Water games are a dynamic way to burn energy and encourage kids to have fun while learning to play together. Group play and team play have long been known to build vital social skills in children, and the element of water adds another dimension of physical development and pure fun.
First, then Fun
Here, in no particular order, are five of the all-time classic swimming pool game traditions that you can teach your swimmers and their friends. These are all tried and true swimming pool rituals, with long traditions and sets of rules, but what fun are pool games if you can’t make up some rules of your own? Rules #1, #2, and #3, however, never change: #1—always have adult supervision when kids are in the pool; #2—make sure the smaller kids or weaker swimmers stay in the shallow end; #3—choose games that are suitable to kids’ ages and swimming skill levels.
Polo – if this isn’t the oldest of all water games, it certainly has the oldest historical name.* One of the easiest games to play, it is safe and fun for any age. The fact that the whole family can enjoy it together must be one reason it remains a favorite generation after generation.
The rules are simple: one person is chosen as “It,” and gets to wear a water-safe blindfold. The blindfolded player calls out “Marco,” and listens for all the other players to answer “Polo.” Then the action begins as the “It” person tries to follow the sound of voices, with a continuous call and answer of “Marco” and “Polo.” The familiar sound may seem designed to annoy oldsters relaxing poolside, but in fact, it is the distinctive game element that builds an irresistible rhythm and excitement. When “It” successfully locates and tags another player, that person becomes “It” and gets to wear the blindfold.
Add another dimension of fun with character goggles, and let kids invent a new take on Marco Polo.
*This game can offer a teaching moment to parents interested in sneaking some 13th Century history into pool time. Here’s your refresher course: Marco Polo was an adventurous explorer from the Republic of Venice, who spent about 25 years traveling and living in Asia and China, then writing an astonishing book about his travels that amazed his contemporaries. Why is the game named for him? No one knows for sure, but legends aside, it just sounds good!1
2. Octopus – another popular pool game with a long tradition, it is called by several names, most commonly Octopus. One person is chosen as the usual “It” player. “It” stands in the center of the pool with all the other children lined up along one side. The players try to walk or swim across the pool; meanwhile “It” tries to tag them as they pass. If they are tagged, they must join hands with “It,” eventually creating a long, octopus-like creature with waving arms. The last player who successfully crosses back and forth without getting tagged by the Octopus is the winner. Note: this is one game where size might matter, and it works best to have players in similar sized groupings. Kids too short to stand in shallow or medium water will be overwhelmed by bigger kids once they attach to the Octopus. It could be dangerous or just not much fun.
Racing for Swimmers – this is the perfect way to prepare and inspire your future summer Olympians. Games are about competition, among other things, and what could be purer competition than a race? Gear the game to the level of the swimmers involved. A great way to give all the kids a chance is to have multiple races for different age groups, and to pair swimmers with kids at a similar stage of swimming ability so that it’s a fair fight. Make sure the focus is on fun by changing the swimming stroke required each time, including some goofy options like paddling on an air mattress, or swimming backstroke. Smaller kids can participate too, with teams competing from side to side across the shallow end, rather than swimming the length of the pool.
Contest – everyone should try a cannonball at least once in their life. There are a few fine points to achieving—or becoming—the ultimate sinker. Gaining height and momentum for your launch is essential. If kids are big enough to use the diving board, that kicks the contest into high gear. If not, they can run a few steps and jump in. Successful cannonballing is really about form. The panel of judges, or crowd of laughing onlookers, can rate participants based on biggest splash, biggest sound effect, or any other criteria that fits.
Up Your Own Game – this is one that kids do naturally, especially when water is available. Encourage them to invent new games with props like water toys, using their own rules, or no rules, as long as a supervising parent is present to monitor activity. As many parents know, free
play time is as important to a healthy child as structured games and programs. New research has reconfirmed and shed light on reasons why open, unstructured play is key to child development.
Sergio Pellis, A researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, explains that play “…is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork…But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.”2
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