Thanks to the awesome summer 2018 heatwave we’ve been jumping in every bit of water we can find. But is it safe to go wild swimming with toddlers?
Before this summer, I honestly can’t remember the last time I went swimming outdoors in the UK. But for the past few weeks I’ve hardly been able to walk past a garden pond without wanting to jump in and cool off, and that’s why I started thinking wild swimming with toddlers might not be such a daft idea after all.
Our two-year-old boy Sonny has done plenty of swimming in indoor pools, and in outdoor pools on a couple of overseas holidays, but I’d never even considered taking him for an outdoor swim in rainy old England. But then this weather happened!
A month ago we used the brilliant Jesus Green outdoor pool in Cambridge for the first time (and Jesus was the water cold!) but the weather’s been so scorching for the past few weeks that the thought of even travelling into the city on a hot sweaty bus has been unbearable. So a couple of weeks ago we took Sonny down to a little beach at our local river – The Great Ouse – and let him paddle in the shallow water while our dog splashed around him. And he absolutely loved it.
Then last Friday evening it was so hot that we properly went for it – and jumped all the way in. I’d never really thought of wild swimming with toddlers as something I’d consider doing. But then, why not? I took Sonny for a splash in the Mediterranean when he was just six months old, and he was up to his armpits in the Caribbean before he turned two, so is our local river any more dangerous than the sea?
Find a safe spot
Out local stretch of the Great Ouse is mostly lock controlled, and as a result there’s hardly any current to it. The recent lack of rain and calm conditions have left the water looking very clear, with little underwater churn, so you can see right to the bottom in most places. And the most dangerous aquatic wildlife you’re likely to encounter in Cambridgeshire is the odd grumpy swan.
So we took our towels and swimming costumes down to the river at around 6pm, found a quiet wooden jetty away from the moored boats at Noble’s Field in St Ives, and plopped into the water. I went in first to check the depth, which was roughly around my waist, and crunched my feet around the riverbed to make sure it was safe. It was sandy with a few pebbles and weeds nibbling at my toes, but nothing at all to worry about. We were good to go.
I plucked Sonny off the jetty – sporting his excellent little buoyant swim jacket for reassurance – and waded out into the river to test his comfort levels. He dipped his toes in, waved at a few swans and passing boats, splashed me with some water, then asked to go back to the jetty.
A couple of minutes later he was back in, this time requesting to bum-shuffle off the jetty and throw himself into my arms with a big splash, and that’s when I knew he properly loved it. I never once let go of him, but if we’d taken some armbands I’m confident he could have splashed about in the river by himself with ease.
Leave them wanting more
We hopped in an out of the water for around half an hour, then dried ourselves off and headed home before the inevitable toddler boredom kicked in. Then to my delight, and slight surprise, Sonny asked me the following morning if we could go swimming in the river again.
This time I went armed with a little inflatable boat for him to float in, and we aimed for a different stretch of river that he could wade into by himself – and he loved the second trip even more. The conditions were perfect and we never did anything too daring, just waded around in the shallows and had a few short trips to the middle of the river. He happily let me dip him in up to his waist, then swim along behind him and push him downstream in his boat. This wild swimming with toddlers thing was almost too easy!
Make it fun
I was worried Sonny would find the river scary – with animals and currents and dark water he couldn’t see to the bottom of – but as with most things he took it easily in his stride. The boat was a good idea because he enjoyed watching me gasp for breath as I blew it up, and even when he wasn’t sitting in it he pushed it around the shallows or filled it up with sand and mud.
We took a ball that we threw into the water for every passing dog, and stopped every 15 minutes for a snack and a drink. Basically, we had a blast. I’m realistic enough to realise we were very lucky with the conditions, but then if the weather hadn’t been so great we would never have even considered going wild swimming in the first place.
If you’ve been considering going wild swimming with toddlers, my advice would be to go for it. Here are a few tips from my experience to hopefully help you get started.
Tips for wild swimming with toddlers
- Choose a body of water with safe entry and exit points
- Don’t get in if you can’t see how deep it is
- Check the riverbed or lake floor to make sure it’s safe to stand on
- Test the temperature of the water before getting in – cold water affects children far more than adults
- Stay close to the bank until you’re used to the water temperature
- Consider a full body swimsuit for your child, both for insulation and sun protection
- Keep any little cuts covered by plasters
- Keep your toddler’s head and face out of the water (for water quality reasons, and because it could freak them out!)
- Watch out for boats – our local river is full of rowers and motorised riverboats
- Watch out for wildlife. In my experience, swans are bloody grumpy if you get near them!
- Consider a buoyancy aid – swim jacket, armbands etc
- If you use an inflatable, make sure you’re always in control of it so it doesn’t drift away
- Consider footwear – I went barefoot and would have been more confident with a pair of shoes or sandals on
- Pack towels and dry clothes to warm up quickly when you get out
- Have as much fun as possible. This shouldn’t be a scary activity – it’s a brilliant and exciting thing to do as a family