Your local swim lessons are putting your child at increased danger of drowning
By Selena Willows, CEO, Swim to Safety
Swimming lessons don’t need to take months or years to produce confident & independent swimmers. Children as young as 18 months CAN and DO learn to swim in just a matter of a few practices all the time in my programs; so why does it take so long for a child enrolled in traditional lessons at the local swim school or community center to become independent in the water? These classes may be inexpensive, but you get what you pay for…
The average swim instructor is young. Hired as early as 14 (that’s when I started), most instructors leave swimming when they go away for university. Amongst those that stick to it many more are gone by the time they graduate. These instructors, though well versed in teaching swim strokes, don’t have a great deal of experience with children themselves; at least not in the ways necessary for helping young children overcome fear or unease in the water. Instructors are not encouraged to speak to the parents to get a feel for what their children are like and most recently I heard from a local municipal instructor that she was NOT ALLOWED to speak to the parents; information from parent to instructor and vice versa was to be conveyed through the deck supervisor… Where does that leave these instructors when it comes to trying to HELP your child? With nothing but a game of broken telephone and an outdated curriculum…
Current methods of teaching children to swim have not evolved in almost a century. Red Cross swimming programs were developed in the 1930s and despite leaps and bounds in learning sciences around early childhood development over the last century, let alone the last decade, these programs remain relatively intact and are still the programs that inform most learn to swim curriculums. Whether you go to the YMCA, the community pool, or to a private swim school that doesn’t use its own proprietary method, the steps for learning are all the same – once the child can float on their back THEN they can move up in their levels and learn to swim. Not only do children and parents feel discouraged and frustrated but the idea of my child being comfortable in the water BEFORE they are competent doesn’t interest me in the least.
Back floats are tricky to learn, even for many adults as it requires one to be absolutely calm and at rest in the water. Asking a child to float on their back and submit to the water before they know how to swim and are capable in the water is a losing battle. Not only would I consider that a non-swimmer who refuses to stay in a back float or even get into one is exhibiting good judgment, but the instructors are asking children to go against an innate mammalian respect for the water and fully trust a stranger in an environment they are not capable of. Frankly, it’s no wonder children get stuck in this level and struggle to get past it causing a period of limbo where children are highly exposed to the water and learning to be comfortable and submit to it without the requisite skills to keep their head above water. By teaching a child to be comfortable in the water before they are capable, we do our children an incredible disservice; we put them at higher risk of accident as their beliefs are not in alignment with reality. This can result in an absolute disaster.
This comfort over capability starts even earlier for some. Parents can enroll their children in mommy (daddy/caregiver) and me classes where children sing songs, play with toys and learn to…blow bubbles?!
Not only are the songs and toys creating an atmosphere of fun in the water in a context where the child has no comprehension of the dangers but in my practice I have seen children who immediately upon submersion release all their air. Teaching a child to blow bubbles when they go underwater before they can pop themselves back up for more air is again, a huge disservice and highly dangerous.
The bottom line is, no matter the skill, a child who has learned to be comfortable in the water prior to being capable is at higher risk of drowning. By making the water seems fun, young non-swimmers are more drawn to the shimmery blue of the pool on a hot day not to mention, if they have been taught to blow out their air when going underwater chances are they will have less time underwater before their body requires another breath sending you straight to the hospital.
If you consider swimming to be a life skill, one that is non-negotiable due to safety concerns then the only logical solution is for your child to learn to be capable and build their confidence in the water based on their capabilities.
Comfort without capability is a dangerous prospect so I encourage parents whose children are fearful of the water or struggling to get through the back floats level to take a look at alternative learning options for their children. There are other methods out there that will teach your child to actually swim without attempting to pacify your child in the water first.