Learning to swim is an incredibly important skill for Kiwi children. But it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to understand what progress is being made at swim lessons, and how parents can help support their children’s learning. Kew Taggart explains.
Swimming lessons should be a positive learning experience for a young swimmer. As a parent, you should feel informed and involved in the learning process. Here are some expert tips to help you navigate the process, from choosing a provider to your child moving through progressions, and everything in between.
When booking lessons
Research the swim school. Do they have clear progression pathways? What qualifications do the instructors hold? Ask if you can’t see this.
Find an instructor that works for your child’s personality. Ask questions and explain your child’s needs and learning style.
Commit for a fair period of time. Children who attend sporadically have a slower rate of progress. The best learning happens with a consistent approach.
Check how the swim school incorporates water safety into their lessons. These are fundamental skills that could one day save your child’s life.
When attending lessons
Try to arrive at lessons in a positive way and with plenty
of time. As in any learning environment, being positive and relaxed is important. If you are stressed, your child will be as well. Feeling unsettled will markedly slow your child’s learning process and skill acquisition.
Check in with the instructor before or after the lesson. They may not have a lot time between lessons, but they do want a positive relationship with you and to see your child progress.
You know your child best, so share helpful information. It will assist the instructor in building a stronger relationship and allow for faster progress during lessons.
If you have a question or you’re unsure of your child’s progress, ask. If you need more time than the instructor has available, call into the office or look for a supervisor poolside. Swim schools want your child to improve, so if something isn’t working for you, ask the question.
Whether your child is a beginner or has had some previous swimming experience, they will fit within the progressions outlined below. Children learn at their own pace, so try not to put expectations on achieving a skill or level in a specific time frame. Before formal swimming strokes are taught, a positive relationship between your child and the water needs to be nurtured. Activities are carefully selected to encouragea positive relationship with the water. For example, in a beginner class, passing a ball while standing is increasing your child’s confidence as they participate in the activity while managing the splashes the ball make
Like any skill, swimming and water safety skills take time and practise to master. Roughly 90 correctly performed repetitions of a particular skill are required to complete a learning pathway. Swimming strokes are taught through progressions. Key skills taught build on each other to create a formal swimming stroke. When one skill is achieved, the next skill is added in. When skills are skipped through too quickly and a child isn’t allowed the time they need to learn (for example, kicking and stroking at the same time), progress can be impaired later on. Skill progression is achieved through many different teaching methods, and a good instructor will be able to adjust and use different teaching methods to best suit the needs of each student.
All of the below progressions are important in your child’s development and should be taught concurrently on both the front and back.
Confidence: Safe entries and exits, moving in the water, splashing and pouring water. These are critical in building confidence and developing an understanding and feel for the water. Learning different ways to propel through water (from walking to jumping to spinning) is good for your child’s vestibular development; the earlier they start this, the more beneficial it can be.
Submersion: After building up confidence, your child will start to learn how to submerge. They will start gradually until they are comfortable to fully submerge their body and head under the water in a relaxed way. Breath control will also be taught at this stage as part of submersion, so that your child can remain relaxed and control their breathing when in, under, or on the water.
Floating: Floating is a key water safety skill and will be taught in a variety of positions. Being able to roll onto the back and float is a crucial water safety skill.
Gliding: Floating with movement, rolling, and feeling the water move with and against you.
Kicking: Crucial for propulsion and balance in formal swimming strokes, this is where your child will move from fundamental skills to formal swimming skills. You can practise the kicking action at home – this helps with muscle memory. Ask your swimming instructor for some drills that your child can practise between swimming lessons.
Arms: The main propulsion skill in many strokes, good arm movements allow your child to move efficiently. These strokes set the rhythm. This skill can also be practised out of the water. Watch the instructor when teaching this skill and ask about the many drills your child can practise with you at home.
Breathing: Learning how to roll, breathe, and incorporate this within the natural rhythm of the swimming stroke. This allows your child to swim longer distances without having to stop. On a final note, if you do nothing else, invest in your child and ensure they learn to swim. Make it happen in whatever capacity you can; there are many options, so find one that works for your family. Learning to swim is a life skill: It opens up endless opportunities to pursue water-related recreation and, most importantly, it teaches core water safety skills that could one day save your child’s life.
Learning to swim is a life skill: It opens up end-less opportunities to explore water-related recreation
Kew Taggart is the Acting Programme and Activity Leader, Western Area for Christchurch City Council. She has over 15 years of experience as a learn to swim instructor, swim coach, and swim school manager in the South Island