Swimming is great exercise for toddlers and it’s also something that kids and parents can do together. It’s always best to be safe in and around water though, so while your toddler is learning to swim they should wear a good quality swim aid or vest. Once they’re confident in the water they can strike out without it, but in the early stages they – and you – will feel better with some extra assurance that they’ll stay afloat. Keep in mind that swim vests and floaties are not designed to replace an actual life jacket for toddlers or kids life vest.
Swim aids look simple compared to the sort of vest you need for boating but you still need to choose them carefully. It’s vital that the one you buy allows your child to move freely – otherwise learning to swim will be a struggle. Get it right, though, and it will be amazingly helpful.
The Puddle Jumper from Stearns is a very nicely made flotation aide that’s comfortable to wear and doesn’t get in the way of learning to swim, but does a good job of adding extra buoyancy when it’s needed. There’s good reason the Puddle Jumper has been the best selling flotation device for little kids for some time now. It really is one of the best values out there and we can almost guarantee you won’t have any regrets buying it. While it doesn’t look like a typical life jacket, it’s technically a Type III Coast Guard approved flotation aid (thanks to the former Puddle Jumper product manager who contacted me). It’s capable enough to be used as a safety aid on the beach or on boat trips. We wouldn’t recommend it to replace a more traditional life jacket for sailing or kayaking (even though technically it could), but that’s not what it’s meant for.
This compact vest has two arm bands and a chest panel; simply slip the arms through the bands then fasten the strap at the back, and it’s all ready to go. The strap makes it very adjustable and there shouldn’t be any trouble fitting it securely for 30-50 lb children. The arm bands themselves aren’t adjustable but they do have plenty space in them, even though they may feel tight fitting (especially when wet). Once your child is in the upper part of the weight range, it’s recommended to put a little sunscreen on their upper arms to make putting on and taking off the Puddle Jumper much easier.
The build quality of the Puddle Jumper is pretty impressive for such an inexpensive product. It’s made from a woven polyester fabric that’s a lot softer than a typical life jacket. That makes it comfortable enough to be worn most of the day, unlike a lot of other brands. It’s also available in a wide range of colors (
12 16 as of this time), most of which have cheerful cartoon designs on the front. Kids love these, meaning you’ll have a lot less trouble getting them to wear it.
This Speedo vest is a more traditional design than the Puddle Jumper; it’s basically a standard swim school vest, made from neoprene for a low profile. It’s not at all bulky and gives the wearer excellent freedom of movement, so new swimmers will be able to learn without any problems. It also gives good protection against UV rays, which is important – it’s easy to forget how much UV your child is exposed to, especially around water where constant splashing keeps them cool. For children with paler skin the Speedo is well worth considering just for that. Of course it’s also a secure life vest with a front zipper and crotch strap.
Unlike the Puddle Jumper, the Speedo swim vest is available in both Medium (33-45 lbs) and Large (45-60 lbs) sizes. Keep in mind the Begin to Swim vest is just that, a swimming aid which is not US Coast Guard approved.
While the Stearns Puddle Jumper is by far the most popular swim aid for most young, eager-to-learn swimmers, it may have a tendency to slide around a hair for a small number of kids who are a bit on the skinny side or just shy of the 30 pound recommended minimum. The new Body Glove Paddle Pals would in these cases be a better option as it’s essentially a swim vest with floaties that’s also US Coast Guard Type III approved. Because it has shoulder straps, there’s no possibility of the vest coming off. The vest buckles in the back so they will need help putting it on but this also makes it more secure. The built-in drain holes are a nice touch to keep the vest as light as possible after being in the water. We’ll see if the Paddle Pals can one day dethrone the Puddle Jumpers as the best flotation device for toddlers, but it’s too soon to tell.
This is a fun, colorful vest that lets children use their arms freely while making sure they have plenty of buoyancy to keep them safely afloat. It has 16 removable floats, so it’s easy to adjust for lighter or heavier children by adding or removing floats. You can also take away floats as your child becomes a more confident swimmer. The Splash About comes in a range of bright colors with fun designs. It’s also very easy to put on – basically it’s a swimsuit with attached floats. Although it’s unisex it probably suits girls better. Like the Speedo vest above, this Splash About float suit is definitely not US Coast Guard approved and should only be used as a swimming aid for the pool.