These exciting swim lesson games will not only teach your 3-year-old to swim—but make them fall in love with swimming!
My 3-year-old’s legs and arms flailed silently under the water, her face was a picture, half full of effort and half-smile. “Daddy! Look I’m swimming, I’m swimming!”. My heart burst with joy, it had taken weeks of practice but we’d made it. She was moving slowly across the pool until finally reaching out and grabbing the other side. The whole family erupted in cheers.
I remember that day vividly. I’d worked so hard teaching her for weeks— it was one of those milestones you know your mind will save a mental picture of forever. I decided to teach her to swim myself, as well as her taking lessons at the local pool, as I had the knowledge and expertise from my time as a surfing instructor.
But, she wasn’t always a natural in the water. She was scared, at first.
Maybe your 3-year-old is scared and struggling to learn to swim?
Or maybe they need some fun games to keep their swim lessons interesting?
Here’s a list of fun swim lesson games that I played with my daughter that gave her confidence in the water and taught her how to swim in an exciting way. If I was to teach another child to swim, these are the games I would use.
Fun Swim Lesson Games for a 3-year-old:
- Beach Ball Face Race
- Ping Pong Scoop
- Shout at the Fish
- Shark Attack
- Traffic Lights
- Toy Rescue
- Jump & Glide
- Float & Bob
1. Beach Ball Face Race
This game helps your 3-year-old feel comfortable standing in the water at the shallow end of the pool. It builds up their confidence around water.
First, blow up a beach ball or find any blow-up pool toy that will float. Next float the toy on the water, then have your 3-year-old push the toy across the pool just using their face. No hands are allowed in this game!
When your 3-year-old pushes their floating toy all the way to the other side of the pool make sure you let out a big cheer.
If you have two or more learners, you can have them race each other and see who will be the first to push the floating toy to the other side of the pool.
Skill Developed: Confidence in the water. Learning to swim can be a scary experience for a 3-year-old. Most will be naturally fearful of water and rightly so. This game makes their time in the water fun and exciting and helps them feel more comfortable and confident.
Hint: Don’t use a large floating toy or it will obscure your child’s vision and they won’t be able to see where they are going.
2. Ping Pong Scoop
Use a pack of ping pong balls and scatter them in the shallow end of the pool. Then get a bucket and place it on the side of the pool next to the water. If you have a scoop or a plastic children’s spade, tell your child that they have to use it to scoop up the ping pong balls out of the water one by one and pop them into the bucket as fast as they can.
If you don’t have a scoop or spade then your 3-year-old can just collect them by hand and place them in the bucket.
To make this game more exciting, rather than putting the bucket for the ping pong balls close to the side of the pool, try placing it further back. Now your 3-year-old has to collect the ping pong balls and try and throw them into the bucket.
Another great addition to this game is to write points on the ping pong balls, e.g. 1, 5, 10. Then add up the points of the ping pong balls they managed to throw directly into the bucket. Can they beat a friends score or their own score with another go?
Skills developed: Confidence in the water, moving in the water using their hands and legs.
Hint: Be careful that the ping pong balls don’t stray into deeper water taking your 3-year-old out of their comfortable depth.
In this game, your 3-year-old is going to be the paddleboat engine and you are the captain. Start with you both in the water up to your shoulders, with your 3-year-old behind you, holding you tightly around the neck.
Slowly move forwards walking along the pool floor. Encourage your 3-year-old to let their feet trail behind them as you move. Then shout “engines on!” and at this command, your 3-year-old starts to kick their legs.
You can use other commands like “engines off” to stop them kicking, “Engines fast” to have them kick faster, and “engines slow” to have them kick slowly.
Skills developed: Feeling comfortable in a horizontal swimming position and getting used to kicking their legs to move forward.
Hint: As your 3-year-old gets more comfortable in this swimming position you can take their hands from around your neck and try leading them around the pool. Support their arms while they kick, they will feel the effort from their kicking legs pushing them forward.
4. Shout at the Fish
This is a simple game but it helps your child overcome one of their greatest fears about swimming. Going underwater.
Encourage your 3-year-old to put their face in the water and blow bubbles to shout at the fish.
Accidentally swallowing water when a 3-year-old first submerge their head is common. That’s why it’s a good idea to have your child blow bubbles. If they are blowing bubbles then they are less likely to take in a lung full of water.
Skills Developed: Feeling comfortable underwater and breath control. Going underwater is a skill that needs to be learned. It might seem trivial to you as an adult, but it can be terrifying for a young child.
Hint: If you show your 3-year-old how it’s done first with a giant smile on your face then they will be more likely to attempt it themselves.
