During swimming lessons, children should learn to swim! It sounds basic but I have people who e-mail, join my swim school or approach me on the street to tell me that they have attended swimming lessons for say 3 years, and their child still doesn’t know how to swim and has no concept of water safety. When people tell me this I immediately ask, “Have you been consistent with your swimming lessons?” When parents assure me that they have, I then wonder if the child has been rushed through the learn to swim process and not been given the time to master the basics. So what should kids learn at swimming lessons?
Take One Step at a Time
Learning to swim should follow progressive teaching and learning systems. You should break skills down into small and achievable steps and then build upon them. You should not rush children to progress or advance up into a higher level until basic individual skills such as floating or kicking are mastered. Children should feel good about their progress, however slow it may be. Ideally during the very early learn to swim stages parents should give their children regular exposure to water and time to play outside of the formal swimming lesson. This will help to build their confidence and speed up the formal learn to swim process. Learning to swim technically well will take years to accomplish, so have patience and enjoy the journey with your child as swimming is a skill that will last a lifetime. Really cradle to the grave.
Build up the Child’s Confidence
The first step in what kids should learn at swimming lessons should be building independence and relaxation in the water. Infants experience independence by the way the parent holds them in the water. Parents should always hold baby gently and allow them to feel the water’s buoyancy. Furthermore if parents learn a variety of ways to hold and maneuver their baby through water, they themselves become relaxed. This relaxed feeling will rub off on the child. Older children experience independence by exposing themselves to a variety of water depths. I would recommend that children can stand in shallow water whilst in the initial learn to swim stages. This allows the child to remain in control and builds their confidence.
The second step in the learn to swim lesson should be learning breath control. I shudder when I hear of children being forcibly submerged without warning. Infants are taught breath control on command by a method call conditioning. In conditioning, the parent pours water smoothly and evenly over the baby’s forehead after using the trigger words “ready go.”
You must encourage older children to participate in voluntary breath control activities. A parental demonstration, where Mummy or Daddy submerges their own face is ideal to encourage this. It is most important that parents and swimming teachers never force or hold a child’s head underwater. We should establish breath control first rather than blowing bubbles. Blowing bubbles with beginner swimmers often results in them drinking or sniffing water up their nose. This can be quite stressful in the early learn to swim stages. As a result, we wait until the child can master breath control before we teach them to exhale their bubbles underwater.
Free floating is the basis of all learn to swim and therefore should be the most practiced swimming activity. Always remember our building block approach and only attempt floating activities once children have happily mastered breath control and underwater submersions. Children must learn natural body buoyancy to become relaxed and confident in the water. For this reason, I believe you should not use floaties and back bubbles in formal swimming lessons. You can use these devices for safety if you supervise more than one child but it can give children a false sense of security, and place children in a vertical position. We want to establish a good horizontal body position in the water from a very young age.
Freestyle and Backstroke Techniques
Establishing the float is essential to develop great freestyle and backstroke technique. For this reason, propulsive movements should not be taught before the child establishes and masters floating patterns. Encouraging children to use their arms and legs before they can float, results in them thrashing and struggling in the water as they endeavor to keep themselves afloat. Once children learn to float it is much easier to teach them a relaxed, slow and natural feel for the water.
When asking themselves what should kids learn at swimming lessons, all parents should ask themselves the following questions:
• Is my child relaxing in the water?
• Does my child have regular opportunities to play outside of swimming lessons?
• Can my child float independently?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then your child will learn swimming and water safety skills quickly and easily and they are well on their way to developing a skill which will stay with them for a lifetime.
– By Laurie Lawrence