In the summer, there is no better playground than the swimming pool, but that can be a cause of great concern for many parents because they worry about the safety of their children. The swimming pool doesn’t have to be an area of concern when it’s an environment for supervised fun. With the right swimming games for the right age group, the swimming pool can provide hours of family entertainment with little worry over safety. Listed below are five swimming pool game categories, each followed by two examples: the first for swimmers who still depend on floaties and the second for more confident swimmers.
Swimming Games: Racing Games
Noodle Horse Races
Noodle horse races are a ton of fun and don’t require kids to be skilled swimmers to take part. This is one of the swimming games that only require a few pool noodles, one for each participant. Each swimmer mounts a pool noodle just like you would mount a horse, straddling the noodle between their legs. The goal of the game is to get to the other side of the pool faster than anyone else. The great thing about this game is that it’s scalable, meaning that if you have a small pool you can require more laps to reach the end of the game, or if you have a large pool, kids can race from one end to the other. Also, depending on the number of kids, you can play this game as a relay.
While there are many variations to this race, the mermaid/submarine race is for more advanced swimmers because it is an underwater race. There are two basic variations: (1) timed and (2) untimed. In the timed version, you have one child in charge of a stopwatch and give a set amount of time for another child to swim as far as he or she can underwater. For example, you could give each child 20 seconds to see how far across or around the pool he or she can get. In the untimed version, you again have a timekeeper, but this time someone tells the kids to swim for as long as they can underwater. Once they come up for air, a timekeeper stops the time and records the distance. After the times are tallied and distances recorded, you announce a winner.
Swimming Games: Tag Games
Tag games and chasing games offer a lot of fun and excitement in the pool, but they don’t have to require significant swimming skills. A variation of freeze tag, Popsicle is a simple and fun game that all children can enjoy. One child is “it” and must swim after the other children. Once the “it” child tags somebody he or she must freeze in the water and put his or her hands in the air, floating around like a Popsicle. Other kids who aren’t “it” can try to unfreeze the tagged players by touching them on the shoulder, but once all the children are frozen, the game starts over with a new “it” player (the last player tagged). While it may sound dangerous for young swimmers, it is safe to wear floaties, and it is acceptable to doggy paddle, making the game fun and approachable for all ages.
Only confident swimmers should play the game of shark tag. Shark tag is an underwater game that may be a little too advanced and aggressive for younger children. As with all games of tag, the game starts with an “it” player. This player can only tag people while swimming underwater. The other players can only move by swimming underwater but must stand still when they come up for air. The “it” player, however, can tag people that are swimming or standing still. Once tagged, the players must exit the pool and wait for the next round to start. The goal of the “it” player is to tag everybody in the pool. The last remaining untagged player wins the round and becomes the “it” player in the next round. A variation of the game is to play it like freeze tag, allowing untagged players to unfreeze their teammates.
Swimming Games: Relay Games
Another fun game for your little swimmers who depend on floaties is the watermelon relay. For this game, you only need a few watermelons (one for each team). The setup is simple, as you only need teams of two with one kid on one side of the pool opposite their teammate. Whichever team member is starting the race has the watermelon placed in front of them.
To start the race, you can either do a countdown or say, “Ready, set, go!” The swimmers must try to get the watermelon across to their teammate without touching it. (Watermelons are buoyant and move easily when kids push water toward them.) The game ends when both swimmers are on opposite sides of the pool and the watermelon is back in its starting position.
Underwater Obstacle Relay
The underwater obstacle relay is, again, for older, more confident swimmers, as most of the game occurs underwater. You can set up weighted hoops and other weighted obstacles, creating a course for the kids to swim through or around. You will need a stopwatch or timer to keep track of who wins. There must be at least two teams with a minimum of two players lined up on the poolside or just outside the pool. To avoid collisions, only allow one swimmer in the pool at a time.
Start the timer as the first swimmer enters the pool. As one player finishes, he or she gets out of the pool and tags his or her teammate with the clock still running. When the team finishes, stop the time. After all the teams have gone, the team with the fastest time wins.
Swimming Games: Diving/Seek 'n' Find Games
Ping-Pong Ball Counting or Spelling
Using Ping-Pong balls can be another fun way for less confident swimmers to enjoy the pool. By using permanent markers and labeling a dozen Ping-Pong balls with numbers or letters, you can create an entertaining and educational seek 'n' find game for your younger swimmers. Take the marked Ping-Pong balls and scatter them in the pool, having your kids collect them in a specific order for points, prizes or just for fun.
For your more confident swimmers, you can play a more challenging version of seek 'n' find called Invisi-bottles. This game uses clear bottles filled with pool water, sealed, and placed in different areas along the pool floor. It is then the kid's job to dive into the pool and try to find as many of the bottles as he or she can in the fastest time possible. By adding a time limit, it is possible to create a game similar to a race or even a relay.
Swimming Games: Follow the Leader Games
Follow the Swimmer
Follow the Swimmer is a fun swimming game equivalent to Simon Says. There is one swimmer in charge, and all the other swimmers must follow, doing just as the lead swimmer says and does. If a swimmer does something that the lead swimmer doesn’t do, they are out. As this is a game for little ones, initiate rules about diving and swimming underwater. In fact, it may be more beneficial for you, or another adult, to be the lead swimmer, as you know your child’s strengths and level of comfort in the water.
Last, the game F.I.S.H. is for older swimmers, and, once again, involves a lot of underwater action. A player will go underwater and do a move or series of moves and come back up. Once they pop back up, the next player must copy the move or moves. Any player who fails or refuses to do a move gets a letter. The game continues until all but one player has spelled out the word F.I.S.H. This game is like its basketball counterpart, P.I.G., and can be played with any word, but since it’s a swimming pool, it’s fun to stick with the aquatic theme.
Another version of this game is like basketball's Around the World game. You pick 5 to 10 areas in the pool and have a different underwater move associated with each area. Each player must complete the move before moving on to the next area. If he or she fails to complete the move, he or she gets a letter and stays in the same area until his or her next turn. The game ends when all players have spelled F.I.S.H. except one.
The pool should be a happy place for you and your family to relax and have fun in the summer. While there are always general safety concerns and a need to be diligent, there is no need to eliminate fun. Swimming games, when age-appropriate and planned properly, can be the perfect opportunity to bond with family and friends. The 10 games above, five for less experienced swimmers and five for more experienced swimmers, offer a great foundation for building your swimming game arsenal, and when played as described should be safe and enjoyable for everyone, including you. Summer isn’t synonymous with vacation because it’s filled with worry; it’s meant to be entertaining, so stop the worry, ease your mind and go swimming!