Babysitting at the Pool
(What to Bring, Games to Play & Water Safety Tips)
Pools of all sizes pose a risk to unattended kids, whether they're small inflatable pools for toddlers or full-sized in-ground pools. Even at your local community pool where lifeguards are on duty, as a babysitter, you still need to be vigilant about watching the children that you've been put in charge of.
What do you need to know about babysitting at the pool? Before babysitting at the pool, make sure your CPR and first aid training is up-to-date; bring swimwear, towels, and sunscreen; and provide constant supervision of the children you’re caring for. Make it a fun outing by preparing one or two games to play.
In this article, I'll share some basic water safety tips you should know, as well as what to bring to the pool, and what types of games kids might want to play.
Don't Take Kids Swimming Without a Parent's Permission
Heading to the local pool might seem like an easy way to keep the kids you're babysitting busy for a whole afternoon. Plus, you can work on your tan at the same time!
You need to make sure that parents are okay with you taking their kids swimming first, though. I know I'd probably freak out a bit if a babysitter took my kids to the pool or beach without asking first.
Parents know that bodies of water can be dangerous for kids and will only allow people that are qualified and that they fully trust to take their children into a pool. Be sure to respect the wishes of parents if they decide that swimming is off-limits during babysitting time.
That goes for any friends of the children that you're babysitting for too. Be sure you've checked with the parents of every child that will be in your care before letting them into the pool. If you think you'll be overwhelmed managing a number of children, consider getting a friend or some extra help.
Make Sure Kids are Constantly Supervised Around Water
The number one rule for pool safety is never to leave kids alone or take your eyes off them.
It only takes a few seconds for a child to slip below the surface (source). Even walking across the deck for a towel leaves enough time for drowning to occur, so you always need to be on guard and paying attention.
Don't leave kids unattended in the pool area for even a second. If you need to get out of the pool to use the bathroom, bring the children with you, and have them wait in the bathroom area.
Avoid letting down your guard even if the kids you're babysitting are good swimmers. Any child can accidentally inhale a mouthful of water and get into trouble, regardless of how confident they are around the pool.
Have Someone Experienced Around
If you aren't an experienced swimmer, take the children you're babysitting to a pool with a certified lifeguard on duty.
Don't let children swim in the pool at home, or anywhere without a lifeguard, if you aren't familiar with how to rescue them if they start taking on water.
You should at least have CPR and first aid training if you'll be babysitting around water. Ideally, you should also take a lifeguarding course if you're going to be around the pool a lot, as it will give you more specialized training for water activities.
Keep Gates and Doors Locked
If a family you're babysitting for has a pool, pond, or hot tub, then you need to be aware that it exists as a potential hazard.
At the start of every babysitting shift, you should confirm that any gates and doors to the pool area are locked. This is particularly a good practice if the kids were previously playing in the area that day, and a parent or someone else may have just forgotten to lock it when they were done.
Whenever you're babysitting, it's essential to always know where the children are. When there is a pool nearby, this rule is even more important.
Be very cautious if the family you're babysitting for has an indoor pool or jacuzzi. These are more accessible and easier for kids to get into, so it's critical to make sure that all doors leading to the pool area stay locked.
Be Prepared to Enforce Pool Rules
In most cases, parents will have already taught their kids proper behavior and how to stay safe around the pool. But, even if that's the case, kids can get overly excited and forget things. So you'll need to enforce basic rules, like no running around the pool, to keep them safe.
Even if their parents are more lax about pool rules, don't be afraid to explain and enforce your own rules while babysitting to make sure that everybody stays safe.
Water Safety Rules You Need to Enforce
Here are some basic safety rules that you should enforce around pools as a babysitter:
- No jumping or diving into the shallow end
- No running around the pool
- No horseplay or pushing each other
- No food or drink in the pool area
- No glass containers around the pool
- If there is thunder or lightning, it's time to get out of the pool, now, even if it is far away
- Contact a lifeguard or adult if there's an emergency
- No peeing in the pool (it's worth regularly reminding younger swimmers)
- Keep areas around the pool free of toys, chairs, glass, and other sharp objects.
