SWIMMING LESSONS: A BROKEN SYSTEM WE HAVE BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO
By Selena Willows – CEO Swim to Safety
Swimming is a body skill and just like learning to walk, run, ride a bike, or any other body skill the basics can be picked up relatively easily when the program is administered at the appropriate developmental level and in such a way that omits prescriptive movements.
Think about how you taught your child to run, or how you might teach them to ride a bike when the time is right.
When a child learns to run they will fall; they will miss their footing, slip, fall, get back up and try again….Minimal instruction is given by us, the parents; we encourage and smile and laugh with them and pick them up and love them up when it doesn’t work and then encourage them to do it again.
The same is true when they learn to ride a bike. “Push the pedal and put your hands on the handlebar”. That’s it. When learning to ride a bike a person simply has to try, fail, learn, and keep trying.
Practice, practice, practice…makes permanent, not perfect.
With enough practice the skill becomes second nature and there is no thinking it through, our body just knows what to do. You’ll never forget how to ride a bike as the adage goes…
The same is true about swimming.
As a body skill there is no need for prescriptive movements. No need for “put your hand here and then here”. Simple explanation is best. Not only for learning the basics of any body skill but also in considering the age and cognitive ability of a child at the age we want them to learn to swim.
Just like you didn’t teach your child to run or balance on their bike, your child doesn’t need to be told where their limbs should go when learning to swim.
If you ask a two year old to touch various body parts they will likely get some wrong. Not because they don’t know them yet -though they may not- but because their sense of proprioception (where their body is in space) is still developing.
We have accepted the assumption that it takes years for children to learn to swim. We have accepted the assumption that children need hours and hours of instruction by a “professional” (who are often 16-23 years of age) in order to learn to be independent in the water. We have accepted the assumption that as parents we need to spend hours of our precious time struggling to get our children through lessons.
Traditional swimming lessons have become a right of passage for parents. We have accepted that we just have to go through it and that it’s hard and takes time; but it’s time for an upgrade…
Since 2015 I have been experimenting with a new method of teaching children as soon as they are walking and can understand basic instructions like “hold my hand” (around 12-24 months depending on the child) and the results are phenomenal!
By stripping away the instructions, or what I call the “choreography” of swimming so that young children have nothing to memorize and can focus on the experimentation of learning something new just like they would if they were learning to walk, bike, or ride a snowboard. This, paired with the emotional support necessary to help a child try something they believe to be challenging has resulted in over two-thousand children learning to swim in under 100 minutes. In just ten practices of under ten minutes children as young as 18 months can and do learn to swim quickly and effectively. They learn how to control their breath, how to get from point A to point B in the water all through fun mini challenges and the BEST part is that when parents are the ones there in the water with their children, supporting them emotionally with tools vetted by child psychologists children learn even faster and the whole family is able to have a lot more fun.
So next time you are sitting by the pool watching the swim-instructor try to explain HOW to swim to your child or ignore their emotional needs consider that you may be wasting your time and COULD get in the pool with your child, equipped with expert guidance and support, and bond with your child over the challenge. Just like you did when they learned to walk and much like you will for the rest of their lives.