and strength to get away.
4. Increase the body’s surface area. Put fins and water wings on your child and have them move their limbs through the water! The extra surface area creates more drag and resistance while swimming in the pool.
5. Move FAST! Simply doubling speed can create 4X the resistance. Have your child hold on to the end of a pool noodle or towel, and pull them around the pool, adjusting your speed. Your child can lay on their tummy or back, or be on their side. Or, race from one end of the pool to the other, using a timer to encourage your child to be fast. Then, they can race again to beat their own record.
6. Make a WHIRLPOOL! Have your child stand still and run in circles around them. Instruct them to stand in one spot while the water tries to pull them into the current. This unpredictable environment created by the whirlpool challenges balance and strength. And, a great game to play with peers!
7. SPLASH! Use a kickboard or other flat object to push water towards the side of the pool and instruct your child to try to maintain their balance as the water comes splashing back towards them! To make it even more of a challenge, have your child push water towards the CORNER of the pool and feel how hard it is to keep their balance with water splashing back from TWO different sides. The rebound of the water off the edge of the pool also creates an unpredictable environment that is a challenge to balance and strength.
8. Use a buoyant (floating) object for a variety of activities. Have your child push a kickboard (or other floating toy) under the water. Play elevator by letting the kickboard float up toward the surface of the water one “floor” at a time. They can also play “clock”, where your child is standing in the middle of a clock and their arms are the hands, moving slowly to the right or left while not allowing the buoyant toy to rise to the surface of the water. These activities are great for developing arm and core muscles.
Your child can use a pool noodle like a horse, and ride the “horse” across the pool and back. Or, sit on the pool noodle like a swing and challenge them to balance on the swing while playing catch or another activity with their arms.
9. MARCO! POLO! Walking in the water with eyes closed is a great challenge and will help develop your child’s balance and coordination (vestibular system).
And remember, the therapists at PTC are always here to help! We have so many ideas in addition to the above to make pool play fun as well as therapeutic. We offer physical and occupational aquatic therapy at the YMCA just minutes away from our land-based therapy clinic. Aquatic therapy can help your child learn to master on-land skills in an environment with reduced effects of gravity while providing gentle resistance. These skills can then be transitioned and perfected during traditional land-based therapy sessions. Please talk with your child’s therapist if you are interested in learning more!
Blog Written By:
Holly Walt’s holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She has clinical experience in school-based pediatrics, Early Development Network, outpatient pediatrics, orthopedics, acute care, and women’s health. Holly has worked with children ages 0-21 with a variety of diagnoses including developmental delay, Down Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, as well as multihandicapped children. Holly has attended several continuing education lectures covering various topics in pediatric physical therapy. Prior to receiving her degree, Holly volunteered for many events at PTC, including respite night, hair cut events, and as an assistant for aquatic therapy and the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program. Holly has also spent time volunteering with children around the community, including Special Olympics Fun Fitness, Child Life at the Nebraska Medical Center, and fitness days at local elementary schools. Holly has a passion for pediatrics and strives to continually develop her skills and expertise in the field of pediatric physical therapy.