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The Laurie Lawrence swimming and water safety program for children under the age of 4, revolves around certain basic philosophies, these include;
- Children’s grown and development
- Building swimming skills
- Encouraging independence
- And insisting on parental involvement
These four values lead us to our underling goal which is to develop exceptional swimming skills and technique at the earliest possible age.
By 2 years of age, if given the opportunity, children can be independently mobile in deep water under strict adult supervision. They will be able to demonstrate efficient vertical safety turns where they return to the pools ledge. They even have the physically capabilities to lift their head for a breath, continue swimming and reach for a high wall of a pool. At this stage of children’s learning, if we want to develop exceptional little swimmers, our focus turns to building swimming skills and using physical manipulation to develop muscle memory which leads to the correct execution of the swimming skill.
Even though children have mastered independent swimming, it is essential to return to the basic foundation skill of floating. In all floating activities, we are looking to obtain a good streamlined body position. We can use a variety of floating skills on both the front and the back. Our goal is for children to maintain a float for ten seconds. Initial floating attempts should always be performed with assistance from a kickboard. As the child demonstrates confidence and ability we advance to unassisted streamline attempts.
Mastering unassisted streamline floating requires the parent and the teacher to break the skill down into very simple steps so the child can learn easily. Our first step is to teach children to hold the kickboard while keeping their arms straight. Teaching this skill may be difficult if instructors have previously allowed children to lie on top of the kickboard. Let us now consider that it is best not to introduce activities or skills, which lead to bad habits and poor technique, that will need to be corrected later. Once children understand how to hold the board, we then advance to putting the face underwater working up to ten seconds. This activity can be done on a shallow teaching ledge or on the parent’s outstretched arms. Finally we work towards a push and float either from a seated or crouched position.
Parents and teachers should not encourage independent streamline floating, until floating patterns with a kickboard have been established and mastered. If the patterns are well established with the board, it will be very simple to master unassisted streamline floating. Again teaching children the position of the arms and the hands is most important. It is vital that children learn to position the arms behind the ears, keep their chin down and hands positioned firmly on top of one another. Parents should be educated by the teacher to always correct and insure that their child starts with the correct streamline position. By doing so we will instil a great automatic response and habits which will stay with the child as they progress through the entire learn to swim program.
Similarly, back floating should always be taught progressively, we start with assisted floating with a board and work towards unassisted floating for ten seconds. A ledge is particularly useful in teaching back floating. Here children feel secure as they perform their initial attempts in very shallow water. Teachers should also encourage parents to perform this back floating at home in the bath tub. If a shallow ledge isn’t available parents can use other means to make their child feel secure. If parents sink down low in the water and put their own head back, the child can then lie cheek to cheek with their parent and be supported on the parents shoulder and upper chest. Children should be encouraged to keep their head back and push their tummy up while they hold the board fingers on top and thumbs underneath.
Once children are happy for the count of ten floating on the ledge or parents shoulder, they can be assisted into deep water. Parents should stand behind their child, support them gently under the head and back and look them in the eye so they feel secure. A counting target works well for young children as they soon understand they only have to stay still for 3, 5 or ten seconds. The teacher and parent will soon observe the child become more relaxed with back floating activities. Parents will be able to provide less and less support for their child as they simply run the fingers up the back towards the head, changing hands as they go, until they will be able to take the hands away completely. If children are floating well with the board in open water, it is very easy to simply take the board away. The parent and teacher can now start again with the floating routine on the ledge, this time without the child using a kickboard.
By practicing a variety of floating skills we teach children to relax in the water. This relaxation leads to children learning to move naturally and easily through the water, instead of struggling and using thrashing movements to keep them afloat. When introducing propulsive skills it’s important that we use physical manipulation to teach children what the movement is supposed to look and feel like. We always use a show practice teaching axiom by first showing and then letting the child practice independently. This routine is consistently repeated by the parent throughout the entire swimming lesson. By doing this the parent is facilitating and enhancing their child’s learning by instilling neuromuscular patterns and muscle memory which their child will use in the further to perform exceptional independent swimming skills.
When performing the kicking action the movement should be fast and small, with the legs relatively straight aiming for a floppy foot action. We simply tell the children ‘fast little kicks, fast little kicks’ as we manipulate the legs in the correct action. First unassisted kicking attempts are best practiced in shallow water. Here the child is able to kick independently but the depth of the water restricts the depth or the kick and encourages better execution of the skill. The parent and teacher should use physical manipulation throughout regular intervals in the swimming lesson. In fact every time their child swims to them, the parent should show them something, or give them a constructive and positive correction.
There are a variety of front and back kicking drills which the teacher can use throughout the course of the swimming lesson. It’s important to remember that small children thrive on routine but do get bored easily. Therefore use a variety of activities to maintain their interest but do not progress until the skills have been mastered. Also ensure that there is maximum practice time during the lesson so that the children don’t have time to get bored. Wave formation where children work together or using a circuit where the activities get mixed up will also help aid in children’s learning.
During 2 to 3 years of age children will also become more efficient with their paddling skills. The propulsive drive is obtained via the underwater pull action. During this age we simply focus on teaching children a long pull down the centreline. We give them physical manipulation so that they can feel how to pull the water and we give them the verbal description of ‘long slow paddles’. At this age we are simply trying to teach them a feel of the water and do not encourage an above water arm recovery. During activities where the child is independently swimming to their parent, teachers can encourage the parent to move their arms under the water as the child swims. In this instance the child can see and copy the paddling action that their parent is demonstrating. The ‘show, practice’ teaching routine remains important for the child to master efficient paddling skills.
All the skills and drills that we use in this age group have been designed to enhance and develop great swimming technique. During this age group we are not interested in the children swimming long distances. We are more concerned with the children maintaining good swimming technique over short distances. Repeated short distance swims between 4 and 6 meters are ideal for children of this age. Because of children’s physical capabilities, long distance swims will often result in the child displaying poor swimming technique. For this reason we encourage teachers to challenge the children with longer intermittent swims but the main focus should remain on consist short distance swims.
Remember learning to swim must be a positive experience for both parent and child. Our job as swimming teachers is to create a positive learning environment where children will love to learn to swim. Games, songs, and toys do have a place in the learn to swim lesson but remember they should always have a swimming related purpose. Toys can be more of a distraction for children of this age so try to make the water the children’s playground.