Article 06 - Why can't they jump? Isn't it easy?

This article was written for a SWIM AUSTRALIA publication so has the focus on swimming. The concepts and information can easily be applied to other movement activities.

Please note: All information is written with normally developing children in mind.

Sometimes as educators of young children we unknowingly offer threatening or unobtainable physical skills and activities for them to experience, simply because we do not have a full understanding of the child's developmental stages and capabilities.

We all have the very best intentions for the little people we guide and teach, but their body, brain processes and emotions may simply not be ready for what we assume in our planning they can do. Hence the positive experience, sense of achievement and the specific learning doesn't occur.

Let's go back to the very start and see how children begin to grow and develop and how it has a huge impact on what they can do physically.

From birth we all grow in 2 ways:

A) From the head down to the toes.

The head grows first, slowly progressing down to the growth of the toes. That is why a toddler has a huge head with tiny little legs to support this larger upper body and tends to look very out of proportion.

B) From the inside out.

The internal organs grow first, hence the distended stomach, with the fingers being one of the last body parts to grow. Have you ever looked at the hands of a 4-5 year old at preschool and thought how much like a baby's hands they look. That is because they still are baby hands and they are one of the last body parts to grow and develop.

This growth pattern is the reason why children learn gross motor skills first before fine motor skill. They don't have full control of their feet and hands until much later. At about 5 - 6 years of age the body becomes more in proportion.


This growth pattern has a huge impact on jumping skills. With the young child's balance awareness and muscles starting to strengthen and with their larger upper body supported by a tiny lower body, correct jumping is difficult.

Babies tend to use a reflex when their feet are on the ground. They bounce or bob up and down or look like they are walking. Encourage this, as it is helping to develop the leg muscles. Any real weight bearing activities such as this need to be developed slowly.

Toddlers can jump but tend to jump with one foot after the other rather than 2 feet landing at the same time. Their coordination, muscle control and messages from the brain to the body, have not yet refined.

From approximately 3 years and older, children can spring from 2 feet and land with 2 feet in a controlled manner. They also coordinate a correct bent knee on landing.

How does this effect swimming?

Often when children jump or dive from the side of the pool to enter the water, they require propulsion from both legs. They need leg strength and balance in the take off. They also need lots of spatial awareness as they are entering the water from a height. This can be really scary for the children if they have not reached this stage progressively through properly planned, sequential experiences. If their body and mind is not prepared and ready, it can be a negative experience.

Added to this they need a lot of trust when jumping from a height that it will be OK when they land in the water! They also have to feel comfortable and trust you as the swimming teacher to look after them.

So don't be in a hurry to expect young children to be able to jump instinctively from the side of the pool. Prepare them and offer progressive fun experiences such as sitting on the side of the pool, performing the skills from raised surfaces that are actually in the water so the height is not so overwhelming. Once the children are comfortable, they then progress to a new, more challenging height from the side of the pool.

If you set the foundation for jumping in creative ways that are enjoyable and pleasant and the children are prepared in their body and their minds, they will do it without a moments hesitation when they are ready (not when you are ready!)

SONGS and ACTIVITIES to enhance jumping skills.

1. Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall (traditional Nursery Rhyme)

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
And all the King's men.
Couldn't put Humpty together again.


Perform the song while sitting on the edge of the pool. Parents support the children under their armpits or hold their hands, depending on the age. Slowly lower them into the water as Humpty Dumpty falls. Cuddle the children as the adult/parent bobs up and down in the water to imitate the horse galloping. Place the children back on the wall to resume the song.


The adult sits on the bottom of the shallow pool or on the steps leading into the pool. The child either sits facing them or stands on the adults thighs. As Humpty Dumpty falls, slowly lower the children sideways into the water. Lift them up and down in the water to imitate the king's horses galloping. Place them back on your lap to resume the song. You may alternately bounce the children on your lap while in the water, to imitate the king's horses.


Humpty Dumpty STOOD on the wall. The children can then progress to standing and falling into trusting arms as Humpty falls off the wall. Repeat the activity as above.


Humpty Dumpty ROLLED off the wall.

The children can lie on a mat on the edge of the pool. Lie half of the mat into the water so it creates a slight decline to roll down. The children lie sideways along the edge of the pool then roll down the mat into the water. They can swim back to the steps to repeat the activity.

Any rolling activity stimulates the vestibular system situated in the inner ear which is one of the regulators of balance.

Change the words to this traditional chant to include a jumping and swimming action.

Two little blue birds
Sitting on a wall.
One named Peter
One named Paul.
Jump in Peter
Jump in Paul.
Swim back Peter
Swim back Paul.


The children sit on the edge of the pool. On the words "Jump in Peter" etc, the children fall into their parents waiting arms. The parents are in the water. Repeat the activity.

Older children can sit on the edge of the pool and fall into the water and swim to the edge to get out themself. Repeat the activity.


Once the children are comfortable with the first stage of sitting on entry to the pool, you can change the words of the chant so the children are standing rather than sitting.

Two little blue birds
Standing on a wall.
One named Peter
One named Paul.
Jump in Peter
Jump in Paul.
Swim back Peter
Swim back Paul.

Have fun and be creative in your approach.

Please note: If using any of this information for adult training or other use besides personal, please inform the author and acknowledge the source of information.

Robyn Crowe is the author of Moving to Learn and numerous other movement and music books, CD's and visual resources, for teachers, care providers and parents. She regularly presents at local, interstate and international conferences and workshops.