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Swim Tips for the Little Ones
by John Tyler

Originally appeared in LA Family Magazine, July 2003

Did you know that drowning leads the list of preventable children’s accidents in California? And that of all forms of children’s drowning, silent drowning is the most common? Non-swimming children, toddlers especially, mistake the dangers of a serene pool, and once they slip under the water, a cry for help can’t be heard.

What can parents do? Water acclimation for youngsters followed by swimming lessons from a trained, experienced swim instructor is a good start. Also, a CPR course refresher is a smart step. How much do you remember from your last CPR class? This article will focus on what makes for effective swim lessons.

First of all, parents ask, how soon should my child learn and what can they learn?

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.

What about toddlers (13-24 months)?

For actual swimming, infants and toddlers can learn to do so, but it takes basically 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.

We suggest with integrity and awareness to your pocketbook: enjoy the water on your own with these little ones--do jumps from the side, sing songs and have fun with them yourself. Then next year, come back to us and they'll have a head-start on being comfortable in the water, and you'll have saved yourself a wad of cash! We respect your time and money, and hope to see you later from being honest with you now.

For a child, learning to swim can feel like an adult learning to skydive. Some parents don’t realize this and unknowingly look to throw the child in the water, or force a child into learning in this foreign place where normal rules of gravity are suspended. 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. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Floaties – These devices actually retard a child’s progress for proper swimming. Though parents use these with good intentions, the problem lies in 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 and 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.

Another tip: 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, the noisier or more stimulus in the environment, the less 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, and water toys and skills work wonders for the lesson. In much of good teaching, it’s 75% enthusiasm and 25% educated skill. Finding a good personality match between child and teacher can catapult learning forward.

One last tip: ALL children in lessons learn to swim eventually; just as all children learn to walk, some a little sooner, some a little later, but all do. Enjoy the process, enjoy the child’s achievements. A new arena of play is opening up for them and the whole family to enjoy. Bring water learning forth in trust and the rewards will last a lifetime.

John Tyler is the owner of Happy Swimmers USA and has been teaching children to swim for over 15 years in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Hawaii. He also has taught over 36,000 students in CPR and lifeguarding courses. He may be reached at 818.530.4117 or www.happyswimmers.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do we have openings at this time?
Through May and into June, there is usually good instructor availability. By July, we're 90% full, but if you have more open times/days we can usually serve you. August onward have good openings.

How am I assigned my instructor?
We match the days and times you've requested, and your child's age and ability to the instructor with the best experience with your child's age group. Our instructors have a minimum of 3 years swim lesson teaching experience and child development backgrounds; click here to see their page. Once you're assigned an instructor, you have them for the season. With this in mind, it's best to start earlier in the season, rather than later. Then in August, there are more openings.

If I find I want to increase or decrease lesson time once started is that ok?
Yes. What's best for the child's learning is best for all. Just inform your instructor, and we will bill or credit you.

May I enroll and pay for one trial lesson even though your site asks for 8 pre-paid?
Short answer, no, we don't allow trial lessons. That's just for scheduling sake of our instructors coming to your home. It's very challenging to block out time and accept clients on a one lesson basis. However, if you're not pleased or things don't work out, for any reason, we refund you whatever was unused of your prepayment. This is very rare, happening with less than 5% of our love-bug children.

How many times a week do you suggest for lessons? Some programs say daily intensives for two weeks straight, etc.
We feel best learning is three times a week, but also twice a week can work. Once a week is just too infrequent as children forget too much in between lessons. The younger the age of the child, the more lessons per week is better. Yet, if a child is a bit older (3+) and is in the pool at his home in between lessons, twice a week is ok. Programs doing daily lessons for two weeks straight burns up a lot of client money fast, whereas you can work with the child yourself on what he or she's learning in between and be fine in many cases. However, if a child is near-swimming, and doesn't have his own pool, daily intensives for two weeks work well.

What's makes your program different than the rest?
First of all its the staff. Their experience is the highest of any local programs. And you keep the same instructor all season, which builds trust. Trust between student and teacher is the "hidden" key and we constantly build on it. Our teachers tell their students squarely eye to eye: "I will never let go of you in the pool until you tell me it's ok." (No suprises, no dunking or forcing.) Soul to soul, a bond is formed. Each lesson we go just outside the child's comfort zone, with beautiful encouragement. That's our path to swimming (and you save thousands of dollars in adult therapy bills later because a child wasn't taumatized in swimming). It says it at the title bar across our site: "Loving Swim Lessons at Home." How many companies anywhere have Loving in their title?

How long will it take for my children to swim or be "water safe"?
Always the million dollar question, and anyone who answers that definitively without being in the water with your child, is either a rookie, or trying too hard to get your money. Each child progresses differently, as stated above in the teaching tips article. We tell the parents to look for good progress. You know where your child began, and you see where they're at. With good progress happening, keep supporting it. Your instructor can give you a truly informed perspective after the first few lessons. It could be a few lessons for adults, a month or two of lessons for chidren, or into next Summer for toddlers. Support the progress, not a fixed date.

Your site speaks of children's lessons, do you do adult lessons too? What's the difference?
Yes, we do adult lessons. I suggest 40 min lesson length for adults. With adults, it's usually 80% overcoming fear of water/deep end, and 20% mechanical. We understand this, compassionately, and will be there for you, with no surprises. Adults don't usually need as many swim lessons to learn once the fear dissolves. How many lessons? Start out with 4-6, and take it from there.

How about stroke refinement, water polo or diving skills?
We have specialists on staff for that as well, for all ages: kids and adults.

Can we start or continue lessons into the Fall?
Yes. If you are starting lessons July 20th or later, our 8 lesson prepayment is dropped to 4 lessons. We have clients on a case by case basis continue into November sometimes. Try us in the Winter too. As long as the pool is heated warm, and the outside temperature is pleasant, we're game.

Any other questions call or email us!
We look forward to serving you....click on over to our enrollment page...

L.A. area callers: 818.530.4117
or Toll free: 866.530.4117
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