I usually begin this lesson by blowing up a big red balloon (found at any party supply store), pinching the end shut, and asking my young student to tell me what’s inside the balloon. Generally, they respond by saying, “air.” To which, I reply, “Yes, that’s right.”
Otherwise, I release the end and let all the air escape the balloon so the child feels the air against their face. At this point, I ask the question, what did you feel come out of the balloon against your face?
I then ask my student if there is any place in their body they can fill up with air like the balloon, which leads to a very brief explanation of our lungs and how we can hold our air inside our lungs.
At this juncture, I take one of their hands – place it against my chest – and draw in a big breath through my mouth so they can feel my chest expand. I ask them, “Did you feel my lungs get big with air?” They typically respond, “yes.”
Let’s Play a Game:
Tell your child you’re going to see if they can hold their breath for 10 seconds, but first, ask them for their help.
Say, “When I take in a big breath, I need you to count to ten out loud by counting, “one and two and three and . . . ten.”
Ask your child to first demonstrate how they’re going to count. If need be, tell them to count slower or remember to say “and” in between each number.
Begin your demonstration by 1) blowing all your air out through your mouth into their face so they can feel the air, 2) suck in as much air (a big breath) as you can in through your mouth making a noise as though you were drawing your breath in through a big straw, 3) close your mouth, pinch your noise, and have your child count out loud to 10, and 4) release your air through your mouth, blowing it into your child’s face.
Then, have your child demonstrate the exact same steps to you — repeat a few times. Make sure you pinch your child’s nose shut and count out loud to 10 by counting “1 and 2 and 3 and . . . ” Make sure your child understand the commands, “First blow all your air out, and then “Take in a big breath,” and “Hold it in”
At this point, you need your child to repeat the exercise without you pinching his or her nose shut. This time, rather than counting out loud, use your hands and fingers to count to 10, while carefully listening to hear if your child lets air escape out their nose during the silent count to 10. In this way you can listen to hear if they’re letting air escape out their nose. If they do, then they have yet to fully understand and master the idea of holding their breath. This soft release of air through the nose can be heard if you listen for it.
If your child lets their air escape out their nose – you need to continue working on this exercise until they fully understand the concept of holding the air in their lungs for 10 seconds.
Sometimes, I go back and demonstrate the balloon filled with air. I explain that when I open the end of the balloon and let air out before the count of 10 that it’s no good – that I have to keep the air in the balloon for 10 seconds. I explain that when they let air our their nose it’s no good and that they must keep it inside their lungs until I count to 10.
I wish all parents the best of luck with this lesson. Usually, children three and a half to four years old get it with a little practice. Sometimes it takes up to 20 minutes, sometimes it takes practicing a little each day for a few days, and sometimes a child just isn’t ready to understand this concept.
Of course, the next step is to practice this in water – preferably with swim goggles and something interesting to look at. Remember, holding one’s breath is a prerequisite and necessary skill that enables your child to float. Learning to swim, is simply learning to move a front float.