Swimming: Necessary Skill or Too Dangerous?

imageLast month when I was doing research for my article on Water Safety Awareness Month, I accidentally came across a swim lesson related question in a forum for moms.

When I first read it a stream of emotions instantly flooded my brain: shock, anger, disbelief, disappointment. It may be due to my passion for educating every individual on the planet about the life-saving skill of swimming. The only words I could think for the next…well it seemed like minutes, but you know how adrenaline alters our concept of time…were “are you joking!?!”

In my world, it’s a question that should never be asked, but after I took a closer look, I realized it wasn’t from a concerned parent. It was simply to ignite discussion. And it did. And just about every answer given was correct. One even gave an all out promotion of the school where they take lessons (Emler Swim School, good people, we know them, small world!)

Ok, no more suspense. Here it is.

Swimming: Necessary skill or too dangerous?

Some moms view swimming as a necessary life skill their children must learn, while others think it’s too dangerous and should be avoided all together. And some in the middle could take it or leave it as a hobby their kids may or may not like. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Why?

See why I thought it was a silly question? I mean, I am aware of the dangers of being around a pool. And swim lessons do take place in a pool. Every swim instructor I have ever known is aware of the dangers and takes every precaution to avoid them. But I suppose there are swim teachers somewhere that don’t. Just as some restaurants earn good grades and others are shut down for rodents or roaches.

Anyhow, like I said, most of the answers were “correct.” But some were just unforgettable.

Here are my favorites – copied and pasted – no editing:

“Your kids will never fall into a soccer game and not survive. They could, however, fall into a pool and not survive.”

“It is far better to have this set of skills and never need them, than not have them and die.”

“Ironically the US Olympic team posted a video today of one of their athletes, a swimmer, who almost drown at age 5 while at a water park with his father. His name is Cullen Jones. Google him.”

“Crossing the road is dangerous, but we teach our kids to do that!!!”

“maybe if these parents put the bubble wrap on their already overly protected kids, they will float if they come across a body of water.”

And this is what I would have posted if I wanted to contribute to the discussion:

“There is only one danger in learning to swim. It is when parents stop constantly watching their children in or around a pool once their children have learned how to swim.”

And……… I’ve just saved some lives today!

So what would your answer be?

7 Things to Look for in a Learn To Swim Program

So you’ve decided to enroll your child in swim lessons. Smart choice! For some parents this is a no-brainer. Their child has been begging to go swimming and can’t wait to hop in the pool. Other parents have put off this moment as long as they could. Understandable, because their children might not be as eager about swimming.

IP class

You can maximize your child’s excitement and minimize their resistance by choosing the swim program that best fits your needs.

You must do some research before choosing a swim lesson program for your child. Here’s what you should look for.

1. Reputation. We are so lucky to have resources like Yelp and Google Reviews to rely on when searching for a restaurant, dentist, auto mechanic, or just about anywhere you can think of to spend your money. You can use rating and review sites to help you choose a swim program or swim school.

Pair this research with recommendations from people you know. Especially parents whose children currently have school, sports, or other activities in common with yours.

2. Facility. Visit the location and ask questions!

Is the pool indoors or outdoors? Obviously there are climates that allow year-round lessons outdoors and climates that don’t. Some will cancel classes when it’s raining, some won’t. Almost all pools will close due to lightning. Keep in mind that continuous swim lessons are more beneficial than a two week crash course. Would you sign up for just two weeks of karate or piano each year?

Is the facility clean? Note the cleanliness of the pool, the deck, restrooms, and the furniture. You may also wonder whether your child will be swimming in a salt water pool, but it generally doesn’t make much difference if they are in the pool for less than 45 minutes.

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Don’t take lessons here.

Is the water heated? Your child’s comfort is important. It is difficult to teach a cold, shivering student to relax and discover their buoyancy.

Is the pool and surrounding area kid-friendly? Consider more than just safety. Pool toys and teaching equipment should be available, and learning to swim should be fun. If the students don’t enjoy learning, their progress can be stunted. Do you want to be the parent that has to drag your kids kicking and screaming to swim lessons, or the one whose children are constantly asking when they get to go again?

3. Viewing lessons. Do you want to be able to watch your child’s swim classes up close or from any angle? There are also advantages to being on the other side of the glass yet still able to see everything. Do you want to be able to communicate with the instructor before, during, or after the lessons? Most well planned swim programs provide any or all of the above options.

Hubbard Family Swim School

Photo courtesy of Hubbard Family Swim School

4. Instructors. For many it’s worth seeking out an experienced, mature and reliable swim teacher. That teacher will be able to recognize your child’s abilities and focus on them to create successful lessons. They will know how to motivate your child. A reliable instructor provides consistency. While you’re checking out the facility, watch the instructors for a few minutes. Do they appear confident in their teaching abilities? Do their students appear to be safe? Do they look like they are enjoying their job?

5. Class Size. Can your child swim on their own? I’m not talking about laps of freestyle or a stealth butterfly. Can they play around and get from one end of the pool to the other all afternoon? If not, you should consider private or semi-private (two students) classes. You might see 6-10 kids in an hour long gymnastics class, but safety is compromised with that many students in a swim class. Also, fewer students per class allows the teacher to adapt instruction to each child’s individual needs.

Will all of these children be safe while waiting for their turn with the teacher? 

