Miami BeachWe take a family vacation to the beach each summer. The kids love to spend time in the water, and it’s fun to get away from the daily routine to spend some bonding time as a family. But I have also been concerned about the safety of my children around the water, so I did a lot of study about how to best prepare my kids, and how soon they could be allowed in the ocean.

Right Age for Swim Lessons?

It is recommended that kids not take formal swimming lessons until they are around 4 years old. However, before that age, I could spend time working with them in our family pool to get them comfortable being in the water. But while my kids were younger, I had to hold them while we were in the water. At the beach, that meant we could play in the shallow water, and I could let them get used to the feel of the waves. I wish we had shot a video of my youngest son laughing as the waves rocked and he felt the motion. He was thrilled.

familybeachvacationAlternatives to Being in the Water

When my kids were young, they had as much fun with a small shovel, a pail and beach sand, as they had being in the water. I would take my son out into the surf, and after a few minutes of rocking and letting the water splash up on him, he was perfectly content to go ashore for a while. After they had built a couple of mysterious sand structures, they were ready for a nap. So my 3-year-old clamoring to go in the water didn’t really become an issue.

After the Swim Lessons

Each of my kids took swimming lessons when they turned 5, and they wanted to be free to play in the water after that. “Come on, Mom – we can swim, just let us go.”

We signed them up for lessons because I felt a professional instructor could do a better job to fully prepare them for being in the water. But that was the relatively tame environment of the pool, not the ocean. So I had rules while they were still new to the water. We went in the water as a family, and I determined how far we went. At that age, I didn’t feel comfortable letting them play in the ocean unattended. I kept them within reach at all times.

When the Kids Are Older

By the time my oldest son was around 10, he was an accomplished swimmer. He had taken lessons each year until the instructors gave him a big “thumbs up.” He could comfortably swim using all the strokes and loved being in the pool. He had really listened when we told him about the need for caution in the ocean. It was time to let him venture out further into the water.

Brennecke_BeachOn that trip, he brought along a friend, and they promised to use the buddy system and stay close to each other. My husband went out with them, and they stayed close to him. They loved being in the waves up to their chest, getting the full surf effect.

Swimming too far out wasn’t really an issue–except for me. I was a nervous wreck the first time we cut them loose. The boys did fine, and after a while I relaxed, and trusted in their ability to know the limits and not overextend.

Set Up Near the Lifeguard

I am responsible for the safety of my kids – I have no problem with that concept. But if I can help the situation, I’ll do it. That means we set up our beach spot near the lifeguard tower. Then I go talk to the lifeguard and find out if there are any spots that aren’t safe, either for me holding a small child in my arms, or for my older children playing on their own.

Our beach trips have evolved as the kids get older – as their level of expertise around the water has grown. The fundamental concept stays – keep the kids safe. The ocean is very different from a pool, so we never let our kids go out unattended. Establishing that focus on safety has allowed our beach trips to be a fun time for the family.

Becky Flanigan was an English major in college and now writes freelance articles for PoolCenter.com. Becky has a great time on annual beach vacations with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 golden retrievers. At home, she spends many happy hours at the family swimming pool, watching the kids and dogs splash and play.  She is also an avid gardener – and even helps all her wonderful friends landscape and decorate their yards.