It's also helpful to give kids reasons why each rule is in place. For example, you can tell them that it's important not to run around the pool because they could slip and hit their head, or fall into the pool.
Bring a Phone
If you have a cell phone, bring it with you to the poolside and keep it turned on and nearby in case of an emergency. If you don't have your own phone, see if the family you're babysitting for has a cordless phone that will get reception out by the pool.
Don't allow your phone to become a distraction, though. Avoid texting, playing games, or taking pictures on your phone around the pool when you should be supervising the children swimming.
Keep Kids Safe from the Sun
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. recommends using a sunscreen labeled at least SPF 15, with both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection (source). A waterproof sunscreen makes sense if the children you're babysitting will be spending a lot of time in the water.
You should be aware that it ideally needs to be applied 30 minutes before heading outside, and then reapplied frequently as they continue swimming.
Read the instructions on the label of your particular sunscreen and be vigilant about reapplying as often as recommended. While you’re at it, check the expiration date on the bottle.
Younger kids will need help putting sunscreen on properly, especially on areas they can't see like their backs, necks, and behind their ears. You may want to check with parents to be sure they're okay having you apply sunscreen to their child. Some recommend using spray-on sunscreen for this reason.
Take advantage of clothing like hats, long-sleeved shirts, and sunglasses to get extra protection from the sun. Umbrellas or a shady tree can also be utilized to help prevent sunburn.
Kids and adults are most likely to get sunburned in the hours around noon, so try to plan pool activities either earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the sun is less intense. Have the kids sit in the shade whenever they are taking their regular breaks from swimming.
Clouds don't filter UV rays very well, so sun safety is important even on cooler cloudy days.
Don't Use Floatables as Life Preservers
Pool noodles, inflatable rafts, and water wings shouldn't give you a false sense of security. Kids can slide off or end up face-down in the water, even if they have toys to help them float.
Only certified life preservers will help keep a child's head fully upright and out of the water. But even life preservers are no substitute for proper supervision.
Practice Vigilance, Regardless of Pool Size
Small inflatable play pools for toddlers can pose just as much risk to kids as a full-sized in-ground pool.
It only takes an inch or two of water for a young child to drown, just enough to cover their nose and mouth. You need to be watchful around play pools and avoid getting lulled into thinking that they're too small to pose any real risk.
Whenever the kids are done playing in their kiddie pools, empty out all the water in case they try to come back to the pool later. For smaller pools, this is easy; you can simply tip the pool up and dump the water out onto the grass.
When play pools aren't in use, they should be turned over. That way, they won't be able to fill with water if it rains. Even better, collapse them and put them away in the house or garage to eliminate the risk entirely.
Packing for the Pool: 13 Things You Should Bring
Most things that you'll need to pack for a trip to the local pool while babysitting are the same for any child, although you may need some specific items depending on age or gender.
1. A Bag to Hold Everything
You'll potentially want to bring lots of different items to the pool, so a reasonably-sized bag to carry them all is a good choice. I highly recommend looking for something waterproof!
This is the most basic thing you'll need, even if you don't bring anything else.
If you forget a child's swimsuit, you'll definitely need to turn around and go home to get one, so it's a good idea to double-check before you leave!
You'll also need your own swimsuit if you're planning to enter the pool area, even if you don't have any intention of going into the water yourself. Many pools won't allow parents or guardians to sit on deck wearing street clothes.
If you're taking a toddler to the pool who isn't potty trained yet, then swim diapers are a must. In that case, you'll want to bring regular diapers, wipes, and clean-up bags as well.
Don't know how to change a diaper? See our complete guide to diaper changing for babysitters for step-by-step instructions with illustrations.
It never hurts to pack a few towels. That way you'll have extras in case one gets splashed or falls into the pool. They are also helpful so the kids don’t have to use a wet towel if they get in and out of the pool a few different times.
Usually, parents are fine with you bringing their own towels from the linen closet to use at the pool. Try to find a fun and colorful towel for each of the kids you're babysitting, and let them pick out one they love!
Most kids don't like getting water in their eyes, especially chlorinated water, which can really sting! If they have their own goggles and want to wear them, pack them in your bag. And, if you've got a spare pair of your own goggles at home, you may want to bring them along just in case.
