It is important to understand that not all parents commence swimming lessons with their baby from birth. It is a common misconception that if babies do not start from birth, then they are incapable of catching up and therefore cannot achieve great swimming skills. Laurie Lawrence’s more than forty years teaching experience has shown that the babies who are regularly exposed to the water are the ones who truly excel.
BABY SWIM CLASSES GROUPED BY AGE
Great learn to swim programs are based around the baby’s growth and development. A baby’s development on land will have huge implications on the learn to swim lesson and the suitability of skills to be introduced into the lesson framework. Therefore it is ideal for babies to be grouped into classes with children of a similar age.
Within the Laurie Lawrence baby swim classes, for example, our 4 to 8-month-old babies are grouped together and our 8 to 12-month-old babies are grouped together. While this close grouping may not always be possible it is essential that the parent and teacher adapt the swimming skills so that they are developmentally appropriate.
While all children are different and develop in their own individual time there are some common benchmarks. Around 8 months the baby may be capable of, holding a balanced sitting position, rocking on their hands and knees, crawling, ability to select toys that they are interested in and even shake head “no”. It is during this time that babies are gaining increased curiosity in the world around them. Importantly they are beginning to show signs of their own independence and desire to strike out on their own.
BABY LEARNING LIMITATIONS AND BOUNDARIES
Teaching your child independence is very important. Children are curious and learn through their own exploration. Personal exploration often teaches children their boundaries. Even from a very young age babies can learn boundaries. It is during this time that we can introduce to baby the differences between deep and shallow water. While under, your strict supervision within arms reach the baby will start to learn a respect for the water as they learn their limitations and boundaries.
Giving your baby the opportunity to sit up, balance and play in the shallow water is fantastic. Babies love being given an opportunity to experiment with independent splashing, playing with toys and establishing their balance. While learning balance in shallow water it is likely that the baby will topple over. For this reason, the parents must always be strictly supervising baby within arms reach. If the baby has been conditioned and is happy with submersions the parent can allow the baby to self-submerge before gently sitting the baby back up. Babies who have not been conditioned should not be allowed to topple over.
Tummy time on the shallow ledge where the baby learns to keep their face out of the water and crawl is also an important activity. The appropriateness of this activity will be determined by the depth of water available at the pool. If the water is too deep then the baby will drink the water. Ingesting large amounts of water is extremely dangerous for babies. Therefore if the water level is not appropriate parents should practice this activity at home in the bath where they can control the depth of the water. Remember all shallow water exploration must be done under strict supervision within arms reach.
If shallow water is not available at your chosen facility parents and teachers can utilise rubber floating mats. These teaching aids are great to develop babies independence and give them the freedom to, back float, learn sitting balance, practice tummy time and even crawl. Parents must never leave baby unattended on a floating mat. Floating devices do not replace adult supervision.
CONDITIONING YOUR BABY
Conditioning is the most important element in the learn to swim process and should be practiced during every home bath and every lesson. Conditioning has two objectives, initially, it is to teach the baby breath control on command but once mastered it is used to extend the baby’s breath control.
Parents and teachers can extend the baby’s breath control by counting (starting with 3 and building to 5) while pouring a cup of water over the baby’s face. This skill can be further advanced by using a larger cup or small bucket of water. Once the baby has mastered good breath control the parent and teacher can easily submerge the baby.
Submersions should always be performed in a horizontal positing allowing the water to run in a head to toe direction. Parents can perform between 6 to 12 submersions throughout the course of a lesson. However, if the baby cries or ingests water stop immediately.
Conditioning and submersion has been explained in the previous article.
Information can be sourced at Baby Swim.
Once the parent and baby are totally comfortable with submersions we can progress to free floating. Free-floating gives the baby the opportunity to truly feel their own buoyancy. Floating is the most important skill in the learn-to-swim process because it is the basis of all learn to swim. Once baby feels that fun floating sensation and that feeling of weightlessness they will become relaxed and at home in the water. There are many types of free-floating activities and these activities will evolve with the baby’s development.
Free-floating between adults is a great way to practice and is easy to adapt as the baby’s ability advances. In this exercise, there is a passing adult and a catching adult. The passing adult uses the trigger words “name, ready go”, followed by a kinaesthetic lifting trigger, then submerges and smoothly glides the baby underwater to the catching adult. In the initial stages, the catching adult will lift the baby up under the arms. As the baby grows with confidence they will be encouraged to grip the T-Shirt and pull themselves up independently.
Once floating patterns have been established and mastered we can encourage propulsive skills. Propulsion of the arms and legs is what makes us move through water. Babies use very primitive movements like a wriggle or a crawling action to move through the water. While they are not traditional swimming strokes they are sufficient for baby to move from A to B. The aim now is to establish neuromuscular patterns in the baby so that they can perform more traditional swimming actions when they are physically capable.
Word action association is used to teach propulsive movements. Word action associations is simply saying a word and following that word with an action. For example saying “kick, kick” while manipulating baby’s legs in the traditional kicking action. Word action association is taught in tandem with our “show, practice” teaching principal. We show the baby what we want and then give them an opportunity to practice. The process is consistently repeated in the learn to swim lesson until the skill is mastered.
The learn to swim lesson should be designed around the baby’s growth and development and readiness to perform swimming skills. For this reason, any programs which use force while the baby is showing signs of discomfort or distress must be avoided. Good programs will hold professional accreditation with Australia’s professional bodies Swim Australia and AUSTSWIM.