Swim Lesson Tips
For a child, learning to swim can feel like an adult learning to skydive. The rules of gravity are suspended, and this foreign place can be a fearful experience for new learners. Some parents don’t realize this and unknowingly look to throw the child in the water, or force a child into learning sooner than they are ready. Swimming is learning to balance oneself in a new environment. A good instructor will gently bring the child outside his comfort zone each lesson, but not so far as to invoke fear. The gradual path is most often the most successful in this arena.
Floaties – These devices actually retard a child’s progress for proper swimming. Though parents use these with good intentions, the problem lies in the fact that floaties are designed to keep the child vertical in the water, and a bent leg kick is then developed to navigate around the pool. When floaties are taken off, the child instinctively tries to kick the same way, and this kick forces her down under water where even greater fear sets in. Children who’ve not used floaties tend to learn about two to three times faster than the floaties kids. Not surprisingly this disclaimer is never found on the carton of floaties at the store.
Keep the water temperature warm. 86 degrees minimum, 90-94 ideal, says the United States Swim School Association, an organization of over 250 swim schools nationwide. Because of the liquid medium, a pool feels about 20 degrees cooler than air temperature to a child. A 90 degree pool is like 70 degree air. The focus should be on learning well, and shivering and blue lips make for less effective retention.
Regarding distractions, excessive noise or stimulus in the environment inhibits learning. This is why some parents opt for in-home lessons rather than public lessons. On one hand, public lessons can be a great social scene for both parents and kids, and this works for some. For others, however, trust of the water is built more easily in one’s own pool. Simply asking the child their preference may be the key.
During lesson time make sure things are kept fun and playful. Children’s attention spans are short, so keeping them engaged with water toys and skills work wonders for the lesson. When it comes to effective teaching, it’s 75% enthusiasm and 25% educated skill. Finding a good personality match between child and teacher can catapult learning forward dramatically. At HappySwimmer, we know how to make that match and our success rate proves it.
ALL children in lessons learn to swim eventually; just as all children learn to walk, some get it a little sooner, some a little later, but all do. Enjoy the process, and enjoy the child’s achievements along the way. A new arena of play is opening up for them and the whole family to enjoy. Let water learning be a safe and enjoyable experience and the rewards will last a lifetime.
Question: At what age can my child be brought in the water?
Infants before the age of 12 months can be taken in the water. Make it a fun experience, and keep the water nice and warm, 90-94 degrees. These little ones lose body heat up to four times faster than adults. A 20-minute water session is a good limit. Do not take an infant under water, unless you are with a properly trained and experienced instructor. There are special submersion methods used so that the baby does not ingest chlorinated water.
Question: At what age can my child learn to swim?
Infants and toddlers can learn to swim in these formidable years, however it generally takes daily lessons for 9 months to develop the reliability of their swimming. It is very rare in today’s Los Angeles hectic schedules to have parents be able to commit to daily lessons for 9 months to meet that goal. This is also backed up by several large established Infant Swim Schools of the US Swim School Association, of which we are a member.
So the answer is, a child can learn at any age, but it is usually more convenient for the family if a child starts to learn closer to the age of 2 and up.
Question: Should my child use goggles while learning to swim?
Goggles are ok for 3 year olds and up during lessons—IF they fit well and don’t leak much. We encourage parents to get quality goggles, like Speedo’s for children, not the $1.50 pair from the drugstore which leak incessantly. A decent, quality pair of goggles can be very useful in the early stages of learning swimming.
Question: How do I build trust with my child in teaching them to swim?
Building trust with the child student in the water is an important component to getting them to learn swimming with grace. Whenever the issue seems to present itself, we encourage the parent to say to the child, “I‘ll never let go of you unless you say it’s ok…I promise…” Then stick to that! Even moving back while a child swims to you can erode that trust. Be careful of your word. Children remember!
Question: How should we use rings on the steps or bottom of the pool?
Incrementally place the rings a bit deeper throughout the Swim Lesson visits. Suggest to the child to grab the ring with one hand while using their other hand to hold your hand for balance. Be sure to offer them your hand if you are taking them to the ring on the bottom, too.
Whenever going under whether for rings or other swimming or jumping from the wall, QUEING is key. What’s queing?—Saying “Ready… (Child repeats back, “ready”…. One…two…three. <and go under, or jump, etc> When taking a child under, do so smoothly and then take them back up to the surface smoothly.
Question: How should I take a child under water?
When taking a child under, it is important to do so smoothly and then take them back up to the surface smoothly. We have seen it 100 times over, that a parent, when taking the child under, will be very abrupt going under and coming up. The child responds to the force of the parent’s movements much more so than the actual going under. Smooth and calm submersions are the key to success and helping the child to feel safe and thus learn quickly.
A child can hold their breath easily for at least 5-7 seconds. That’s a long time. Give it a try…. A thousand one… a thousand two …a thousand three…a thousand four…a thousand five…a thousand six…a thousand seven (plenty of time to do it smoothly and gently.)
QUEING: Queing is a very effective way to help develop trust, ease and grace in your child’s learning. Queing looks like this, You que the child by saying “Ready, one, two, three jump!” Or instead of jump, it could be taking the child slowly under water. Queing is way to prepare them for whatever is about to happen.
JUMPS FROM THE SIDE: This is self explanatory. Jumps from the side must be done in the medium depth of the pool. Reinforce “Toes on the edge” before jumping so the child has good footing of the side. Reinforce the QUEING . “Ready, one, two, three, jump! ” Allow the child to hold your hand(s) if requested, but progressively through the Swim Lesson visits, move to holding only one hand, then jumping with no hands, then gradually increasing the distance, and eventually having them kick to you.
A MID SWIM LESSON FUN GAME
I give the children “milkshakes” or “wash machine rides.” These are fun games that help to keep the lesson lively. For milkshakes, I hold a child facing me, and swish from side to side while singing the milkshake song with them. Then I go, “1-2-3, and lift them high out of the water to the right, then down and to the left, and once more up to the right and down. The height is done to their comfort level, and occasionally I will even gently toss them up into the air. The milkshake song words go: “milkshake, milkshake, chocolate and banana, make ME a MILKSHAKE as fast as you CAN-NA….1-2-3, <and up we go>. I’ll also ask them prior, “what flavor would you like to be today?” Oh, Strawberry….Good!” This always gets the kids laughing and helps ease some of their tension and relax into the rest of the lesson.
See our list of answers to common swim questions.