The Importance of Water Familiarisation

Making children feel relaxed and comfortable in the water is essential before structured teaching and learning can take place. Apprehensive or frightened children will naturally have a serious barrier to learning. In many cases they will not even attempt some of the simplest learn to swim activities.

Therefore, teachers should spend time establishing a comfortable and secure learning environment for their pupils. This acclimatising period is often referred to as water familiarisation and is best done in a fun way in shallow water. Simple activities such as lying on their back in very shallow water with the ears submerged or rolling over kicking fast with lots of splashing without even putting the face under are two very simple water acclimatisation exercises.

Beginner swimmers very often are frightened of the water. Very often the parent or caregiver may have unintentionally frightened the child in their attempts to keep them safer around the water. For example by simply saying, “Come back from the side of the pool you’ll hurt yourself,” or “Don’t go near the pool its deep,” will be ingrained into the child’s psyche and often is remembered by the child as they go to participate in their first swimming lesson.

Around 2 years of age and above, if children have not been regularly exposed to the water, they may show signs of discomfort, apprehension or fear. It will not be easy to condition these children for submersion as we do with young babies. These children must be handled quite differently and must initiate their own submersions. They must never be forced underwater for any reason whatsoever.

With practical teaching experience, swimming teachers will soon be able to observe and recognise these fears. The children’s tell-tale body language will alert the teacher they will be able to identify common characteristics of a frightened beginner. Teachers may notice children:

  • Shivering or shaking, even in warm water
  • Shutting the eyes and holding the breath
  • Clenching fists, shrugging shoulders and observed body tension
  • Frequent talking or even crying
  • Pulling back as soon as the teacher goes to touch them.
  • Arching their back if the teacher tries to support them

Swimming teachers should be aware that children’s early experiences in the water, will determine their future attitudes. For this reason we should aim to make these early learning experiences positive safe and pleasurable in an attempt to shape a love of the water that s that children will carry with them through to adulthood. Force has no place in the teaching of swimming. Teachers need to find fun ways to encourage children to perform swimming activities voluntarily.

Before learning can take place children must feel comfortable. Having shallow water is fantastic for teaching beginners. In fact for frightened beginners shallow water is vital. It allows the child to feel and be in control as they practices basic water familiarisation activities such as walking, jumping, splashing and attempting breath control activities like pouring water over their face or even attempting self-submerging.

Shallow water not only makes children feel in control but fosters the child’s independence in the water. This will allow the teacher to teach with a “hands off” approach building more and more independence and confidence in the child.

There will be no need for the teacher to handle the frightened beginner in the early learning stages the child will be able to initiate their own water familiarisation activities with encouragement from the teacher. Experienced teachers will find that the child becomes relaxed much sooner.

During deep water orientation teachers must be extremely vigilant to ensure the safety of their class drowning is a silent killer and there have been reported instances of a children actually drowning during supervised swimming lessons. During deep water activities teachers should call on the parents to provide that extra pair of eyes to help with supervision. This type of parental involvement will build a good rapport with parent and child alike.

Ensuring maximum practice time in deep water with beginners can be difficult. Teachers often fall into the trap of taking students one at a time while others wait for their turn. The innovated teacher will come up with ways to keep their class moving. First trips to deep water may be as simple as having the class hold the side of the pool and all submerge together. As the children feel their own buoyancy they will rapidly grow in confidence. If the children are kept busy and active they will progress sooner and the teacher will avoid behavioural distractions in the class.

Once the teacher see the students’ confidence growing, they may set up a deep water follow the leader circuit. This can help to generate maximum practice time during the lesson. Teachers should look to utilise teaching benches, ledges, deck level pool edge, rails, ramps or ramps depending on what is available at your swim school. Lesson planning is the key when teaching beginners in deep water.

Having a defined class area which is roped off is important for the safety of your class. This will ensure that you can keep your group together and avoid students wandering outside of your supervision. It is not necessary to have a large teaching space particular with beginner students or when taking inexperienced swimmers into deep water. Experienced teachers will set up a confined area which gives them good supervision of the class and the ability to move easily and quickly if they need to respond to their student in trouble.

Teachers must have all of their teaching equipment on hand. If this is done there will be no need to leave students to get teaching equipment. Should the teacher, for some reason, need to leave the water all their students must go with them. Young children must never be left unsupervised in and around water and certainly not in a supervised teaching class.

It is important that teachers don’t rush the water familiarisation stage with students. Basic skills like pool entry and exit, breath control, submersion and floating skills are all vital to a child’s progressive learning. These simple floating skills, established early, will form the child’s base for learning to swim and stroke development. Teachers must remember that floating is the basis of all learn to swim and must not be rushed. It must be mastered before trying more complex swimming skills. If children learn to relax and float independently on their front and back for up to ten seconds, then once propulsive patterns are introduced a more relaxed stroke will be developed.

Swimming teachers often observe those children who struggle, thrash, and fight the water have difficulty keeping themselves afloat.

We as teachers must remember the importance of progressively building swimming skills to develop a relaxed and natural stroke which will last a lifetime.

Good stroke develop requires perfecting a perfect streamline body position. Teachers are reminded that this position in the early learning stages is not very stable for beginners. Beginners may need to perfect their balance and body position in the water by floating with a kickboard then floating with a wider arm position to assist in buoyancy before building more streamline position…. Always build skills…. Remember floating is the basis of all learn-to-swim and should be a consistent part of any lesson plan.

How do you keep swimmers interested and engaged? Share your ideas in the comments below.

To learn more about what you need to know CLICK HERE!

Laurie Lawrence


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