Every year in late spring, we start separating out the beach towels and setting them aside. Nine months of every year they are mixed in with our regular towels. But it’s almost time for the local swimming pool to open, and come pool season we need every beach towel we can sequester for pool days. I’m printing out my getting ready for the pool checklists for the kids and we’ve made sure everyone has flip flops and our favorite goggles.
Every day is a pool day at our house – or nearly every day. Whenever the weather cooperates, you will find us at the pool for at least a couple hours – playing with friends, exercising, and just generally enjoying the water and the sunshine. From May to September. And for a mom, that’s a whole lot of summer afternoons whiled away at the poolside chatting with my friends while we catch the kids at the end of the slide. Over and over.
That’s a huge benefit all by itself – getting to spend time talking to other moms – but there are other benefits to getting your kids to the pool all summer long. For one thing, they can’t make as much of a mess in the house if they are at the pool. And for another thing, they won’t get bored as much at home if they’ve spent a good chunk of the day at the pool.
And of course, exercise and learning a measure of water safety are also a benefit. Just one more thing I’ve noticed – kids at the pool are far less likely to bicker. I’m not saying it never happens, but it definitely happens less!
So what can you do to make your daily outings to the pool or beach more enjoyable for everyone? After ten years of living the poolside lifestyle from May to September, I have a few ideas.
- Apply sunscreen before you leave the house. Nothing is worse than getting to the swimming pool only to spend a good portion of your first session applying sunscreen out in the heat with kids running off as soon as they are lathered up. Instead, work together to get everyone sunscreened-up before you leave the house. This way everyone will work fast, cooperate and help each other – because nobody gets in the pool until everybody is ready to go. We like to get the stick kind for the face and use a spray everywhere else.
- Take pool toys in a mesh bag. We have a plethora of floaty balls, sinking torpedoes, and strange squirting frogs that somehow must go to the pool with us each and every afternoon. After fussing about clothes getting wet and a messy bag, I’ve finally invested in a mesh bag for the wet toys. Toss everything in the bag, give it a shake, and then leave it in the back of the car for next time.
- Take water bottles. Even though you are surrounded by water, the heat and sun can dehydrate your bodies pretty quickly. We like to either take a cooler full of waters or buy waters at the pool. It’s cheaper to pack them in a cooler each morning, or even fill plastic water bottles with ice and just a bit of water.
- Buy pool snacks on the cheap. Buying pool snacks each day from the concession stand gets crazy expensive! Grab snacks at your favorite warehouse store in bulk or check out the bulk section of your grocery store. You can buy prepackaged snack-sized bags and still save tons of money or you can make your own snack portions and save even more. Avoid common allergens like peanuts which can make the pool an unsafe place for your friends. We enjoy Pirate’s Booty.
- Buy good beach towels whenever you spy a sale. You can never have too many beach towels – at least not in my family. We try to get everyone two suits and two beach towels. Good beach towels can be used from year to year. Cheap ones barely make it through one summer. We buy good ones at the end of each summer and have some beach towels we’ve used for six years now.
- Hang up towels and suits on the deck to dry between days. Even then, poolside summers increase the laundry load.
- Make sure your kids are putting on the same clothes when they get home that they took off in the morning – or your laundry woes will double! Another possibility is to come home and get straight into pajamas. I guess it depends on how late you stay at the pool.
- Make expectations for behavior very clear. Foul play results in loss of time in the swimming pool. We don’t allow horseplay like dunking or rough-housing in the water at someone else’s expense. Everyone is expected to share pool toys and extend kindness to our neighbors.
- If you eat a snack – you clean up the mess. Setting these expectations early and often will help cut down on meltdowns at the pool when tired bodies can overwhelm reason.
- Stay alert. Dumping your kids into the pool and burying your nose in a book might be all well and good if they are teens. Younger children should know that you are watching out for them. Lifeguards might be on duty, but that doesn’t mean you are off the hook. I’ve even caught one lifeguard on camera asleep on duty! Keep your kids safe. I don’t lock eyes on my child the entire time if they are swimming reasonably well, have passed a swim test, and are with their friends. But I do try to stay at least aware of what is going on and keep a running check on all the kids’ whereabouts.
- Supervise your kids. And I’m not just talking about safety either. Last year I had to intervene on more than one occasion when my little boys were being bullied at the pool. Mom or Dad of the bully had their nose buried in a device and had no idea what was going on until I brought it to their attention. Things could have stayed much more polite had they just been moderately aware of what their son or daughter was attempting to get away with before it escalated to the point that I got involved.
- Collaborate with friends. Pool time is more fun for everyone – including moms – if you meet up with friends.
- Find out the daycare/camp schedule. If your pool is anything like ours, they will eventually sell tickets to a daycare or summer sports camp. As soon as those groups start showing up at our pool, we find out the schedule and purposely avoid them. The swimming pool is immediately too crowded when one of these groups shows up and with supervision limited to staff, the kids are noisy, rowdy, and sometimes even belligerent. More so than with the local kids whose parents I know by name.
- Go early or stay late. Of course – we don’t ever follow this advice and always end up at the pool at the prime times when everyone else is there too. But if you can go first thing when it opens, or stay for the last hour after everyone else has gone to supper – you will find it much less crowded. One family even discovered that Monday morning was the slowest time each week and they had the pool to themselves!
- Invest in good equipment. Goggles are everything to a six-year-old learning to swim underwater. We love the goggles on Amazon by the way. Way nicer than the standard ones you can get at the local store. When our twins were pre-swimmers, we used these fabulous devices called Puddle Jumpers. While these *do not* prevent drowning and must not be used unsupervised, they give your little ones a ton of freedom and help teach kicking and moving forward.
- Discuss water safety and general safety. Encourage kids to use the buddy system and stay together. Don’t let kids run off to the bathroom by themselves. Enforce *walking* on the pool deck.
- Invest in a swim class if at all possible. We like the one run by the Red Cross which includes pool safety and swimming skills.
- Use pool time as an incentive for fast and easy mornings. Kids are highly motivated to get chores done, do some “summer bridge” activities or light school work, and have good attitudes when they know that pool time is coming up. If you don’t mind paying for pool snacks at the concession – maybe make one pool snack a treat for getting a morning chore done.
- Have your kids lay down after lunch/before leaving for the pool for thirty minutes. We call it quiet time. No electronics, no noise. Just restfulness. This helps prepare their bodies for the extra work of swimming, allows food to digest, and will help them stay cheerful later in the day. We stole this idea from church camp when we were growing up and the kids love it too. They get suited up, and then lie down to rest and just be quiet.
- Toys and games are great teachers. Little ones are much more likely to go under water if they are chasing a plastic diving turtle! Kick boards are also a lot of fun and help kids learn valuable skills before they learn to swim. Think of games you can play with your pre-swimmers to get them into the water, practicing skills like getting their face wet, floating, kicking, and jumping. If your kids are in a swim class (and they should be! Did we talk about that yet?) repeat some of the fun things you see them do in class during your afternoons at the pool. Every extra 30 minutes you spend practicing these skills is moving your child that much closer to swimming independently.
These are the things that have made my life easier over the years while supervising kids age 6 months to 15 years old at the pool. I’d love to know your tips because I am always looking for ways to make our time at the pool more fun, and our time getting ready stress-free.