6. Teaching Methods. Swim programs cover the whole spectrum from one extreme to another, like Montessori to Military School. You have your loving-nurturing-let’s-make-it-a-game methods or the strictly-goal-oriented-no-matter-what methods and everything in between. You as the parent know what is best for your child. Don’t hesitate to ask about the teaching approach of any learn to swim program.

7. Goals. Find out what the program’s goals are for their students and how they attain them. Do you want your child to be water safe*? Do you want your child to learn the four competitive strokes? Keep in mind it is much easier to children to learn swim strokes after they have become water safe*.

*Remember even the best swimmer is NOT safe in the water without an adult watching them at ALL TIMES!

What to Expect from Infant Swim Lessons

It is NEVER too early to enroll your child in swim lessons. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recognizes that infants and toddlers can benefit from early exposure to water safety and swimming classes.  A few years ago I wrote in support of the AAP’s revision of their previous recommendation  to wait on swim lessons until the age of four, and shared my experience with infant lessons.

But what exactly can you expect from swim lessons for an infant? Here is a more indepth look at what might happen as you begin an aquatic program with your infant.

1. Swim diaper requirements. Most swim lesson programs or community pools require a cloth, reusable swim diaper alone or over a disposable swim diaper. The cloth swim diaper should be snug, but not too tight around the legs and waist. Its purpose is to contain fecal accidents. This prevents pool closures, and you know you don’t want to be the one responsible for everyone’s lessons getting canceled! My favorite reusable swim diaper is made by Finis and can be ordered online or can be found for sale in most swim schools. I personally recommend you use a DISPOSABLE swim diaper like Huggies Little Swimmers under the cloth swim diaper. It makes for easier clean up in case of a fecal accident. Also if you are waiting for your class to start with a baby on your lap, you will not get soaked by a pee accident, since the cloth diapers do not hold liquid.

2. Swim diaper trick.  If you decide to forgo the disposable swim diaper underneath the cloth one, here’s a trick you should know. Put on a REGULAR disposable diaper under the required cloth swim diaper if you want to get ready before you arrive or if you arrive early to class. Then you can simply remove the tape and pull the disposable diaper out without even taking off the cloth when you are ready to hop in the pool.

Now for the real stuff!

3. Your first class. Your baby is becoming acclimated to a new environment. Even if your infant is used to being in a tub, pool, or spa, and loves the water, they might be distracted by activity going on around you. Be patient and give them time to take it all in. Have fun with them and enjoy their reactions as they explore new tactile sensations.

4. Bond with your baby. If your Olympic swimming expectations are not met right away, this is the perfect time to develop a strong bond with him. He will realize it is you who will give him security at a time when he is apprehensive, and that is something that you will both be grateful for the rest of your lives.

Enjoy this time with your infant. Splash a little, play with toys and bubbles, smile and laugh with them, and sing songs. This is essential to learning to swim. A baby having fun in the water is more likely to love swimming and consequently learn much more quickly and willingly. Maintaining and retaining skills will never become a battle.

5. Kicking. Some babies will innately start kicking as soon as you put them in a pool. Some will kick when you swish them around in the water. Others will just chill out and remain motionless. None of these are wrong! Your goal at this age is safety, and babies can become safer around water even if they are not kicking. Some prefer to use arms for propulsion. Babies who are not making forward progress in the water can still be taught to come up for a breath. It may not be ideal, but it buys you time should they need to be “rescued” after an impromptu jump in the pool. It is important to focus on and solidify your baby’s strengths at this time. All babies are different and they can only learn what their level of coordination and development allows.

6. Back floating. You have probably seen amazing videos of babies rolling onto their backs to survive. This is obviously possible, and I’ve had a few students in my 20 years of teaching who just naturally rolled that way. However, it’s not always the best scenario for everyone. If your priority is for your infant to roll on his back as soon as possible, you must have a thick skin. Babies go through periods of development where they are comfortable on their backs with assistance and periods where they throw their arms and feet up in protest. Once their limbs are in the air, their face goes under, and what good is being on your back at that point? When you see these wonder babies floating on their backs, their bodies are rigid in order to keep their balance. This is not a fool-proof life-saving technique if there is any motion in the water such as that caused by other swimmers moving about. If you want your baby to enjoy swimming and be happy and comfortable, don’t force your expectations on them. Feel out their comfort level when they are on their back, offer the appropriate support for that level, sing songs and rock them, and most importantly take it at their pace.

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Adrienne’s first under water picture at 6 months

7. Going under water. Most babies will be able to go under water on their first or second lesson. The key to success is giving them the proper cues. The cues, like “One, two, three, GO!” should be given clearly, slowly, and consistently. In a Parent & Me class, the instructor will be able to teach you how to hold your baby while taking them under water. Your baby’s first dips will be very quick and shallow, and most infants learn to hold their breath after the first two to three times. When it is done correctly, your baby will not choke or swallow water. Over time you will be able to lengthen the amount of time they are under, and eventually it will be long enough to let go!

8. Research your options. I taught swim lessons at few different places before landing at AQua Wave. I’ve also visited many other swim schools who are USSSA members, so I’ve seen a range of teaching methods in a variety of facilities over the years. Ideally, you should find a warm, kid-friendly environment. You may be paying a little more for professional, seasoned instructors, but it might be worth it. It all depends on you and your baby’s needs and goals. Teaching methods vary too. Ask yourself if you want your child to enjoy swimming and retain the skills for a lifetime. If you do I recommend a more nurturing, less military style of teaching.

Remember that whichever method you choose; any action is better than no action. Every swim lesson your baby takes buys you more time in the case of an aquatic emergency.