At lessons, children should learn to swim! It sounds basic but I have people who e-mail, join my swim school and approach me on the street and tell me that they have attended lessons for X years and their child doesn’t know how to swim.
Tips for Children’s Swimming Lessons
Learning to swim should follow progressive teaching and learning systems. Skills should be broken down and built upon. Children should not be rushed to progress or advanced until individual skills are mastered.
Firstly children need to learn independence and relaxation in the water. Infants experience independence by the way the parent holds them in the water. Parents should always hold children gently and allow them to feel the water’s buoyancy.
Furthermore, if parents learn a variety of ways to hold and manoeuvre their baby through the water they themselves become relaxed. These feelings rub off on the child. Older children experience independence by being exposed to a variety of water depths. Shallow water where children can stand is recommended during the initial stages. This allows the child to remain in control and builds their confidence.
Secondly, children must learn breath control. I shudder when I hear of children being forcibly submerged without warning. Infants are taught breath control on command. That is they learn to hold their breath in response to verbal triggers. Older children must be encouraged to participate in voluntary breath control activities. Most important parents/teachers must never force or hold a child’s head underwater.
Free floating is the basis of all learn-to-swim and therefore should be the most practised swimming activity. But remember our building block approach. Do not attempt floating activities unless children have mastered breath control. Children must learn natural body buoyancy to become relaxed and confident in the water. For this reason, I believe floaties and back bubbles are inappropriate in a formal swimming lesson. These devices give children a false sense of security and place children in a vertical position. Even from a very young age children should learn horizontal body position in the water.
Establishing the float is essential to develop great freestyle technique. For this reason, propulsive movements should not be taught before floating patterns are established and mastered. Encouraging children to use their arms and legs before they can float, results in them thrashing and struggling in the water as they endeavour to keep themselves afloat. Once children learn to float it is easy to teach them a relaxed, slow and natural feel for the water.
Once children have mastered all the aforementioned skills, then we can teach them to breathe. Children should not learn to breathe until they have learnt to swim several meters independently with a great controlled kick and a natural pull through the water. Teaching children to breathe before good propulsion is mastered will be detrimental to the swimming process as children struggle to move themselves through the water.
Finally, my advice for parents is to choose a swim school that, encourages parental involvement until the age of 4, groups children with others at a similar ability, gives children maximum practice time in the lesson, progresses children at their own pace, insists on correct skill acquisition, and has nationally accredited swimming instructors.