Child swimming programs should follow a building block approach in teaching children to swim. Regardless of when you commence swimming lessons, the learn to swim process should follow the progressive principals of water familiarisation, breath control, submersion, floating, propulsion and learning to breath. Learning water safety skills should come into play during all of these key learning areas.
Water familiarisation is very important because children need to feel relaxed and secure before learning can take place. Learning how to enter and exit the water safely is importance for all ages and abilities. Furthermore learning how to walk, run, jump and recover from a horizontal position in the water, will all be new experiences for beginners.
Exploring different depths of water and surfaces around the pool will also be important for children. Parents should also take their children to a variety of locations for water play and exploration opportunities under strict supervision. Through exposure children learn their capabilities and limitations. All environments have different considerations that children need to learn about. For example surging waves and rip currents at the beach, and fast flowing water and debris in creeks and rivers. Parents can visit the Kids Alive website to access free water safety education resources including music, books and animations that will assist with water safety education http://www.kidsalive.com.au/early-childhood-program/.
Learning breath control for short periods of time is essential for babies and beginner swimmers. If children don’t hold their breath it is very easy for them to get water up the nose. This discomfort can make beginners fearful of submersions. We aim to learn breath control for the count of 10 before teaching bubbles.
With children under the age of 2 we use the conditioning process to teach breath control on command. This involves the teacher or parent pouring water smoothly and evenly over the face after consistent trigger words. For example “Emma ready go”, is always followed by pouring a cup of water on top of the forehead. By doing this during every bath time, babies learn breath control on command very quickly and you will soon observe the child close their eyes and hold their breath on your cue. Once you observe breath control on command it is then safe to start submersions.
Once children are 2 years of age conditioning becomes less effective. The focus then shifts to voluntary breath control where the child learns to submerge their own face. Parents and teachers must never hold children’s heads under water. Parental and teacher demonstrations will help in showing the child what you want.
Once children master breath control on command or voluntary breath control we can introduce submersions. If children cry or resist submersions in anyway parents and teachers should return to water familiarisation and breath control activities. Children love to go underwater with mum and dad or even pick up rings from the bottom of the pool but this should always be in shallow water first. We perform initial submersions in a horizontal position. Vertical submersions can easily force water up the nose. Submerging to a parent, shallow ledge, or deck level pool are some activities which you can also try. During submersions children also need to learn to recover. In little babies they can learn to grip and hold on to a parents t-shirt, this encourages independence. Older children can learn to hold on to the side of the pool or recover to a standing position.
Floating is the basis of all learn to swim and should be one of the most practiced swimming skills. By learning to float the child’s movements through the water will be relaxed. When children do not master floating they will struggle and thrash in the water as they try to keep themselves afloat. Also their propulsive movements will not be very effective.
Back floating is also an important safety skill. Little babies love to back float because this is the position that they spend most of their time on land. Once babies become mobile they seem to resist back floating, this correlates to their development on land. Back floating should be encouraged but never forced. Forcing children to float on their back while they are crying and in distress is totally inappropriate. Parents and teachers can encourage back floating skills in shallow water, on floating mats, while using toys for distractions. At around 2 years of age children will again start to accept back floating activities.
Effective kicking and paddling skills gives us the ability to move efficiently through the water. In little babies however they will use non traditional movements like a wiggle, double pull or primitive kick to propel themselves. These primitive movements can be quite effect however we start at a very early age to develop the correct kick and paddling action by using physical manipulation.
This physical manipulation, where the parents move the legs up and down in the kicking action, or accelerate the hands under water helps instil neuromuscular patterns in the child so that they can learn to swim. Physical manipulation leads to fine motor skills being developed by the child. Laurie always uses the show practice teaching axiom. The child practices a independent swim and then the parent or teacher corrects the student.
Learning to Breathe
In children under the age of 4 we introduce breathing to the front. During early breathing attempts toddlers will fall into a vertical position and this is quite natural. However it is very important that we focus on developing a strong kick so that the child learns to move easily from the vertical back into the horizontal swimming position. When the child turns 4 we introduce side breathing. Before introducing side breathing Laurie likes to ensure that children have strong and coordinated propulsive skills over an approximate 7 meter distance.
Remember! A child should be taught to swim progressively and effectively so that they develop a relaxed and natural stroke which will last a life time.