Before letting the children loose in the water, it is important to keep a few basic safety tips in mind. First of all, have at least one adult supervising at all times and maintain a good ration of adults to children. Make certain the deep end and shallow end are clearly marked, and keep weaker swimmers towards the latter. Encourage the children to take frequent breaks between games. Finally, remember that inner tubes, noodles, and other floating pool toys are just that -- toys, not safety devices.
1. Beach Ball Race
This game, appropriate for kids of all ages, requires nothing more than a beach ball or other small, floating toy for each child. Have the children swim across the pool while pushing their beach balls with their noses. The first child to reach the far end without losing his or her beach ball wins. With larger groups of children, this works just as well as a relay race.
2. Ultimate Ball
A wet variant of the popular Ultimate Frisbee, this game requires at least four players and one ball. Divide the children into two teams and assign one end of the pool to each team as a goal area. If a player touches the other team's goal while holding the ball, award his team one point. In Ultimate, the only way to move the ball is by passing it to a teammate. Players may not swim or run while holding the ball. If the ball hits the water at any point, the player who threw it gives up possession to the other team. For a faster-paced version, set a time limit: Have the players on the other team slowly count to 10 whenever an opponent catches the ball, and if he or she does not pass before the count is done, the other team takes possession.
Organize the kids into an offensive and defensive team and send them to opposite ends of the pool. Distribute soft rubber balls or beach balls among the offensive team and have the offensive players throw them at the defensive players. The offensive players may swim to the other end of the pool to retrieve their balls, but they must return to their own side before throwing again. Defensive players who are hit must leave the pool. Have an adult keep time with a stopwatch and note how long it takes for the offensive team to get the entire defensive team out of the water. Then, have the teams switch sides: Put the offensive players on defense and give the balls to the former defenders. The team that manages to stay in the water for longer wins.
4. Musical Beach Ball
Based on the classic Musical Chairs, this game requires the children to stand in a circle, evenly spaced. Have an adult outside the pool control the music. While the music plays, the kids have to pass the ball among themselves as quickly as possible. Whoever is holding the ball when the music stops is out; if the music happens to stop while the ball is in the air, the last player to touch it is out. The game continues until only one player is left in the pool.
5. Piranha Ball
Three or more players hold hands and float in a circle with a beach ball placed in the center of the group. The object of the game is to avoid touching the ball. Any player who bumps into the ball must leave the circle; the remaining players rejoin hands and the game continues. Players may try to blow the ball away or pull other players into touching it, but they may not lower their arms or go underwater to let the ball drift out of the circle.
There are many safe and enjoyable games to play with kids in the pool, of which the few above are merely a sample. Having a range of great pool toys on hand adds even more activities to the mix. With a few basic safety precautions and adult supervision, children can have fun for hours on end in the water.