We were lucky enough to find a house with a pool when we moved. I'm a fish (both in that I love the water and I'm a Pisces). My children are also fish (they all love the water, but only the youngest is a fellow Pisces). The twins learned to swim years ago in day camp, so they're fine in the pool. My son is timid and very careful, so he spends most of his time either outside the pool skimming it or in a tube in the pool. My youngest, however, has no fear and loves the water. Last year, that meant I had almost no time to myself because all my time in the water was spend holding desperately on to her in an attempt to keep her from diving in face-first.
So, this year, I sucked it up and bought a Stearns 3D Puddle Jumper and I agree with her completely.
We've used floatation bathing suits and they're just okay. They provide a wee bit of extra safety, but they were never great. They still require watching like a hawk because they have a tendency to push your child's face in the water.
This, however, actually hold my daughter up and keep her face and shoulders up straight. My 3-year-old is learning to kick and she feels completely independent in the water. I don't have to hold her the entire time, so we can all have fun swimming together. I could kiss whoever invented this thing.
I like that it's not attached to a bathing suit. Have you ever tried to wash one of those floatation suits with the built-in styrofoam? It's a pest. It floats in the washing machine, so it doesn't come completely clean plus the machine can damage it. Plus we swim A LOT and needing one specific suit is a problem. We have a number that we use and then toss in the machine. So being able to just put this on my daughter with whatever suit she happens to be wearing helps a lot.
This thing is awesome. I can't put into words how much it saved my summer. I've been able to actually swim in our pool rather than just drag my daughter around the shallow end. I do wish they were cuter (we have that frog one and it's okay, but nowhere near adorable) and I sometimes worry about catching my fingers in the clip in the back, but those are the only drawbacks (and so far so good). It's a little pricey too ($19.96 at Walmart and $18.99 at Target) which is the biggest con for me, but I found out in the end that it's so very worth it.