Turtle Tots swimming class

The Awkward Girl’s Guide to Toddler Swimming Lessons

[Disclosure: Max is a Turtle Tots brand ambassador, and receives his classes free of charge.]

Last week, Max and I attended our first ever Turtle Tots swimming class.

Thanks to all of your tips, both on my last post, and over on Instagram, I went in feeling well and truly prepared for the changing room experience, so here’s a quick look at what I learned: a.k.a. ‘How to Wrangle a Baby in a Changing Room’. You’re welcome.

Baby swimming lessons with Turtle Tots

How to Wrangle a Baby in a Changing Room: Stage 1

Your adventure begins before leaving home, when you will put your swimsuit on underneath your clothes, only to instantly realise you now need to use the bathroom, and will effectively have to strip naked to do so. Try to do this one-handed, and while balancing a small, but surprisingly heavy weight on one hip: it’ll help prepare you for what’s to come.

OPTIONAL: If your journey to the pool is very short (Ours is), you may also want to consider putting your baby in his swim nappy before setting out. Understand that, by doing this, you will activate Murphy’s Law, which will guarantee a poop explosion somewhere between home and the pool. Do it anyway, though, as it’ll add a nice element of risk to proceedings.

[Aside: We somehow managed to avoid the poop explosion. Either angels were watching over us, or the universe has something much worse in store for us.]

Before leaving home, quickly double-check the contents of your bag, to make sure you’re totally prepared. Here’s what I packed, versus what I actually used:

What I Packed:

Towel for baby
Towel for me
Hooded towel poncho for baby
Towelling robe for me
Nappies, wipes etc
Changing mat
Snacks (Two separate types)
Underwear for me
A spare pair of socks for the baby, because … I have no idea why.
Swimsuit for the baby (I was already wearing mine)
Money for the lockers
All three Deathly Hallows
The kitchen sink

What I Used:

Money for locker
One nappy
One towel (SPOILER ALERT: He’s just going to pee on the other one)
Underwear for me

Max in the changing rooms“Hey, you! Yes, you! You forgot to pack the hair of a unicorn, plucked by a virgin, under a full moon! Go back to stage one, STAT!”

Stage Two: Arriving at the Pool

Once you’ve checked and re-checked your bag, it’s time to load it into the car, and set off for your class. En route, you may wish to entertain some or all of the following thoughts:

  • Did you DEFINITELY pack “real” nappies for when you come out of the pool and take his swim nappy off?
  • DID U, THO?
  • When you randomly selected underwear from the drawer and threw it into your bag, was it a bra and knickers you picked up, or could it possibly have been two bras?
  • What if it’s two bras, though?!
  • Baby hasn’t pooped yet this morning. That REALLY doesn’t bode well, does it?
  • Please don’t poop in the pool. Please don’t poop in the pool. Please don’t poop in the pool…
  • What REALLY happened to MH370? Seriously, though?*

(*Not actually connected to baby swim classes, just still really bothers me.)

Once you reach your destination, park up, and, carrying the baby in one arm, and your ridiculously large bag in the other, make your way into the building housing the swimming pool. Be prepared for the fact that entering the building may or may not trigger a spontaneous meltdown from one of you. (SPOILER: Yes, it did. And no, it wasn’t me.)

This meltdown may (Or may not!) (Totally did, though.) continue the entire time you’re trying to remove everyone’s outer garments, and squeeze your bag into the locker. Take comfort in the fact that you’re at least now at the pool, where there are Proper Adults (“Real People”) present to supervise, and help prevent your child jumping head-first into the pool. In our case, the Proper Adults are Kirsty and Charlene, from Turtle Tots, and their reassuring presence helps me relax a bit as I wrestle Max into his baby wetsuit, this time making sure I actually put it on him the right way round, unlike in my last post, where I had it totally back to front, apparently: WHOOPS.

Stage 3: The Class

Finally, it was time for the class itself. We got really lucky here, and, although this class is normally busier, it turned out that there was only one other mum and baby there that day, and it was their first class too, so we were all newbies together, basically. First of all, Kirsty went through some safety info with us, then it was time to get into the – mercifully warm – pool with instructor Charlene, who started off by showing us how to get our small people into the water safely.

Charlene explained that babies learn by copying and repetition, and that, even at this age, they’ll basically develop a kind of “muscle memory” for the things they’re learning, so, even if Max were to get under my radar and run towards the pool, say, he’d still be more likely to get into it correctly (And safely!), rather than just tumbling in head first. This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for from these classes, so while Max seemed a bit bemused by it all at first (He didn’t cry when we got into the water, but he did seem quite puzzled by it…), I found it really interesting to see how Charlene used different games and songs to teach the babies the basics of swimming/water safety while making it all just seem like fun to them.

The classes are only 30 minutes long, but we got to try a range of different games and songs, and there were also lots of toys to play with, too. This is baby-led learning, and it was instantly apparent to me that the Turtle Tots instructors really know their stuff – both about swimming, and about babies, and how they learn. As I said, it’s all very cleverly set up so the toddlers are learning all the time, but without feeling like they’re being taught something: so, there was lots of fun splashing and playing, and you’re never asked to do anything you’re not comfortable with, or that the baby doesn’t seem to enjoy. I really wish my own swimming lessons had been like this: I was a bit older when I first learned to swim, but I remember it all being quite strict, and just like an extension of school, basically, whereas Turtle Tots is all about having fun, and learning along the way – a much better approach, as far as I’m concerned.

