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Depth Perception & Refraction

Written By: Ashley Graves


This is a very misunderstood and under explored concept for children. Often parents misunderstand how critical it truly is for this to be taught and practiced. It looks a lot like play time at swim lessons when in reality it is one of the most monumental building blocks to swimming and a safe water experience for children everywhere.


Many children have lost their lives and continue to do so around the globe due to water toys.


In air, a child can place a toy on any surface. When they come back a few hours later, it’s still there waiting for them. In water, if they put a toy in it, that toy either floats away or sinks. If it sinks, they can still see it but they don’t yet know how to gauge how deep the water is. If it floats, they don’t know how to reach it or yet understand how quickly things can move around in water. Children want to see if a toy floats or sinks and if it will it do the same thing in different water spaces like the shallow and deep end. They don’t know which toys float and which sink until they play with all that are in their reach. At their core, children are learning through personal experience and observations.


Once a child makes these connections, refraction needs to be introduced. When toys sink, they move under the water also. Sometimes they appear closer than they are and can move around. It’s critical to teach refraction with eye contact. Children need to make the connection of “watching toys with their eyes” and reaching for the toy with their hand to pull it up and out of the water. One of the biggest mistakes children make is looking their eyes away from the toy. The toy has now moved so they can no longer reach it so they fall in or become fearful because they don't know how to reach it. When working on this skill development, it is the perfect time to introduce bubbles and teach them to look through water (preferably with goggles). Begin with mouth bubbles and move into nose bubbles as their comfort with their face close to and in the water increases.


Teaching depth perception and refraction should never be underestimated or undervalued. These two skills alone save thousands of lives each year by letting children explore their way through new boundaries in a safe environment.


Ashley began her coaching journey at the age of nineteen years old. She became the youngest female head coach in the country of a club team and combined high school program in 2014. Ashley has continued to work in the swim community in a variety of roles but is most well known for her work at Streamline Teams where she is the Founder & CEO. In her community she runs a summer swim lesson school serving both local and military families.


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