Learn to Swim

A guide to the Learn to Swim Programme

Swim England Pre-School Framework

Learn to Swim Programme

The Swim England Pre-School Framework is about building the beginnings of a lifelong love of water.

Every child should be given a chance to learn to swim and feel like they are comfortable and able to do so in any situation.

We believe that the first experiences during a child’s early years, of water and the pool environment, should be positive, fun and memorable.

Swim England Pre-School Framework, Confidence, and Awards

The key focus areas of the Pre-School Framework are:

  1. Giving children confidence from the word go
  2. Teaching the core skills needed to learn the four strokes through fun and games

The Pre-School Framework is about helping to support younger, less independent swimmers, pre-school children and babies.

It also caters for toddlers, helping to keep them motivated if they are struggling with building water confidence.

One of the ways to help keep them motivated is a range of bright Awards with fun and friendly characters to reward them as they progress. To find out more about all Swim England Awards go to our Awards section here.

Discovery Duckling Awards

These Swim England Pre-School Framework Awards are perfect for babies from birth (subject to Health Visitor advice being followed). They are also perfect for pre-school children who are new to swimming.

Usually parents or carers will attend swimming lessons with their babies or young children and join them in the water. This helps to provide reassurance for the child and gives the parent or carer confidence in assisting their child in the water.

Four separate Awards are available which begin with an introduction to the water and swimming environment through fun and games.

Duckling Awards

These Swim England Pre-School Framework Awards are a natural follow on from the Discovery Duckling Awards. They are aimed at children who are old enough to follow instructions and can move on their own.

They give the child more independence and start to build their confidence in water. These Awards are used to slowly build up the child ready for the Learn to Swim Framework Stages 1-7.

Again these lessons will usually be given as an adult and child lesson, where both are in the water. They could also be held with small groups of children and teaching assistants in the water.

I CAN Awards

The I CAN Awards are a set of nine Awards for the Swim England Pre-School Framework Awards to complement the Duckling and Discovery Duckling Awards.

They can be achieved at any time, at any point in the Learn to Swim Programme. They help to motivate young children, lifting their confidence and giving them targets to achieve during the early stages of learning to swim.

The Awards are made up of the following:


  1. Enter the water safely
  2. Jump in
  3. Float on my front
  4. Float on my back
  5. Roll over
  6. Blow bubbles
  7. Swim
  8. Enter, turn, return
  9. Exit safely

Questions parents ask about the Pre-School Framework

Parents and guardians often have a lot of questions about the Pre-School Framework. Here are our most frequently asked questions and answers.

My child used to like the water but is now having tantrums before or during swimming. Why is this?

Many children go through a phase where they may be clingy or nervous prior to activities in groups. This is very normal.

Parents are encouraged to try and keep to routines, stay calm and be reassuring and do not force the child to do anything they don’t want to do.

The important thing is to nurture your child back into the water and support them as best as you can until they have overcome this phase.

Close contact and lots of reassurance are needed to help overcome any fears.

Your swimming teacher will be able to offer you advice too. Lots of practice in the pool during family sessions and in the bath at home should help.

What do I do if my child won’t get into the water?

It is easier to introduce young children to water at an early age when they can be fully supported and enjoy close skin to skin contact with their parent or carer. However, sometimes older children will refuse to get in.

Get your child ready for swimming as normal and encourage them to move to a safe position on poolside.

Then follow the instructions of the swimming teacher. It is important that you stay calm and be patient. Remember that any opportunity to go swimming as a family in addition to attending swimming lessons will be a big help.

What if my child needs nappies?

Each pool has their own procedure on appropriate nappies for use in the water.

Many swimming nappies have a double layer, so do not worry or feel embarrassed, it is perfectly normal for children who are not fully toilet trained to need to use nappies when they go swimming.

If your child is toilet trained, do not hesitate to leave the class if your child needs the toilet. Your teacher will be very experienced in dealing with children of this age and will not be concerned.

When will my child get their first badge and certificate?

