Learning to swim can be a very enjoyable or traumatic experience depending on the circumstances. Many parents wait until their children are older--five or six--until they teach them to swim, or even introduce them to being in the water. This is not beneficial. The longer you wait to learn how to swim, or to even acclimate yourself to the water, the harder it becomes.
Adjusting to the water
Kids can be taught how to swim when they are still in diapers, although this is not necessary. Throwing your kid in the deep end with only a flotation device in the "sink or swim " fashion is also unnecessary. Getting a child used to being in the water when she is still in diapers is very beneficial though.
Even if you are learning at an older age, try going to a local pool and walking in the shallow end, working up to being comfortable getting your face and head wet, even trying to hold your breath under the water. For a small child, hold her close to your body and take her into a pool or any other body of water. Soon she will become used to the feeling, fear will disseminate, and she may even try to scramble into the water by herself.
Learning to kick
After you or your child is comfortable with his face in the water, the next step is learning how to kick. The best swimmers kick with their whole legs, not just from the knees down. Keep your legs straight while kicking, with little to no bending at the knee. Keep the kick constant. Do not kick really hard for a spurt of 10 seconds then stop and take a break. Keep it up at a steady pace, even if the pace is slow. Keep your legs 90 percent under water. Your feet should come out of the water during a hard kick, but when going slowly everything will remain under the water.
Practice kicking on the side of the pool or by using a kick board. When using a kick board, place the side the curves out away from your head, grasping the sides with your hands, like holding a cafeteria lunch tray. As you get more comfortable with the water, try to hold the kick board further and further away from your face so you are able to place your head in the water while holding the kick board near its concave end, or near the points.
Once your kick is strong and your legs are straight and powerful, you are ready to move on to arm work. Make sure that you can easily kick up and down the pool without using your arms before moving on to this step. Most local pools will provide a barbell for training. If one is not available you can purchase one online or you can skip this step and move on to streamlining.
Grab the barbell with your arms straight and shoulder width apart. Your head should be resting in the water, or on top of the water to breathe. When taking a breath, turn your head to the side and rest your ear on your upper arm, but keep looking ahead. This is difficult at first, but keep practicing and it will become easier. Once you have mastered kicking up and down with the barbell and breathing to the side, it is time for moving your arms.
Take your arms one at a time and move them in a circle, starting at the tip when they are still on the barbell, touching your upper thigh and stretching far out behind you, exiting the water far above your head and finally stretching your hands back to the barbell. Your arm should remain straight. Once the first hand touches the bar bell, the second hand should start the rotation.
Keep your fingers together. Cup the hands slightly. Do not thrash about; this is a smooth stroke. Do not smack the top of the water.
The barbell should stay stable on top of the water. If one side dips down, your body is opening up too far on that side. Keep your shoulder closer to the water.
Streamline your hands by putting your one had on top of the other in front of you while in the water, so that they make a point. See the photo below for an example of this. Once the barbell does not move very much and your legs and arms are strong enough to support you without use of a flotation device, move on to streamlining.
Work on your arms the same way as you did with the barbell, except bring them back to the streamline point, making sure your one hand touches the other one, in a sort of tag team motion, before you rotate the next arm.
Eventually the tag team will not be needed and your arm motion will smooth out. Remember to kick consistently the entire time you are moving and breathe to the side, alternating sides.