5. Hair Ties and a Hair Brush/Comb
If the kids you're babysitting have longer hair, then you'll want to brush or comb out their hair after swimming unless you plan on going straight home afterward.
6. Shampoo and Conditioner
Chlorinated swimming pools can leave your hair feeling gross, and it can even change color. If the pool you're going to has showers in the change room, you might want to bring some shampoo and conditioner.
The sooner kids wash their hair after getting out of the pool, the less likely it is that they'll experience hair discoloration or skin irritation.
We've already discussed the importance of sunscreen. Pack enough to last for multiple reapplications.
Many people also don't know that sunscreen has an expiration date! Once sunscreen has expired, it becomes less effective since the ingredients start to break down over time. Not only does expired sunscreen offer less protection, but the chemicals can become irritating to your skin as they degrade.
8. Flip Flops or Sandals
Even as an adult, putting your socks and shoes back on right after you get out of the pool can be a little challenging. It's best to avoid shoe difficulties by simply putting kids in a pair of flip flops or sandals, if they have some, which will be much easier to put on and take off.
Younger kids don't need to wear deodorant until they approach puberty. But it's not uncommon for kids as young as 8 or 9 to need deodorant. If you're watching older kids who are using it, go ahead and pack some of their deodorant in your bag, particularly if you won't be heading straight home after you've been to the pool.
10. Locks or Coins for Lockers
Unless you're going to keep all of your belongings poolside, you will likely want to store some of them in a locker.
Most places require you to bring your own lock. Whenever possible, I'd recommend putting your belongings along with those of the children you're babysitting together in a single locker.
Combination locks with the dials on the front can be complicated for kids to use. I'd recommend the locks where you line up four digits instead.
At some pools, they have coin lockers, so you can’t use your own lock. In that case, you'll need to bring proper coinage to gain access to a locker.
11. Bottles of Water
It doesn't seem like you could get dehydrated in a pool, but while swimming, your body can generate just as much sweat as when you are running. You just don't notice it because you're submerged in water.
Try to make the kids you're babysitting take a break every 30 minutes or so to have a drink of water and use the bathroom if needed (very often they don’t notice they need to go until they sit down for a break.)
Most places won't let you bring food into the pool area, but I'd recommend packing some snacks anyway. You can either leave the pool area to give kids a chance to eat something and refuel a bit, or they can have a snack on the way home after an afternoon of swimming.
Playing in the pool burns lots of calories, even if the kids are just splashing around in the shallow end. So don't be surprised if they're hungry after a couple of hours in the pool!
Public pools often have their own assortment of pool noodles and other toys. If the kids you're babysitting have their own favorite pool toy, you can always bring it for them to play with. Just be aware of any restrictions, as some community pools may not allow certain toys like water squirters.
Avoid Swimming in Cold Conditions
Just because it feels hot outside, that doesn't necessarily mean that a pool is warm enough to swim in. This is particularly true for unheated pools and at the beach.
The American Red Cross recommends comfortable water temperatures between 83 and 86℉ (28.3 to 30℃) for swimming. (source)
Swimming in cold water puts kids at a higher chance of experiencing muscle cramps. If their arm or leg muscles cramp up while swimming, they may be unable to keep their head above the water. Hypothermia, low body temperature, is also a real concern.
If the kids you're babysitting show signs of cold such as blue lips, shivering, or muscle cramps, it's time for them to get out of the pool and dry off.
Watch For Pool Hazards All Year Round
Even after swim season has passed and covers have gone on pools for the winter, they still pose a risk to kids. Perhaps in some ways, they are even more of a hazard. If kids try to walk on top of a pool cover, they may fall through, become trapped underneath, and find themselves unable to get back to the surface.
After the initial splash, it's hard to see any signs of a struggle underneath the pool cover. Be sure to keep pool areas locked even in the fall, winter, and early spring when the pool isn't in use.
11 Games to Play at the Pool
There are so many great activities that kids can do in the pool that they should never be bored!
If the kids you're babysitting need something to do, try some of these pool games:
1. Inflatable Ball Racing
Get two large inflatable beach balls or any kind of balls that float. See who can push their ball the fastest from one side of the pool to the other.
