Each summer stores stuff their shelves with inflatable swimmies, floaties and training vests for kids. It's enough to make most parents want to dive off the deep end.
Good Housekeeping magazine looked at some of the most popular swim gear products for kids in order to give parents some sort of shopping guide before they hit the stores.
There are four levels of swimming aids — infant floats, swim sweaters, arm bands and training vests. The ones you choose should reflect your child's age, weight and ability. Parents should select inflatable products with thick plastic, multiple air chambers, strong seams and valves that must be squeezed after opening to let their air out.
Baby Floats: These products should be used with infants between 6 and 18 months old. But parents should remember that they should never be out of an arm's reach from their baby when they are using floats. The products are not to be used unsupervised, even for a second. The SunSmart Adjustable Sunshade Boat ($12.99, www.aqualeisure.com) by Aqua Leisure is an inflatable boat with a sunshade to protect the baby from the sun. Good Housekeeping liked it because it provided good floatation, yet it is small enough for easy transportation and it can be inflated in minutes.
Swim Sweaters: These allow kids to start swimming while providing enough floatation to keep them above water. The Trainer Tank ($29, www.swimline.com) from Swimline has removable foam blocks to adjust the level of floatation. It's available in sizes for children ages 1 ½ to 4 years old. The device can reinforce good swimming techniques.
Inflatable Arm Bands: These are the most common swimming aids available. They are generally used with kids between the ages of 3 and 8 years old. When using these, kids should be able to paddle through the water. Good Housekeeping suggests parents look for thick plastic with valves that don't release any air until you squeeze them with the plugs removed. Parents who tried them liked Swimways' Swims arm bands ($3.99, www.swimways.com). The gear frees up kids arms so they can swim easily.
Training Vest: The final step before your child is swimming on his own is the use of a training vest that contains removable foam pads. The vests, which are strapped around the chest, gradually prepare your kids to swim. As pads are removed, the child must support increasing weight. The Power Swimr ($20; note the unusual spelling) is designed for kids 3 to 6 years old.
Overall, parents who tested swim products for Good Housekeeping said they prefer those with adjustable levels of floatation. They particularly liked items that could be customized to the child's ability. Swim gear that allows kids' arms to stay free, so they can learn the proper swimming techniques, were also popular.
Parents should always check out toys and other kid's products through the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov/). Sometimes old products that are passed down from sibling to sibling or from neighbor to neighbor can be defective without your knowledge.