5. Shark Attack
If you have more than one child in the pool, playing “shark attack” is a fun game. Designate one of the kids to be the shark. The shark counts to ten with their eyes covered and runs after everyone when they reach ten. When the shark catches you and shouts “shark attack!” the victim becomes the shark, they cover their eyes, count to ten and the whole game starts again.
It’s beautifully simple but extremely exciting for 3-year-olds and other young kids. Kids love playing chase. Let your kids play a game of chase and they will keep going until they are out of breath and in a heap on the floor. Or at least until an argument starts!
Skills Developed: Confidence in the water and using their arms and legs to move through the water.
Hint: You can make the game more interesting by giving everyone only one life. When the shark attacks you then you have to swim to the side of the pool. The last person to be caught is the one who escapes and wins the game.
6. Traffic Lights
Have your 3-year-old hold onto a step in the pool or if they feel comfortable, the side of the pool. Your 3-year-old should be laying on their front to start this game.
When they are in position, shout “green light”, which means they need to kick their legs furiously. You can also use “amber light”, which means kicking their legs normally and lastly “red light”, which means stop kicking.
Have fun with it, changing the lights fast and slow, try to catch them out and hopefully they will have a fun time while learning swimming skills.
Skills developed: Leg strength and learning about using legs to propel yourself forward.
Hint: Tell your 3-year-old to keep their feet pointed and use them like flippers. Pointing your feet will mean more of their energy goes into pushing forwards through the water. If they feel confident enough, hold onto their arms and lead them through the water while they kick their legs so they can get a feeling for what swimming is really like.
7. Toy Rescue
This game is a little more advanced. It’s one for a 3-year-old who is becoming confident around water. To play you need to take one of their favorite waterproof toys and put it in the pool (one that sinks would be ideal).
When the toy is a the bottom of the pool in the shallow end, encourage your 3-year-old to hold their breath, dip their head in the water and rescue their toy. Toys that float would be a good option for 3-year-old’s who still feel a little too timid to go underwater just yet.
Skills Developed: Underwater confidence.
Hint: The secret to the success of this game is you have to use a favorite toy, one that they connect with and care about enough to dip down and save. Be careful not to use any electrical toys or other toys damaged by water.
8. Jump & Glide
If you feel like your 3-year-old is becoming more confident in the water then you can try playing jump & glide.
To play you need to hold your 3-year-old under the arms, shoulder deep in the water. Position yourselves a small distance away from the poolside. Then tell your little one to place their feet on top of your knees. At the count of three, tell your 3-year-old to push hard off your knees and propel themselves forward in the water, toward the poolside.
If they have pushed hard enough then they should be able to glide for a moment and then grab onto the side.
Skills Developed: Starting to learn to swim independently. Leg strength and confidence at supporting themselves at the poolside.
Hint: You can gradually move further away from the pool edge. This will mean they have to kick out harder and glide further to reach the side. In the last few seconds of their glide, you can encourage them to try kicking and using their arms to swim the last few feet. It’s a gentle introduction to swimming for your 3-year-old.
9. Float and Bob
Another important skill when learning to swim is using breath control to make your body float. In this game, you will teach your 3-year-old to hold their breath, take their feet off the floor of the pool and see how long they can stay floating in the water.
They will need to use a combination of holding their breath and moving their arms and legs to remain floating.
Skills Developed: Breath control and independent swimming.
Hint: This game is best in the shallow end of the pool where your 3-year-old can put their feet back on the pool floor if they panic or get tired. Don’t try this in the deep end until they feel more confident.
Important Tips For Teaching a 3-Year-Old How To Swim
- Stay within arms reach of your 3-year-old in the pool at all times. Water is dangerous and it can only take a few seconds for the situation to get out of hand.
- Give your 3-year-old a 5-minute break every 30 minutes to give them a chance to rest.
- Don’t forget waterproof sunscreen if you are lucky enough to be in a hot and sunny climate.
- Swim diapers are essential if your 3-year-old isn’t potty trained
- It’s wise to use a pool float of some kind for your 3-year-old if they are swimming in a pool where they can’t reach the floor.
- Using water wings isn’t considered the best teaching aid.
- Go on a first aid course if you are teaching your child to swim, it could save theirs or another child’s life.
- Keep the lessons and games fun. Confidence is a big part of learning how to swim.
- Remember that swimming is scary for young children. It’s easy to forget how scary water can be when you are an adult and can swim well.
- Every child will learn at their own pace, don’t compare with other children. Some of the best swimmers I know were told by their parents that they were hesitant when they first stepped into the pool.
Hi, my name is Gavin and together with my wife we are the proud parents of twins. We believe that learning more about your children will help you be a better parent and love your 3 year old even more. That’s why we created At3yearsold.com, just for you!