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Two years ago some friends got season passes to a local water park. They planned to go once a week and invited us to join them. So we did. Even though I was hugely pregnant with Ryan, Margot was only two, and Mila hadn’t learned to swim independently yet.
I got a lot of comments that summer, mostly along one of two lines: “You are crazy!” or “You are so brave!” Really, I was neither. I was just a hot, sweaty, kind of desperate pregnant mama of two little kids who needed an excuse to get out of the house and into the water.
(Okay, I was a little bit crazy. But that’s normal for me.)
I learned a lot of things that summer. For one, I was reminded how much happier I am when I get in the water regularly. For another, I picked up some decent strategies for making those pool trips much better than they could’ve been.
In case you’re also feeling hot, sweaty, and kind of desperate to get out of the house and into the water, here’s what I do to make a trip to the pool easier + more enjoyable, even when I’m outnumbered by my kids.
Invite another adult.
Even if we each bring our own gaggle of kids, having another adult around is sooooo helpful. For one, I’ve got another set of eyes watching my children. For another, I’ve got someone to talk to.
My biggest reason for wanting another adult around when I go to the pool with kids in tow is for bathroom breaks. One adult can stay with the swimmers while the other takes anyone who needs to go to the bathroom. When you’re flying solo, everyone has to go everywhere. Trying to haul a stubborn 4-year-old out of the pool just because her sister needs to go potty is Not Fun.
I’d rather have eight kids + two adults than two kids with just me. Seriously. Whenever possible, bring a friend.
Enroll your kids in swimming lessons early.
This doesn’t help you if you want to take your kids to the pool right this minute, but preparing well in advance will make the experience more pleasant in the long run.
Whether they’re through the city’s parks & recreation department or a swim school, swimming lessons are so important. And start them young! Kids need to learn to be comfortable in + around water. If nothing else, my older children can swim to the wall and get out of the pool. They may never be on a swim team or work as a life guard. That’s fine. I only want to them to a) respect that water can be dangerous, b) not be afraid of being in water, and c) have fun in water.
Both my girls had taken swimming lessons the previous summer and were already familiar with + comfortable in pools when I first took them to the water park. I didn’t have to spend time helping them acclimate to a new environment; we could just get in + have fun.
(That said, Ryan has only ever been in a pool a handful of times in his life. He’s still nervous in water. We’re working on it.)
Know your limits.
Two summers ago, we went to the water park weekly. I was hugely pregnant and had two small children. It was tough but manageable.
Last summer I had three small children, none of whom could swim. Unless I magically sprouted another pair of arms, there was no way I could safely + sanely handle all three of them by myself at the pool.
The girls have taken swimming lessons and feel more confident in the pool. This year they are taller, which means they can touch the bottom in the shallow end. Plus they’re the right size to wear Puddle Jumper® Kids Life Jackets if we go in deeper water. (The weight limit is 30-50 pounds, so Ryan is almost big enough to wear one too!) Those minor details make a big difference, and taking three small children to the pool this time around doesn’t feel quite so daunting.
Also, I make sure we only go to places that are extremely family friendly. An Olympic-sized lap pool isn’t the ideal place for my littles to play, and the patrons there probably wouldn’t appreciate having us around either. Wading pools, small slides, splash pads, lazy rivers…those are much more our speed.
If it seems like it’s not going to work—too many kiddos, not the right location, someone’s not feeling well—I’d rather play it safe and go another time.
Pack your bag well.
Make sure you have everything you’ll need before heading out:
- a towel for each child (I usually end up sharing mine with the baby)
- cash (just in case you need slushies afterward…)
- a fresh diaper for anyone who isn’t potty trained
You know your needs best. Better to be over-prepared than find yourself missing something critical.
Set clear expectations ahead of time.
This goes for both your children and yourself.
My girls know we’re only ever going to stay at the pool for a couple hours, tops. They know we will get out to drink some water, eat a snack, and reapply sunscreen every now and then. They’ve learned not to run by the pool, to stay where I can see them, and that they have to wear a flotation device if we’re going in deep water. And they know when I say it’s time to leave, there’s no arguing. Explaining all of this beforehand helps minimize frustration when we’re at the pool.
As for me, I don’t expect to have fun when I go to the pool with kids. Chances are I will have fun, because it’s the pool with kids and both of those things are a good time. But I will not be relaxing poolside with a book and a cold lemonade; I’m going to be on high alert for the entire time we are there. My job is to ensure that my kids are safe in the water and having a good time. If I can’t commit to that, there’s no sense in even going.
Have a home base & check in frequently.
We always find a couple chairs or a corner somewhere within sight of the pool to park our stuff. When Mila’s lips start turning blue because she’s been in the cold water too long, or when Margot gets whiny because she needs a snack, or when it’s time to put on more sunscreen, we have a place to sit for a minute.
Taking frequent breaks from swimming helps me get a better idea of how we’re all doing. Is someone showing signs of sunburn? Are we all ravenous for lunch? Does Ryan need a nap? If they’re still antsy to get back in the water, off we go. But as soon as someone acts like they’re done, we’re out. That goes back to knowing your limits and not pushing them too much. Better to leave early and avoid meltdowns.
Use flotation devices.
If they aren’t wearing US Coast Guard-approved life jackets, none of my kids are big enough to be allowed in the wave pool at the water park. And while the water park provides life vests free of charge, we much prefer bringing our Puddle Jumper® life vests. They’re more comfortable for the kiddos, with softer fabric (less chafing on sensitive skin!) and adjustable buckle snaps in the back (so they grow with us!), and my favorite: they don’t ride up around little chins while we’re swimming.
We’ve had two Puddle Jumper® life vests for a couple years now that the girls have loved wearing when they swim. And I just picked up a third from Target, because like I said above, Ryan is almost big enough to wear his own. By the end of the summer he should be able to splash around like his sisters. Yay!
Until then, though, I don’t think Mila minds swimming with Michelangelo. He’s her favorite.
(For the record, when we’re not using them we store our Puddle Jumper® life vests with the rest of our pool gear—bag, towels, etc.—on the top shelf of the hall closet. Each vest has antimicrobial properties built into it to help resist odor-causing bacteria. That means if we rinse and hang them dry before storing them, they’re not going to stink up the linens I also keep in that closet.)
Count them again. Then count them again. This is a habit I picked up when I worked as a life guard in high school, and it serves me well as a parent.
Whether we’re in or out of the water, I spend the whole time at the pool asking myself is everyone here? One, two, three…yes. Then a minute later: One, two, three…good. It’s reassuring.
Plan for quiet time when you get home.
This is when I finally get to relax. I usually pop some popcorn and turn on a movie. If I’m lucky, one or more of them will fall asleep. But even if they don’t, I have an hour and a half to rest (and maybe nap) after being on my A game the whole time we were at the pool.
And believe me, no matter how smoothly it goes, I’m wiped out when it’s over.
Do you avoid going to the pool with kids? Or are you a pro? What other suggestions would you add to make a trip to the pool with kids as smooth as possible?