I love attending weekly swimming lessons with my daughter Harper, who is turning 3 this month. Not only does it give me special one on one time with her without any distractions, but it gives me some great inspiration and ideas for my own swimming teaching. This week I particularly enjoyed the lesson that our teacher Jane planned for the class. It was a great mix of fun, independence and skill building, with that important parental manipulation and reinforcement of swimming skills.
To give you an idea of the class background, all of the children in the class have been swimming together since 4 months of age and some attend 2 lessons per week. There are 6 booked into the class but on this particular day only 4 were in attendance. We have a half hour lesson but because there were only 4 in the class we were able to fit more skills into the allocated time. The children are between 2 and a half to 3 years of age and are confident independent swimmers. They are all capable of popping up for a breath and many are capable of swimming and rolling onto their back for water safety skills. Mum or Dad is still in the water with their child to give one on one direction and encouragement.
Kicking on the Shallow Ledge
We started with warm up kicking on the shallow ledge. Here we alternated between independent kicking and manipulated kicks by the parent to reinforce the correct motor skills. This simple warm up is always the same, children thrive on routine and it makes it very easy for the parents and children to enter the water at their own time without class disruption. This is also an opportunity for the teacher Jane to greet all the children individually. This warm up lasts about 5 minutes in total and allows all class members to be ready to start by 10.05.
Bucket of Toys
Today Jane gets a bucket of toy donuts and empties them near the rope 3 meters from the shallow ledge where the children are sitting. The parent is instructed to stand at the rope (or a distance their child can swim) so that the children can independently swim to them on the ‘ready go’ cue. We are still enforcing the ‘ready go’ cue but now this is for safety as the child is learning to be invited into the pool. Once the child reaches the parent they can pick up 2 coloured donuts and hold these donuts as they return to the ledge in an assisted back float back. The toy donuts are used for incidental learning as the parent talks to their child about the colour, but importantly it is used as a distraction for those children who are resisting back floating activities. Once the children get close to the ledge they are performing an independent recovery from the back floating position and pulling themselves up on the shallow ledge. This activity continues until all the toy donuts are retrieved and takes approximately 5 minutes.
The next activity requires the class to follow a square circuit with the parent travelling around the pool with their child to give direction and assistance. Circuits are great for children of this age group because the fast rotation of skills keeps the children engaged. Children at this age group do have a very limited attention span. The children are encouraged to crocodile under a tunnel on the shallow ledge. Jane wants the parents to ensure that the children are doing this skill correctly. If performed correctly the crocodile allows the children to practice long reaches which will help develop their paddling skills. It also keeps children in a horizontal position as they take a breath which assists in the pop up breathing action. Once children complete their crocodile they perform an underwater stingray. This underwater stingray is designed to teach children to swim along the bottom of the pool. The children are encouraged to crouch on the shallow ledge with their over, put their eyes in and bottom up as they push to the bottom of the pool. There are a variety of ability levels in this skill but the parent is there to assist and guide the child along the bottom of the pool. The children love this underwater stingray but it’s also an important water safety skill as the children are experimenting with buoyancy and learning their capabilities. The next step is a push and back float off the wall with parental support where needed. Again the children revise a previously introduced skill and perform an independent recovery to a shallow water table in the middle of the pool. The final part of the circuit requires the children to perform an independent swim back to the shallow ledge where they will start their crocodile again. Circuits take time and children should have at the very least 4 laps through the station. So make sure that you allocate enough time in your lesson plan, approximately 10 minutes.
Correct Kicking & Paddling
The next activity is designed to reinforce the correct kicking and paddling actions while teaching the children to work together as a group and follow instructions. Jane had all the children stand up on the shallow ledge and practice their paddles on the spot. The parents were at the rope 3 meters away also demonstrating the paddling action. The children were then instructed to swim out to their parents. Once the children reached their parents the group did 10 manipulated paddles on the parents lap before retuning back to the side of the pool. Once again the children are not only receiving good swimming instruction but incidental learning with the maths concept of counting. On the next wave the children focus on the kicking skill. We alternated this routine 6 times before moving on to the next activity.
Build on the Previous Skill Set
You should notice that all the activities in this lesson plan complement one another or build on the previous skill set. This next wave formation activity revisits the stingray skill as the children to swim through mum’s or dad’s legs. They return to the ledge by pushing off the parent’s legs. This is a vital step in their learning as many children need to learn the technique of pushing off correctly. I’m sure you would have regularly seen children who enter bottom first instead of pushing off properly with their eyes in. Again the focus is on toes over the ledge, eyes in and bottom up as they push to the bottom. The children are becoming more competent at this skill now because it has been practiced previously in the lesson plan. After practicing this skill about 4 or 5 times Jane introduces a class challenge which makes the parents and children very enthusiastic.
End of Class Challenge
The end of class challenge was for the children to climb out on the high wall, and perform a seated dive to the bottom of the pool to retrieve a sink toy. The climbing out skill is very important for safety, but the dive to the bottom is equally important. Being able to swim to the bottom of the pool opens up the world of exploratory play, this teaches children their capabilities in the water and also develops their understanding of buoyancy. While all the children are capable of climbing out of the pool independently many still require gentle assistance to reach the bottom of the pool. There is one boy in the class who is particularly skilled at independently swimming to the bottom but the majority of the others still require assistance. Jane instructs the parents to help them to the bottom if needed but allow them an opportunity to resurface independently. All the parents and children are thrilled with the activity and it’s a great way to end the class.
Now that our time is up Jane gathers the group for a goodbye song. This helps the children to realise that it’s time to hop out of the pool and allows Jane to eyeball all children and tell them what a great job they have done. We finish with a slow and then a fast teddy bear song that goes like this. “Teddy bear teddy bear up and down, teddy bear teddy bear swim around, teddy bear teddy bear to and fro, teddy bear teddy bear time to go”.
I hope this lesson plan has given you some food for thought. I love learning more and more about swimming teaching by participating and watching other instructor’s lessons. If you don’t physically participate in lessons with your own child I would encourage you to go and observe some of your fellow teachers. It really does open up new ideas and topics for discussion which will help to improve your swimming teaching.
Let me know your swimming lesson plans? Comment below.