2. Air Ball
The goal of this game is simple. Just keep an inflatable ball in the air and try not to let it touch the water! Kids can see how many passes they're able to keep the ball up for before it inevitably hits the water.
3. Marco Polo
Marco Polo is a classic game for the pool. If you want to mix it up a bit, have kids make animal noises instead of playing the usual way. Have one kid yell "whale!" and the rest reply with their best whale impression.
4. What Time is It, Mr. Fox?
For this game, one kid stands in the pool at one side and acts as the fox. Other kids stand in the opposite side of the pool and say, "What time is it, Mr. Fox?" The fox replies with a time and the other kids need to walk that many steps forward. For example, 6 o'clock means they would need to take 6 steps.
At any time, Mr. Fox can decide it's dinner time and chase down one of the other players to tag, as they try to get back to the side where they started.
5. Diving for Coins (or Other Objects)
If the kids you're babysitting are a bit older and more comfortable in the pool, you can get them to dive to the bottom and pick up objects.
You can toss some pennies into the pool and have the kids dive to the bottom and pick them up. You can use any other object that will sink as well.
This one is better for the backyard pool than at your local swimming pool. The lifeguards at a public pool may not appreciate objects being thrown in the pool, in case they don't all get picked up at the end.
6. Invisible Bottle
For a more advanced diving game, take a clear plastic bottle, remove the wrapper, and fill it up with water from the pool. Get the kids to line up in the pool with their backs turned, and then throw the bottle into a random spot in the pool. Once they hear the splash, they can turn around and try to find the bottle.
It sounds easy, but finding the bottle can be surprisingly tricky since the clear bottle turns almost invisible in the pool! Try using a bottle with a white cap or color that matches the bottom of the pool to make it even harder to do.
This one works better in smaller pools, and you need quite a few people to do it, but if your situation meets those requirements, it can create a really entertaining effect!
Get a bunch of kids to all run for a couple of minutes in the pool around the edge. This will create a water current in the direction that they're running. After a while, they can stop and just float. If they've done it right, the current will carry them in a circle around the pool for 30 seconds or so until the momentum stops.
If they really want a challenge, try to have them switch directions and go against the current. It's nearly impossible!
8. Underwater Tea Party
For this game, two kids sink to the bottom of the pool and sit with their legs crossed, pretending to have a tea party. They can pour from imaginary teapots, offer each other imaginary sugar, and drink from their pretend teacups. Wearing goggles really comes in handy for this one.
Have kids jump into the deep end of the pool and do cannonballs. See who can make the biggest splash!
Just be sure they exercise caution while jumping into the pool, and be careful not to let them do it in areas that are very shallow where they might hit the bottom.
10. Crazy Hair Competition
If you're babysitting a couple of kids with hair that's shoulder-length or longer, have a crazy hair competition and see who can make the funniest looking hairstyle once their hair is wet.
11. Swimming Through Hoops
Hold a hula hoop underwater and have the kids swim through it! If you haven't got a hoop for them to swim through, one kid can stand on the bottom with their legs to shoulder-width while another kid tries to swim through them.
Swimming is tons of fun for kids, and a great way to make a babysitting shift go by quickly. But having kids around the pool comes with a lot of responsibility.
If you don't feel comfortable watching kids around the pool, just let the parents know. Also, be sure to ask parents for permission before taking their kids to the local public pool or the beach.
Constant supervision is the #1 rule when it comes to babysitting kids around any body of water. According to the CDC, kids under 14 make up approximately 20% of all drowning deaths each year. Taking a water safety course, along with First Aid and CPR, can help you to keep the kids you're babysitting for safe. Make sure you're comfortable with safety equipment, like life hooks and life preserver rings, and that the pool you're at has them readily available.
As long as you're supervising them, though, pools give kids a great chance to get some exercise and play outside. Watching kids around the pool is a lot of work. But parents will be really grateful when they come home to content, tired kids that have had all their energy burned off!
Ready to head out to the pool or beach at your next babysitting job? Check out this article for even more water safety advice: 25 Kids Water Safety Tips for Babysitters.
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