Yes! It is okay to play games with 3 year olds, and I would even say that you should be playing mostly games and singing songs with your youngest participants. When they're comfortable enough to trust you with going underwater, smiling, and having more fun than the wide eyed scared hesitation you can start layering in front glides, back glides, and other horizontal progress skills.
This is an overview of the last six weeks of swim lessons I've taught with a group of 3 year olds and the transition we've seen from crying on the side of the pool crawling into their parent's arms, to smiling and laughing as an active participant in the water.
*I recorded this episode on Friday, and on Saturday before posting taught the last class. Only one of the initial crying kids cried again this final lesson, but a few minutes later she was smiling and laughing in the water with the rest of the kids playing games and doing front and back glides with ease.
Of note, the girl got splashed by an overzealous participant and cried. I wiped her face with her, told her she was okay, had the girl apologize to her, and then when she persisted, I said in a stern voice, "Sally, no more crying. You're fine." She stopped immediately. I was so shocked I couldn't believe it worked! Sometimes the youngest participants need a firm reminder that their reaction is over and it is time to move on.
Games we play:
Floating Toy and Sinking Toy:
Get 1 of each, and sit on the side of the pool. Put your feet on the floating toy and hold it underwater.
Put your sinking toy on top of your floating toy. Use kicks to push it away from you without letting the sinking toy fall off.
My favorite game obviously. Let them choose what to do you to, Bucket shoulder, or bucket head. They only rule is they have to say, "bucketshoulder" or "buckethead" when pouring the water on you.
You then give them the choice which one they want, BucketShoulder or bucket head. Then you do it to them. If they choose head, start with having them look up and pouring water on the back of their head.
Use the hula hoops and make a cake or a pizza. Make sure you really sell this game as they'll love it and get into it with you. This is another round of opportunities to go underwater at their comfort level.
Throw a toy and get it:
We send our floating toys on a journey with kicks or splashes and then do front glides to go get them.
"Do you want to go underwater?" Yes or No, and then follow through. Have them hold your hands and then you can control the depth they go when you do the jumps.
We piled all the toys on the kickboards and then had a "storm" and splashes to knock some off then they got them. Awesome game.
Want a full game list? Check them out here: https://swimminglessonsideas.com/swim-lesson-games/
What do you do with your 3 year old classes? Comment below or on social media.