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  • Shirlyn Lee

The Truth about Ring Floats & Armbands (A Swim Teacher's Perspective)

Being a parent, it’s only natural to want your child to be happy and safe in and around water. Without prior knowledge on how to teach children to be water safe, parents often turn to rings floats, armbands and other forms of flotation devices easily found throughout retail and online stores. But, in all reality, how good are these aids that many parents put their trust in? This topic is one that is close to my heart and also somewhat a pet peeve being a swim teacher. It is my hope that this article may shed a different perspective on these flotation devices from what you may have originally thought.

Flotation devices often come with marketing highlights that make you feel like parent of the year. Have you heard of some of these “sales promises” found on the product descriptions?

  • Helping children discover water

  • Helping children learn to swim

  • Providing great stability for your child

  • Help build your child’s confidence

The product descriptions mentioned above aren’t all wrong. I would, to a very small degree agree with these statements. And of course, I know for a fact that even some of my own students use these flotation aids outside of classes. Anyway, while talking about benefits, here are other lesser known facts.


Fact #1: Flotation aids help boost a child’s confidence by allowing for more independence and freedom in the pool.

Since your flotation aids help a child float without the help of a guardian, children get the freedom to move around in the swimming pool, most times, with their head above water.

Fact #2: Since most flotation aids are inflatable, the buoyancy levels can be adjusted to suit your child’s confidence and comfort level.

If your child has gotten the hang of kicking and paddling, figuring out how to move from a spot in the pool (e.g., the middle of nowhere) to another spot (e.g., the pool ledge) on a consistent basis; and, is also happy to hold their breath as they dip their face in the water, you would most likely be wanting to let some air out of those floaties. Doing so would give them a new challenge to get used to while getting more freedom to move about.

Fact #3: You would be able to oversee more than one child at any given time if they were using flotation aids.

If you’re a mom, or dad with multiple kids (imagine having 3 children under the age of 5) who all want to play in the pool together, these flotation aids would be a life saver. You wouldn’t have to live in fear every second your kids are in the pool trying to ensure no one goes underwater and stays under for too long. We certainly do not want anyone having too much swimming pool water in their tummy!

Having mentioned the benefits, let’s take a look my reasons for frowning upon the over usage and over dependence of ring floats and armbands as well as the reasons why I would never be caught using them during my lessons unless it’s somehow integrated into a game.


#1: Flotation aids restrict movement

Think of it this way, air is used to inflate flotation aids. It’s what keeps children afloat. You put ringbands on them as high up a child’s arm as it goes – usually stopping right at the child’s armpits. This prevents children from being able to put their arms down by their sides therefore restricting the angles that a child would be able to bend their arms. A doggie paddle using their forearm would be possible but a paddle and bigger than that would be a great feat to accomplish.

Also, in a swim ring, a child might manage to overturn themselves. Even though it'll be our body's natural reaction to fight and come out for air, it would be extremely difficult for children to right themselves with a ring float keeping them 'perfectly balanced' in that upright manner.

#2: Children tend to become overly dependent on flotation aids

I’ve had to endure multiple classes with different children going “I want my float” for most of the duration of the class. I then try and explain to them that while I’m teaching, we won’t need to use them as the children won’t be able to learn new activities with it on. Trust me on this, if you’re paying good money to teach your kids to swim, the last thing you want is to waste your money on whiny children trying to get their way and swim teachers wasting time trying to convince them otherwise.

#3: Children can grow a false sense of confidence with their flotation aids

Imagine this, you’re on holiday with your family at a nice beach resort. Your child (who is too used to flotation aids) sees the gorgeous, alluring resort pool. You turn your head for a split second and the next thing you know, your child’s running to the pool at top speed and without missing a heartbeat, jumps in forgetting that their floatie isn’t on them. That would be a total disaster! But guess what, it doesn’t only happen in that situation. Because children are easily excitable, I’ve ever had to catch a child who jumped in trying to join his older sister in the pool. A minute before that, he was asking for his floatie to be put on, but clearly, what his sister was doing seemed a lot more fun than remembering he didn’t yet have his float on.

#4: Flotation Aids keep a child in an upright position when they’re in the water

​This is what I mean by upright and minimal arm movement.

It’s a dead giveaway to your child’s teacher. For new students we get, it’s becomes really obvious when we bring children out kicking. Doesn’t matter whether we use a mat, noodle, kickboard or just us holding the kid, their legs would drop to a position where they’re almost standing; and their kicking, pretty much turns into in-water cycling (or what we’d call - baby kicking). For existing students, it’s pretty much the same thing. If you hear one of us ask “have you been swimming with your child?”, trust us, your answer will most likely be yes. The second question you’ll probably get “Were they using their armbands/floats?”. Well, know you know how we’re kind of psychic.

What should I do now?

I often get this question from some of my swim parents. Here’s what I’d recommend.

If you are thinking of buying but don’t currently own one

Don’t buy it unless you have multiple children who need one-on-one care. Even in that case, why are you going into the water without an extra pair of hands?

If you currently own a flotation aid

Use it as little as you can or as a last resort. If you want your child to learn faster, take pity on your swim teacher and please do not let it be the first thing that goes on before a child gets into the pool. We love your children and being in this line pretty much guarantees we’ll be patient with your kids. But, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears and time to correct a child’s kicking if they’re too used to kicking in a vertical position. So please go easy on us if you choose to use flotation aids outside swim class.

Whatever the case, as a swim teacher with a bit of a marketing background, I must caution to read the fine print. Commonly found in many products now is the phrase “use under adult supervision”. Please, please, please! Use the products as advised.

Your best option:

Pay attention to what goes on in your child’s swim class.

Get into the pool with your child outside of class.

While swimming with your kid, practice with them some of the activities you see in class.

Have fun with them in the water!

Until next time!

Photographs copyright of Unlimited LIfestyles LLP. A big thank you to Reanne's mom and dad for allowing us to use these photos! Reanne swims with me in a parent and child class and for the record, no. She's not one of those that screams for a float. Her favourite in class is a toy cat!

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