We test a range of swimming aids for use for children from around 18 months of age.
Note: All prices and models were correct at the time of publishing (November 2010)
Polyotter roll-on float bands (Junior, 1 to 6 years)
The roll-ons have twin air chambers and are easy to literally roll onto a child’s arm when already inflated (as opposed to other armbands that theoretically should be inflated once on the child’s arm).
Response from our panel to these armbands was mixed; some loved the “roly poly” game of pushing them up the arm while others prefer an armband with a flat part under the arm.
From a technical point of view, these roll-ons allow for a little less movement of the arm when swimming. However, they are still a popular choice thanks to the clever design and strong material (Vylux) they are made of.
Barbie and Spiderman armbands
These are good, old-fashioned armbands with a fun branded design to encourage children to wear them. The age range is clearly specified as 3 to 6 years and the bands have the traditional one chamber for inflation and a flat section for behind the arm.
While technically not as appealing as the Polyotter bands, kids love these for obvious reasons and this makes life easier for those reluctant to wear armbands.
They are made of a thinner plastic so when not in use keep out of the elements and replace when they start to appear worn.
Polyotter float seat
The polyotter float seat is a sturdy plastic floatation device that “seats” baby in the water. The seat itself is not inflated (the ring to which it is attached is) but has a comfortable base that doesn’t cut into baby’s bottom!
This device is a handy “extra” when you’re in the pool and want to give your baby a different experience to being held in your arms.
The seat received mixed responses from the children; some were happy to sit in it while others wanted to be in mommy’s arms!
One mother pointed out that if you persevere it’s probably quite a good confidence builder as the child learns to be in the water independent of mommy’s arms. This may work for some but it’s not worth it if your baby isn’t comfortable away from you or is unhappy in the seat.
Overall though, it’s a fun toy for pool play for children who haven’t yet started formal swimming lessons.
Barbie or Spiderman swim ring
These are fun branded inflatable rings that the panel preferred to use more for fun in the pool (always a good idea to play around and build confidence) than as actual swimming aids.
The rings are clearly marked for children over the age of 3 and we found they were more enjoyable for children who were already confident in the water.
A small child can easily slip through the hole in the middle so it’s important to follow the age guide on the packaging and always keep your eye on your child in the water.
Children that have not mastered their balance in the pool may be vulnerable to tipping forward when playing with a pool ring. These rings are always popular with the children.
(Junior, 1 to 3 years)
Polyotter’s armbands are some of the most popular as they are sturdy and don’t tear or puncture easily.
The junior bands are flat under the arm and have two air chambers so you can regulate the airflow depending on the child’s water confidence.
The panel loved these bands as they found them a little more comfortable than the Polyotter roll-ons and the flat section allows for more arm movement.
Although it stipulates use for children from 1 to 3 years, most agreed they would stick with these until their children no longer needed armbands.
The Starfish is a life jacket that has three air chambers for buoyancy (back, front and around the neck).
It comes in three sizes, has a lovely design and supports a child’s entire upper body in the pool. The Starfish also has a removable chin support to keep the head above the water.
The panel thought that while this was a fun aid, it could be a bit cumbersome for the child. Also, the chin support can slip up (from the buoyancy of the water) and be quite uncomfortable for the wearer.
Overall it was considered as a “nice to have” pool confidence aid.
Polyotter water wings
Made of durable Vylux, these water wings include inflatable armbands attached to a half float to support the upper body.
The aim is to support the head above water and encourage buoyancy and balance.
While we liked this swimming aid it was considered more of a fun add-on than a functional “must-have”. It’s ideally for the younger swimmer (the age range stipulated is 2 to 6) who is still learning water confidence.
The SwimFin tackles buoyancy in a different way as this floatation device is attached around the waist and sits comfortably against a child’s back. This allows for arms and legs to have free movement when learning to swim.
We liked the Swimfin because as the child becomes more water proficient it becomes less of an aid.
For example, when first learning, her body is quite low in the water so the SwimFin works 100% to keep her upright. As she becomes more proficient and learns the correct position in the water (horizontal), the SwimFin will naturally lift out of the water, offering less support.
It’s also cleverly designed (what could be more ergonomic than a shark fin?) and works very well for children learning backstroke, as it props them up and helps them to maintain the correct position.
Wave Sports kickboard
There’s no doubt that every child learning to swim should at some stage make use of a kickboard.
There are plenty on the market but we chose the Wave Sports board as it’s a good size even for small children, is light and has handles for older children to hold onto as their swimming proficiency improves.
The kickboard has multiple uses in the pool and is a practical swimming aid for children from around age 2 and older.
Our panel really liked these suits. They are well designed with bright colours and offer good sun protection.
The float suits have a built-in “belt” of polystyrene floats that can be gradually removed.
Swimming teachers recommend you begin by removing the front two floats and move gradually around the suit until you remove the last ones from the back.
The concept is a clever one and arms and legs are free to learn the art of swimming.
Overall we found the float suit to be an extremely smart swimming aid.
Like kickboards, pool noodles are an absolute must-have for children learning to swim. They are economical and easily available and also have multiple uses.
Learner swimmers can use them behind the neck to keep them afloat when learning backstroke and also wrap them across the chest (under the armpits) when just beginning to learn to swim.
Pool noodles are also great toys for pool fun and you’ll find your child playing with them in the pool in endless configurations.
SwimEEZY swimsuit, sunsuit and swim top
Designed for children from age 2 upwards, we really loved these clever swimsuits. They are comfortable and come in a range of colours for boys and girls, most of whom were very excited to try them out.
We found the older children (3 plus) were more eager to give them a try than the little ones, but that could also be because they were already a little more water confident.
The swimsuits kept the children nicely afloat and they were certainly confident, trying tricks with their new “arms” in the water.
The only reservation we had with the swimsuits was that the flotation devices in the arms could not be adjusted (deflated or partially removed) as the child became a stronger swimmer.
However, SwimEEZY clarified that the flotation is the same throughout the size range. This means in relation to, for example, a 2-year-old’s body weight, the buoyancy is higher in proportion than to a 6-year-old, so it does compensate as the child gets older.