Learning to swim must be a positive experience for the parent and child. Learning through play and self exploration is a very important component of the swimming lesson. If selected carefully, games and fun activities will reinforce the skills that children are learning during the more formal part of the swimming lesson. Incorporating games into the lesson is not about filling in time. It may be necessary for swimming teacher’s to explain the value of games and play to parents. Putting thought into your lesson plan will help when developing games and activities which compliment children’s learning. Brainstorming with other teachers at your swim school can also be great for sharing ideas. Breaking games into swimming categories can also help to keep you on track, for example water familiarisation, submersion, floating games or backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle games.
For timid beginners and those who are apprehensive of the watery environment, games become vital to help children relax. During this stage of water familiarisation the teacher’s objective is to get children to feel comfortable. The teacher should select games and activities which allow children to learn how to move through the water, how to submerge and how to recover to a standing position in the water. It is important for teachers to remember how different movement in the water is compared with land based movements and how strange this would be for first time swimmers.
From birth, children have been learning to crawl, walk, roll, jump, skip and hop. Children will enjoy practicing these familiar land skills in the water and will become very excited about how the water changes these movements. Learning balance and stability in the vertical position is vital before progressions to the horizontal position required for swimming. Imaginative play where children jump like kangaroos, crawl like crocodiles or walk like a spaceman are all simple examples of activities which will compliment learning how move in the water and water familiarisation.
It is quite difficult for learners to regain their balance to a standing position after submerging and floating. Children will need to learn to bring their knees to their chest before placing their feet on the bottom, while bringing their arms to their knees and lifting their face out of the water. You can see that the description of this is far too complex for a child. For this reason, the teacher will need to demonstrate this to help children learn. During the early learning stages holding a kickboard while practicing standing up will be very useful. Remember teaching swimming is all about slowly building skills. You can then progress to unassisted recoveries once children show readiness. Picking up rings in shallow water is a favourite game for children and great to establish competent and confident submersions and recoveries. But remember you will need to build the more basic skills explained above before this game will be effective.
When introducing children to deep water, teachers will also find games, exploration and scenarios useful to aid in children’s learning. Some children who were comfortable during the phase of shallow water exploration may now show signs of apprehension. Learning simple skills like moving the hands like a monkey on the pool edge/wall and letting go and resurfacing back to the wall is essential. Pushing off into a back float, rotating through to the prone position and returning to the wall with the face submerged is also a great group activity where the teacher has full supervision of all class members.
Teachers should select activities and games which will teach children their capabilities in the deep water and educate them on the importance of water safety. Children will need to learn the basic water safety concepts of following pool rules, looking for water safety signage, never swimming alone, checking it’s safe before entering the water and self preservation during rescues. Some common deep water games and scenarios for more confident swimmers could include.
- Signally for help with one arm raised or waved above the head (children can practice this wile back floating, sculling and treading water)
- Reach rescue with a noodle to a partner in the water (children learn to get down low on the pool deck, reach out to their partner in trouble and bring them back to safety)
- Shipwreck where children are practicing getting in and out of the water safely (when the teacher calls “shark” all children have to climb out of the pool, when the teacher says “walk the plank” the children have to practice an appropriate entry)
- Teaching the progressions for diving (children learn to look for signs which may say no diving or water depths, practice streamlining and directing themselves from the bottom of the pool up to the surface of the water, seated dives and crouching dives)
Swimming lessons must also remain fun for those students who are participating in stroke development classes. It can become very easy for swimmers to become bored and lose interest and motivation during this stage of learning. The innovative teacher will learn to plan lessons that cater for stroke correction but bring together concepts of team work, building friendships and recognising performance. Games like follow the leader where children get a chance to lead the group and choose a kicking drill during the warm up can be fun and give children ownership of their learning. Relays where children are working together towards a common goal are great to encourage team work. Races can also be effective but teachers should remember to keep emphasising personal bests within these competitions and instil good values for winning and losing. Great stoke development requires slowly and progressively building perfect skills. For this reason swimming has to be very repetitive and the challenge for teachers will be to keep it fun while still correcting mistakes and ensuring that children perform all skills properly to build good neuromuscular patterns.
Lessons have to be fun for children to want to stay with the sport of swimming. It is a huge commitment for children and their parents to stay with a program from birth right through childhood and adolescence. If you as a teacher can come up with lesson plans which keep it fun and exciting while reinforcing the important concepts of stroke development and water safety then children will want to return to lessons week after week. Swimming is a unique sport which people can enjoy participating in throughout their entire lifetime. Remember the concepts and values that you instill with children as a teacher will impact them for the rest of their lives.