Swim Lessons 101

By Jenni Halem.

The weather is getting warmer and before you know it those neighborhood pools are going to be filled with hundreds of children splashing around while parents relax in a lounge chair reading a magazine while sipping refreshing drinks soaking in the vitamin D.   OK, so maybe this isn’t a realistic picture of what a day at the pool is like but it definitely was my dream when my kiddos were little.  Instead, I spent my hours in the sun chasing kids with hands full of sunscreen, trying to watch 3 kids at once to make sure all heads were above water and breathing air.  One was typically latched on to my side with their arms around my neck while the other two were at opposite ends of the pool screaming “watch me mommy” while they jumped in 12 feet of water while I panicked wondering if they were ever coming back to the surface.  I dreamed of the day that my kids could swim well enough that I could relax just a little.  I knew my eyes would never stop scanning the pool for these precious little faces but the ease of mind that knowing they had survival type skills at a minimum was a highly sought after dream.  Step one:  swim lessons.   Step two: swim lessons? Where? Who? How?

I recently had the pleasure of observing a swim lesson program in action at the Rockville LA Fitness Center.  SafeSplash Swim School is an independently owned and operated franchised location of the nation’s leading learn to swim brand.   I had never heard of them before but left my observation time completely impressed by the organization. This experience had me thinking, what makes one swim school standout more than another?   What should a parent look for in a program for their children?  Can’t you just hire a teenager who appears to know how to swim to teach your child?   Should I do a group or a private lesson?  Ahhh, so many questions.   To help you out, I’ve broken down a few things to keep in mind while shopping for swim lessons from a parent who’s been there and lived to tell about it.

  • Teacher credentials: Ask what training the instructors have had and what/if any certifications they hold.   It may be very tempting to hire the teenager in the neighborhood for pennies over the organized swim school but think hard about that decision.  Does this teenager not only know how to swim but also know how to TEACH it?  There is a difference between being able to do and being able to teach.  Learning to swim involves a series of progressions where one skill depends of the mastery of the previous skill.  Skipping around could not only be fruitless but also leave you and your child frustrated.
  • Class size and placement: Children should be placed in classes based on skill level and age range.  Find out what skills are expected of your child for each level and make sure you have a clear understanding of what skills need to be mastered to advance to the next level.   There are special situations that require children to be in private learning environments.  Children with special needs, are anxious around water or have trouble learning in a group situation should be considered for private lessons.  For the majority of children a small group environment will work just fine and the children will also gain valuable social skills as a bonus.  How to work with others and take turns are only a few.  In my opinion, a 1:4 instructor to student ratio is an ideal maximum for a 30 minute swim lesson.  Any more than that in a group and you run the risk of having more time spent waiting for your turn and less time working on the skill.
  • Observation: Take the time to watch a lesson in action.   Are the swimmers actually moving around or are they spending most of their time waiting for their turn?  Are the instructors clear and demonstrative about what they are asking the swimmers to do?  Do the instructors have control of the group?  Is the tone of the instructor positive and encouraging?  Does it look like fun?
  • Expectations: Be aware of false mission statements and expectations.  If an instructor tells you they will have your child swimming laps independently in only a few lessons, that’s a red flag.  It’s takes months if not years to become a proficient swimmer and any credible program will teach you and your child that children at any level should never be near water without an adult watching closely.
  • How to find programs: I have found word of mouth to be one of the most useful ways to find quality programs.  Ask around.  Ask your pediatrician, school teacher, parents you trust, coach/parents in the sport who occasionally write articles on this website … oh wait, that’s me!  Back to my original thought which prompted this article, I observed and met with the owners of Safesplash in Rockville and found the program to exceed my expectations for a quality swim school.  The groups are small, instructors are trained professionals and most importantly the participants were learning and having a great time.  Check them out at safesplash.com/locations/rockville-pike.

Swimming proficiently is a valuable life skill that every human can benefit from.   Whether your goal is to swim competitively or just to play around at the beach or pool safely, investing time to learn the skills necessary to enjoy the time around water will be worth it.

Happy Summer Everyone!

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