Water Safety Activities for Elementary PE

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As we wrap up our current school year, and we are involved in field trips, field days, and end of course state examines, what should our focus be for our physical education students as we ready them for summer?

I receive flyers in my box and email from high schools or local recreation centers touting all the things they can offer our students in the summer. Basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball and the lists go on and on. I believe as physical educators our most important topic to cover before we send our students out for the summer break is water safety.

Teaching in the great state of Texas, we use our own state standards TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) to guide our curriculum. Below are the standards for our Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students:

Kindergarten (5) Physical activity and health. The student understands safety practices associated with physical activity and space. The student is expected to:

  • (D) explain appropriate water safety rules such as never swim alone, never run around pools, look before you jump, enter feet first, and know the role of the lifeguard; and

 1st grade (5) Physical activity and health. The student knows and applies safety practices associated with physical activities. The student is expected to:

  • (C) describe how to protect himself/herself from harmful effects of the sun;
  • (D) list water safety rules and demonstrate simple extension rescue; and

2nd grade (5) Physical activity and health. The student understands and applies safety practices associated with physical activities. The student is expected to:

  • (C) list the effects the sun has on the body and describe protective measures such as sunscreen, hat, and long sleeves;
  • (D) list water safety rules and describe their importance;

Earlier this month, the local news covered the story of a student in my former district who drowned while on a school sponsored event. Every summer, we see more and more stories about these tragic drownings that take place in homes or apartments or at events throughout our communities.

We can make a difference if we make it our priority to teach water safety before we send our students off for the summer:

  • Never swim alone
  • Know your limitations
  • Always ask permission to go near water
  • Too much sun is no fun
  • Enter the water feet first
  • Always wear a life jacket if boating

My district has the content license to show certain videos and the most effective one I have found for my students in elementary is Wild About Safety with Timon & Pumbaa: Safety Smart In the Water! Any time you can relate characters that your students can identify with the better the connection to the content. After showing the video to the students we then incorporate activities to tie into our unit.

Activity: Sun Tag

Purpose: To introduce students to sun block and to help them understand how sun block can protect them from the harmful effects of the sun.

Equipment needed:

  • Hula Hoops
  • Yellow pinnies
  • Yellow Pool Noodles

Select students to be the “sun”. The remaining students spread out around the gym and designate this area as the beach. The students who wear the yellow pinnies and have the yellow pool noodles will be the sun. The sun tries to burn the players by tagging them with the pool noodles. The players on the beach can protect themselves from the sun by standing in the shade (hula hoops). Players may only stay in the shade for 10 seconds before returning to the beach. If tagged by the sun, players complete a fitness activity outside the beach then return to the game after the activity is completed.

Conclusion: At the end of the lesson, discuss the harmful effects of the sun and what protective measures can be taken to limit those effects.

Activity: Reach or Throw


Purpose: To introduce water safety rules and describe their importance.

Equipment Needed:                                      


Select students to stand on the mats (islands) that are scattered throughout the gym. The remaining students lie on their stomach on the scooters as they swim around the gym. Once the game starts the swimmers move around the gym. The students on the islands must decide if they are going to reach with a pool noodle or throw a foam ring. If the swimmer is close enough, they will use a pool noodle to save the swimmer, but if the distance is too great, they will throw a foam ring. Once they save a swimmer, the swimmer will trade places with the student on the island.


Conclusion: Discuss water safety practices with students and explain that those rules should be used every time they swim or are around water.

Summer is coming, and pools are opening soon, it’s never to early to teach water safety and let students know to be aware of their limitations and to take all the precautions necessary even if lifeguards and adults are present. Let’s make sure our students have a great, safe, and active summer and to be water smart.

Equipment to Play Reach and Throw

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