Max, as I said, started off bemused (He’s just entered a stage where new people and situations can be a bit overwhelming, so he’ll become very, very serious at first…), but had warmed up a bit by the end of the class: he seemed particularly keen on splashing into the water from either the side of the pool, or one of the floats we used, and even cracked a couple of smiles. The other little boy in our class was a bit older, and had been swimming before, and he had an absolute ball, so, now that Max has all of his swimming gear, I might try taking him to another local pool which has a baby pool attached to it, just to help get him used to it. Once he is, I think he’s really going to love it – and honestly, although he was very serious throughout, I’d been braced for a complete freak-out (He loves his bath, and the baby pool on holiday, but, as Charlene said, this was a very big bath for a baby to suddenly find himself in, so no wonder it’s all a bit strange at first!), so I thought he did really well, all things considered.

All too soon, though, the class was over, and it was time to hit the changing rooms again, so back to my sage advice on that…

baby swimming lessons
Stage 4: Changing Rooms, Take 2

Now that the best bit is over, you will now repeat stages 1 and 2, only in reverse, and soaking wet. Remember how Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, and in heels? Think of yourself as Ginger in this situation, only an older, wetter, and much less coordinated version. (Do not be tempted to think of your toddler as Fred Astaire in this situation: think of your toddler as Satan in this situation…)

Upon exiting the pool, wrap your baby in the towel you remembered to leave by the side of the pool, and proceed to the changing rooms. Be aware that entering this area will, once again, trigger a meltdown from one of you, so, bypassing the showers, proceed directly to the cubicle with the changing table in it, and, carefully ignoring the changing mat you know is in your bag, place your baby down on top of his towel, and hastily start drying him off with yours. As you do this, remove the baby’s swimming costume and double swim nappies, and watch helplessly as he immediately and prolifically pees all over your towel. Yes.

Remembering that you’ve been asked not to offer snacks while in the changing room, you should now attempt to rummage in your bag in a futile attempt to find the dummy you’ve spent the last few weeks trying to wean your baby away from. This is not the time to attempt any such “weaning” however: you’re going to have to choose your battles here, and trust me, the dummy is NOT your battle right now. FINDING said dummy, however, IS your battle, so, once you’ve more or less emptied the entire contents of your bag onto the wet floor, you’re probably going to give up, and stuff an illegal Melty Puff in the baby’s mouth to distract him from what he obviously feels is the utter indignity of being dried and dressed. As soon as you do this, you will obviously find the missing dummy (Clue: it’s inside your shoe), so at this point, you can hand it over, and begin picking the wet Melty Puff off the changing room floor.

Max after his swimming lesson


The upside of all of this? By the time you’ve finished drying and dressing the baby, you’ll have air-dried yourself, so you won’t even need that pee-soaked towel you brought: result! (At this point, you will obviously remember the towelling robe you brought. Next time, maybe…) Now all that remains is for you to frantically turn your bag upside down in a panicked search for your car keys (They’re inside your other shoe), and head for home… and the best afternoon nap EVER. (For the baby, I mean. You don’t get to nap, I’m afraid…) Seriously, Max was out like a light within minutes of finishing his lunch, and even had to have an extra nap a bit later on, so it seems the legendary post-swim nap is a THING, people: and a beautiful, beautiful thing, too.


So, as you probably know by now, doing pretty MUCH anything with a toddler in tow is a whole lot more complicated than doing it on your own. Honestly, though? The changing rooms were no trickier than many other situations I’ve been in with Max (And considerably easier than some. Yes, changing-table-in-an-aircraft, I’m looking at you here…), so it’s really no big deal. Er, even although I’ve totally made it sound like one. Seriously, though: our first baby swimming lesson was very straightforward, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun: so much so that I’m really looking forward to our next one – and, of course, to that glorious, post-swim nap…

Hwo to wrangle a toddler in a changing room at the pool, and other parenting advice

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • Myra


    Can’t believe you forgot the hair of a unicorn lol.
    Forgot to tell you the baby pool is like a warm bath and is definitely odd, but necessary for babies. Glad you both enjoyed it.

    February 25, 2019
  • Fingers crossed he´ll keep the after swim nap. My daughter started napping in the car and was no longer tired, but extra cranky when we arrived home as swimming lessons proceeded.

    Anne|Linda, Libra, Loca

    February 25, 2019
  • Beth


    Long time reader, infrequent commentor here! I’ve been looking forward for the swimming lesson follow up and I don’t even have kids but this made me howl with laughter (silently, since I’m on a break at work), with the Deathly Hallows, toddler Satan and the melty puff saga! LOVE the Harry Potter references you put in! Congrats to you and Max for making it so well through the first lesson!

    February 25, 2019
  • Mary Katherine Graetz


    Also howling, also silently, also on break from work! So happy you have this wonderful little follow, and so happy I DON’T! But sharing the hilarity with us is too good to miss. Can’t wait for the next chapter…

    February 25, 2019
  • Ruth


    Glad you enjoyed your first Turtle Tots, it’s our daughter’s favourite thing! Top tip – don’t put the swim nappy on beforehand, they’re designed not to absorb liquid (otherwise it would soak up all the pool water), so only holds solids. We learnt the hard way, with one very wet car seat. ?

    February 25, 2019
  • yeah I find the logistics of baby swimming quite tricky! The first time we went I remember changing my daughter into her dry clothes afterwards then carrying her around totally forgetting I was still wearing my wet swimsuit and getting her wet again in the process.

    March 6, 2019