Swim England offers Awards for every step of the way, including special Awards for the first time your child achieves new things.

These are called the I CAN… Awards. Ask your swimming teacher which Awards they offer at your pool and the programme you will follow.

They should be able to give you full details to help you understand each step of the way. We recommend each child should receive a minimum of three Awards a year. This will keep them motivated throughout their swimming journey.

How do I hold my child?

This depends on the age of your child. If your child is not yet supporting his or her own head, you will need to continue to do this for them. The water will help support and balance your baby.

Your swimming teacher will show you the safest way to get in and out and different ways of holding your baby to help them enjoy the water. Progress at a pace you feel comfortable with.

There is nothing wrong with holding a younger baby in a vertical cuddle throughout their first swimming lesson to help them get used to the smell, sound and feel of the water.

What if I can’t swim?

This depends on the type of pool you are in and if you are water confident.

If you are confident in the water, happy with putting your feet on the floor, gaining your balance and playing with children in shallow water, as long as the lesson is in shallow water do not worry too much.

You certainly do not need to be able to swim the traditional swimming strokes to be able to take your child swimming.

The swimming teacher does need to be aware of what your ability is in shallow water and be confident that you are able to adequately support your child. Please mention any concerns you may have to your swimming lesson provider before you enrol - but remember you are doing the right thing in teaching your child to swim.

What if I am scared of the water and feel that I can’t take my child swimming?

Taking your baby swimming is an excellent activity to help you bond with them when they are very young, but some adults may feel scared of the water and/or the general swimming pool environment.

Many providers offer sessions from around three years of age where the adult does not need to enter the water for small groups. Some offer learn to swim one-to-one sessions for younger children.

Whatever your concern is with regard to taking your child swimming, please do discuss it with your local swimming lesson provider and/or your health visitor.

Remember that many family holidays are orientated around the water, whether it be swimming pools, the sea or inland lakes, and taking your child to swimming lessons is an ideal opportunity to get in the pool yourself and start a new hobby with your child.

Swim England also has a programme of lessons for adults to become more water confident themselves. These will help parents who aren’t confident themselves in the water to feel at ease. Ask your local pool about adult swimming lessons.

Can I wear specialist clothing in the pool, as I am not allowed to wear a conventional swimming costume?

Most pools have experience of accommodating different cultural, equality or additional needs. Whatever your concern or need, they should be able to provide advice and support to help you access their swimming facilities with your child.

How long should my child stay in swimming lessons for?

It is recommended that children should complete up to Learn to Swim Stage 7 of the Swim England Learn to Swim Programme to enable them to be competent and confident swimmers.

Many children achieve this between the ages of 7 and 11 years old, but it really depends upon the Learn to Swim lessons operated at your pool and your child’s own ability.

What happens at the end of the Duckling Awards?

Once a child has completed the Swim England Pre-School Framework, they should be signposted onto a more advanced group. This takes them to the next stage in the Swim England Learn to Swim Programme, which is the Learn to Swim Framework.

We recommend children should stay in pre-school sessions until they are around four to five years old, as these are designed for children who are not used to larger class sizes and who may not have the concentration skills required.

Swimming teachers will aim to keep your child involved and motivated by offering more challenging Awards and sessions at the appropriate point. The most important thing is that your child is having fun and progressing at their own rate.

Where does a child with a disability fit into the programme?

Many children with additional needs and disabilities cope perfectly well with standard swimming lessons and swimming teachers are provided with support and training to help them with this.

It is vital that parents and carers discuss the needs of their child with swimming lesson providers prior to starting swimming lessons. If the child has any need that will impact on their physical ability to swim or their ability to learn, providers need to know.

Teachers and swimming coordinators can then adapt the lessons to suit your child’s needs. Making them aware in advance means that they will be able to understand and support your child as much as possible so honesty is the best policy.

If your child struggles with group situations or lacks confidence in the water, do discuss this with the pool as they will have strategies that can help to ensure your child’s swimming journey gets off to the best possible start.