If you love the summer, sand and surf, teaching your kids to swim is one of the most important skills you can teach them, but where and when do you start? I interviewed swimming teacher Cody Baxter who had some great insights into Swimming lessons and she says, you’re never too young, START NOW!
Cody has been an AUSTSWIM accredited swim teacher for the past 10 years. She has extensive experience teaching infants, children with disabilities, stroke correction, competitive squads and adults. Cody enjoyed swimming and surfing from a young age and began volunteering at her local surf lifesaving club in her teens. Cody swam competitively in her teens and now competes in ocean swims as a hobby.
What age should kids start swimming lessons?
The earlier the better! Swim training starts in the womb and parents should be thinking about incorporating water familiarisation into their routine from day one. Most swim schools cater for formal swimming classes for infants at around 6 months of age although some schools have programs from as young as 3 months old. In my experience, parents should start shopping around for a local swim school that suits them around the 4 – 6 month mark. Sadly, children aged between 0 – 4 years are the age group most at risk of drowning. Due to this you want your child’s swimming career well underway before their 5th birthday.
Are there different kinds of swimming lessons kids can have? One on one a small group?
Depending on your child’s age and needs there are a few different options you can consider.
Private lessons: private lessons or one on one lessons are where your child is the only one in the class with the teacher. I highly recommend private lessons if they are affordable to you as the teacher is 100% focused on your child and their learning outcomes. This attention can mean that your child progresses quicker as there is no distraction. Your child can also learn at their own pace. However don’t rush into it! Swimming should be a fun, social activity for your kids so if they aren’t anxious in the water or have any special needs that require one on one attention pop them in a group class until they are at the stroke correction stage. Kids are also great ‘copy cats’ so sometimes having them in a class with kids who have slightly higher ability than them can give them that extra push to excel.
Group classes: group classes are your most common type of classes. Kids are normally graded into levels and have to meet a certain criteria before they can progress to the next level. Group classes have a huge focus on play based learning in the earlier stages so they are very fun for kids, teachers and parents!
Quiet classes: Quiet classes are designed specifically for kids with sensory issues, autism, ADHD or learning difficulties in mind. Your local swim school can be a hub of kids screaming, crying, laughing and running around and not to mention those grumpy squad coaches which can be sensory overload for some of their peers. Quiet classes are usually the first or last classes of the day before the rush kicks in. Teachers of these classes have extensive experience with teaching kids and adults with disabilities, learning difficulties or behavioural issues. These are a fairly new addition to classes however they are becoming increasingly popular.
Parents and babies: This is the introductory class that requires a parent or caregiver to hop in the pool with bub. There is a big focus on play based learning so it is a lot of fun. There is usually a few songs and a toys to help with your child’s learning.
How many ideally in a class?
I am a big believer in less is more when it comes to swimming. In a parent and baby session you don’t want more than 8 in a class. Any more and the instructor will struggle to spend more than 30 seconds with you and you won’t get the chance to ask the teacher questions about an activity or your child’s progress.
In a learn to swim or stroke correction class you don’t want any more than 3 – 4 kids in the class. Ideally the lower the level the less kids in the class. Ask your swim school how they decide how many kids are in the class. If they can’t give you a learning based answer than it might be time to shop around.
How involved would you like the parents to be in the class?
At the parent and babies stage the more involved and enthusiastic you can be the better. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher what the aim of each particular exercise or game may be or the best way to hold your child for the activity. In a parents and babies class there can be as many as 8 – 10 babies in a class and the teacher has to get around to everyone. If you just waiting there with your child in the mean time you are not really getting the benefit out of the class. My biggest advice would be to trust your teacher. It can be hard putting your child underwater for the first time or putting them on their back when they don’t like it but it’s better to challenge your child in a safe and positive environment. Your child will progress quicker and their love for the water will grow. Swimming lessons prepare your child for the unthinkable. You don’t want the first time they go under water to be when things go wrong so trust your teacher and give your kids the best preparation and confidence they need to excel.
Should you be consistent and do them in winter months as well?
ABSOLUTELY! Swimming in the winter can be the last thing on your mind but most pools are indoor and heated during the winter. If you tried to learn a foreign language and then didn’t speak with for 6 months you’d expect to be a bit rusty. This is the same with kids and swimming lessons. Stopping in winter can actually send them backwards and cost you a lot more money in the long run. Book in a later session and get them rugged up in their PJ’s with a nice hot chocolate on the way home. Stick with it and you’ll be impressed a how far ahead your child is in the summertime compared to the kids their age who stopped during winter.
In what ways can I help my anxious child learn to swim?
Jumping in a huge pool full of water with a stranger in a ‘instructor’ shirt doesn’t sound like a walk in the park. It’s a big step in your child’s life and first impressions are everything. Don’t make your child’s first time in a public pool or the pool you are learning at their first lesson. Take them down a few times before and let them get a feel for it.
Another big thing is the cap, goggles and swimmers. For a child anxious about the water putting on their cap, goggles and swimmers can trigger their anxiety. To help combat this, let them play around the house in their swimmers, put the cap and goggles on in bath and let them have a splash. You can also tie their towel on like a cape and make them SUPER SWIMMER KID!
With younger kids, try and get them to have a few more showers instead of baths. This will help them get used to the water on their face as well as in their ears and eyes. You can also practice blowing bubbles, kicking and paddling in the bath. If you are positive and excited about swimming your child will be too.
How do I help with separation anxiety?
Let your swim teacher know on enrolment that your child suffers with separation anxiety and the chances are they have dealt with it a million times before.
One thing to try when your child struggles with separation anxiety is to let them take their favourite bath toy into swimming class.
You can also meet the teacher before hand to get to know your child. Let the teacher know what your child is into TV shows, dinosaurs, drawing, soccer, ballet etc. This will give your teacher some easy foundation to chat to your child. As tempting as it is don’t sit on the edge of the pool unless the teacher asks you specifically. Your child needs to learn to trust their new teacher. This understandably takes some time so try to be patient.
How long does it take for a child to learn how to swim independently?
Every child is different. There are a lot of things to consider such as how long has the child been swimming for, how much aquatic experience do they have, are they fearful of the water, how many times a week do they swim? Etc. A child who goes to classes twice a week with a backyard pool ultimately may progress quicker than a child who swims once a week and is intensely fearful. Unlike school, swimming isn’t aged based so you have children of all different ages in the one class. For some kids they can learn in a day, for others if can take a year or more. Learning to swim independently can be the biggest challenge your child will face in their swimming career and after they master it there is no stopping them. It’s important you stay positive and keep going to swimming if your child isn’t progressing. I promise one day it will just click!
Can parents do anything to assist in the learning process?
Ultimately, just remain positive and encouraging. We all lead busy lives but put the phone away and try to watch your child’s lesson as much as you can so you can celebrate all the wins they have on their journey. This is one of the biggest steps your child will take at that point in their life and it will be over before you know it. So soak it up!