Aquapedagogic by Uwe Legahn

Aquapedagogic describes the modern, child-oriented approach in teaching to swim. In 2000, Uwe Legahn, PE teacher in Hamburg, defined Aquapedagogic in his book „At home in the water“ to emphasize the pedagogic approach as fundamental in modern teaching concepts.

As opposed to most teaching approaches in Germany that teach breaststroke – the most complex of strokes – as primary technique and mostly set the youngest age for learning to swim at around 1st grade, Aquapedagogics are based on the developmental stage of children and start teaching to swim at preschool age between 3 and 4 years.  During the early stages of learning, correct stroke techniques are mostly ignored in favor of safety aspects and basic pedagogics.

Aquapedagogics, in contrast to conventional approaches, are based on uninterrupted education in water from babyswimming to competitive sports, one of the goals being to make children into safe swimmers long before reaching school age.

The central issue in Aquapedagogics is safety, i.e. “survival techniques” , comparable to components of cars such as Airbag, Safety Belt, Headrest and Crumple Zone.

Teaching these techniques, children will be safe and versatile swimmers long before school age.

They have a headstart of several years on their peers, they gain in self-confidence and social skills.

These children handel small accidents that happen daily with easy skill and find them unthreatening, whereas unskilled children more often than not react inadequately and are harmed or worse.

Aquapedagogics ensure a major step towards accident prevention.  Aquapedagogics are a tried and proven educational concept to educate safe and healthy swimmers and reduce the number of fatal or traumatic accidents in water.

Safety components:

Reversing the panic reflex (of inhaling) respresents the airbag and is the vital survival technique.

A typical reaction during the first moment of shock is the inability to move or breathe.  Inhaling invariably precedes holding one’s breath, which is without consequence when on land, but fatal when in/under water.  So, an untrained swimmer will invariably inhale as a reaction to being accidently under water thus filling all respiratory tracts with water.  This is not only painful but also invariable leads to increased panic reaction.

As a result, reversing this reaction is a primary goal in Aquapedagogics.

As often as possible during a class children are encouraged to duck their head (or even just the face) under water and exhale vigorously while submerging.  So, in short order, exhaling or blowing bubbles when submerging will become an automated reaction.  The children are asked to submerge their face and blow bubbles in all kinds of situations, while swiming, jumping, diving so that blowing bubbles becomes as natural as breathing.

During a compact learn-to-swim program of e.g. 7 weeks with 3 classes a week, children submerge their face and exhale as often as 1500 times.  This high frequency of repetition ensures a reliable reversal of the panic reaction.

The reversal of the panic reflex is a life insurance similar to the protective breathing reflex in newbornes.  When the vital element of controlled breathing is ensured, almost every situation in water will be handled with ease.

The safety belt in swimming is represented by being able to float. Almost every situation on land allows for a “breather” to regroup and continue after a moment’s rest.  A comparable technique is necessary in water, but seldom taught – with dire consequences.

Children must be taught to rest in water, in order to be able to regroup and extricate themselves from a critical situation.  Aquapedagogics teach children early on how to react after accidently landing in water, to backfloat, rest, regroup and continue propelling themselves towards safety with a minimum of energy.

Backfloating is also the Headrest in swimming.

As a child’s head is large/heavy as compared to the body, backfloating is one of the easiest, yet most important techniques in swimming for the agegroup up to 5 years.

Babies and toddlers’ heads make about ¼ of the body’s size while the proportion in adults is only about 1/8th, i.e. the head is relatively large and heavy.  While being vertical, it is no problem balancing the large head.  When being prone, however, like when swimming breaststroke, a child needs to elevate the head above water level to breathe.  However, neck and shoulder muscles can only hold this position so long.  Therefore, backfloating is the reasonable alternative for resting or moving ahead without tiring.

Swimming in a prone position is only necessary when starting, arriving or for orientation in between.  During these phases, most children master a strong breaststroke movement with the arms, while the legs will paddle or move in crawl stroke.  This mixed technique is adequate for this age group and naturally applied.


The Crumple Zone

Swimming should be an appropriately complex event with high-frequency and high-intensity excersises, so as to build a crumple zone that comes to use during leisure time activities.

Independence and self-responsibility can only develop if children grow into them gradually.

Children are taught basic rules early on:

  • they may jump or climb in the water on their own if:
    • they make sure to have their toes curled around the edge of the pool
    • they have thought through what they will do when in the water
    • they have made sure there is noone/nothing in the water where they plan to jump
    • they know to jump far enough from the edge.


  • they must never jump too close to other swimmers so noone gets hurt.


By following and continually imposing these rules, the risk of getting hurt or hurting others is minimized and children are well prepared for the hubbub and throngs of people at the public pool or lake.

A high-activity class might appear chaotic, even undisciplined, much like Paris during rush hour.  However, respecting the rules and regulations gets one through obvious chaos unscathed.  Proper supervision and confidence in the ability of self-assesment are important.  As the saying goes:  if you can drive in Paris, you can drive anywhere!

So, if children learned to swim following the aquapedagogic concept, they have learned to use their crumple zone and get by in the stormiest conditions.


Aquapedagogics are based on Uwe Legahn’s own teaching-and learning experience during long years as a PE teacher, trainer in competitive swimming, competitive swimmer and water-polo player, lifeguard, presenter of numerous presentations and seminars on the subject and last but not least as owner of a large swimschool in Hamburg.


Uwe Legahn also developed a 3-step safety check, which, on the one hand, documents the achievements of each child and, on the other hand, motivates to continue learning.  The SCAP – Safety Check in Aquapedagogics is based on the curriculum of aquapedagogic learn-to-swim classes.


SCAP documents a child’s safety skills and versatility of swim-skills.  It also tests and documents how potentially critical situations are mastered, such as playfully “falling in the pool”, passive and active swimming techniques, diving and exiting the water.  Stroke techniques as required in competitive swimming are not tested.


Jumping Swimming Submerging Further mandatory skills 
A* Jumping in, submerging face while exhaling, immediately controlling speach and sight *1 Approx. 30 sec. passive swimming (floating) + 25 m active swimming without disturbance Diving under obstacles Climbing outof the pool or onto a floating mat
B** Fall over backwards (like a felled tree)**2 in light clothing, immediate speach+sight controll 


1 min. floating (passive swimming) *3 within a moving group + 50 m active swimming  Diving to the bottom of the pool *4, doing 4 steps in handstand or moving 4 objects on the bottom of the pool with both hands Climbing over an obstacle in the pool *5


Diving off the starting block/pool edge in full clothing, dive 10 m, undress in the pool *6  Swim 200 m within a moving group in less than 15 min., changing from prone to backstroke and back at least 5 times  As above, 5 times, adding a summersault close to the bottom after each step in handstand As above, 5 times, each time high-fiving all other candidates *7 



A     without interruption, jumping in, diving, floating, swimming, climbing out

B      without interruption

    Jumping, swimming, diving and high-fiving, dunking and undressing after a small break as one part of a class.

*1 checking the reversal of the panic reflex: eyes should be open and children should be able to speak  immediately after surfacing (without using their hands to rub the eyes)

*2 T-shirt + shorts

*3 mastering crashes and collisions (checking the crumple zone)

*4 1,30 m or at least average measurement of children from fingertips to toes, in shallower water tasks should be extended

*5 large, instable obstacle (i.e. a bundle of pool-noodles)

*6 sweatshirt, jeans

*7 reaching high above the head (i.e. to reach pool’s edge, boat, banks)


Copyright Uwe Legahn 2008 C

*1 book reference