The Sensory-Motor Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for Children

Swimming can be an enjoyable activity, especially during the summer, but did you know that there are many therapeutic benefits of swimming and playing in the pool? These benefits can be especially rewarding for children who may have a difficult time controlling their bodies during sports or gross motor activities. The water is a calming, sensory environment that can provide a radical, long-lasting effect on children. Here, Joni Redlich, a pediatric physical therapist who specializes in developmental disabilities, shares eight major sensory-motor benefits that your child can discoverĀ in the water.

1. Sensory Experience

Water provides 30x more deep pressure to the body than air and it is uniquely a full contact input to the body. Many children who become adept at swimming underwater will find it very calming and organizing place to be. To encourage underwater swimming, have your child dive for fish or animal rings.

2. Vestibular Stimulation

Moving through water creates controlled vestibular stimulation in various planes. All of this enhanced sensory input helps with body awareness development and motor learning. In addition to swimming, children can walk, somersault, or do angels in the water when supported on their backs. A hammock lounger can be used to support your child as she becomes more comfortable in the water.

3. Oral Motor Skills

The water is a natural environment for children to improve their oral-motor skills. Blowing bubbles in the water, blowing through a straw, or blowing ping pong balls across the pool are fun ways to introduce blowing skills.

4. Sensory Input

The intense sensory input in the water will often increase language and lots of singing in the pool will further enhance those opportunities. Fun pool toys, such as a dolphin baby seat, a large dalmatian rider, or an alligator float can enhance your child’s creativity in the pool.

5. Muscle Strength

Water can either assist or provide resistance to active movement through all planes of motion, facilitating gains in strengths for all major muscle groups. Encourage swimming and movement by tossing a ball or a jumbo pool tube.

6. Gross Motor Skills

The gravity-lessened environment of water can help children explore and practice movements and skills they are not yet able to perform on land. Children who have difficulty standing on one leg, jumping, hopping on land can do so in water. A basketball game, a badminton game, or splashing paddleball game will make jumping and hopping much more fun.

7. Walking and Other Movements

Children who are learning to walk are assisted by the water because it slows down movements and gives the child more time to react. A fun way to practice these skills is to pretend to be different animals for a length of the pool: jump like a frog, paddle like a seal, float like a fish, gallop like a horse. For children who benefit from visual cues, bring a collection of plastic animals that children can choose from. Your child can also pedal underwater while riding a jumbo whale.

8. Motor Planning

Motor planning skills can be enhanced by experimenting with different ways to use a pool noodle, such as sitting on it like a swing, or a horse, or floating on his back with a noodle under knees. Poolmaster carries a seahorse twister that is fifteen feet long and will provide your swimmer with lots of fun ways to sit, paddle, and move through the water. Similarly, see how many ways a child can use a kick board, from sitting to kneeling to standing to holding it and kicking legs.

Although these are great ideas to get your child moving in the water, as long as your child is moving, he or she are benefitting. Texas Swim Academy offers a variety of swimming programs that suit all ages and skill levels. Children as young as six months old can begin cultivating and developing important swimming and water safety skills and techniques that not only save lives, but last a lifetime.