Of all the swim aids we've been using so far, I think my favorite -- and I say this as a parent, a swimmer, and a former little-kids' swimming instructor -- is the "Bubble." There are many different kinds and colors; this one happened to be another one of My Anonymous Mother's yard sale finds, I think. (She really is a shopping ninja, so big ups to her.)
I think that inner tubes and water wings are fun, and great for getting kids comfortable in the water -- obviously this has worked for Shae -- but when you want to teach them to actually swim, to kick and reach and learn the strokes and have to actually work for it a little bit, then the Bubble can't be beat. Keeps her from sinking like a stone (which she would do, because she is like 0% body fat), but she won't get anywhere unless she's actively doing something about it.
I also think that Shae feels, or at least acts, more free with her Bubble on. She can move her arms better, put her face in the water, explore the depths she is able to reach with a float the size of her whole torso strapped to her back. I mean, these things are ridiculous-looking, but they work. And I feel much better knowing that she feels comfortable, that she doesn't panic when her head goes under.
She feels so comfortable, in fact, that she tries to do whatever the "big kids" are doing, even if the big kids are doing backdives off the swimout. BACKDIVES. Of course they're not precisely backdives, because she can't really get her feet all the way out of the water, and when the Bubble hits the water she kind of flollops over like a drunken turtle, but she is trying. And she loves trying.
And apropos of almost nothing, I sometimes can't believe how much she reminds me of my cousin Jason -- a skinny, leggy, female version of ol' Dangermouse himself. I think Jaybird might even have once had a bathing suit with a similar pattern to this one. A Speedo, of course, because we are HARD CORE.
(Oh: new feature! Mouse over the pictures for additional commentary, because I don't talk enough already, do I?)