Information for all parents
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These guidelines were researched and developed by Julie Zancanaro, BAppScOT (Syd)
Parents are often drawn to the obvious benefits that swimming lessons can offer their children, but many feel unsure at what age they should start. It is natural to feel some caution. Parents might question how children learn to swim when they are so young and what type of activities they will be involved in during infant swimming lessons. Relating swimming to the process a child goes through when learning to walk can help us to understand. Walking is a complex, physically demanding activity that requires intense coordination and balance, yet children learn how to walk at a relatively young age and, for the most part, teach themselves. Learning to swim happens in very much the same manner with parents and teacher there to assist at each step of the way.
While swimming lessons for babies may help to address safety issues, lessons will also continue to refine the strokes helping the child to become a safer more efficient swimmer, and of course lessons are a fun, healthy activity for children.
It’s important to remember that before birth, infants were immersed in a fluid environment inside their mother’s womb. So, we aren’t really talking about when to “introduce” a child to the water, but rather, when to “reintroduce” them to the element that they called home for close to nine months.
For most parents, the family bath is probably the best and most convenient place to continue developing the affinity that many newborns have with water. This can begin once the baby is home and the umbilical cord has healed. Often newborns are bathed in a sink or counter top tub. The bathtub is another option and should be used at every opportunity. Fill it up with warm water, get in with your child and let them enjoy the full benefit.
The baby doesn’t even need to go under water at this early stage. Using a secure and gentle hold let them feel the buoyancy and the movement of the water over their skin. These early bath experiences should be free from stress and a lovely way to build rapport with the water. This is a special time for parent and baby and can allow additional bonding, even for dad! Mums may choose to breast feed their child in the tub to associate the water with a calm and relaxed feeling. Using a flannel and eventually a cup, the baby can be introduced to the sensation of water on their face. Starting from just a few months of age, lays a great foundation for joining a regular swim program later on.
So, when should ‘formal’ baby swimming lessons start? There are a few different guidelines and opinions. However, the recommendation guidelines is that infants can start a formal program of swim lessons at 4 months of age. Some of the reasons for waiting until 4 months are to allow a medical history to develop, allow the infant’s immune system to strengthen and allow bonding to occur with the primary caretaker. After 4 months, infant swimming lessons in a gentle and developmentally appropriate program can, and should, be started right away.
Once a lesson program has begun, how long should it go on? Swimming lessons are not an event, but rather a long-term process. Attending lessons as a regular part of a child’s weekly routine through their infant, preschool and early school years is a great plan to ensure proper development of their aquatic skills.
Starting early and continuing long term will allow your child to fully experience all that the water and the swimming lesson experience has to offer.
©2005 Dave DuBois
At times recreational swimming and in turn swimming lessons can be seen as a seasonal activity, especially as the weather outside grows cooler and other activities compete for your child’s time and your family’s income. There are compelling reasons, however, to continue with swimming lessons year round and to make swimming a top priority for your child and your family’s budget. Following are some important reasons for you to consider.
Many parents start swimming lessons out of a concern for their child’s water safety. Although swimming lessons are never a substitute for parental supervision, they play a crucial part in building layers of protection for young children. The skills and behaviours that are taught in lessons need constant reinforcement throughout the year. The risks posed by drowning don’t go away in the cooler parts of the year, so neither should the lessons – they are one of the most proactive things a parent can do for their child.
In addition to safety issues, continuing lessons is important to build and reinforce existing skills. This is particularly true with children under 5 years whose long-term skill retention and muscle memory are just beginning to develop. A break in lessons that stretches over many months will often result in a loss of skills. Even when parents can’t see substantial progress every week, the child is at least maintaining the current ability level, and that is progress in itself Don’t let all the time and money spent on lessons go to waste, keep up their skills.
In our society of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, it is important for children to be involved in physical activities that establish a routine of fitness. Swimming offers one of the best activities for good health with minimal risk of sport related injury. In fact, swimming is a great activity that can last a lifetime. People of almost all ages and physical ability enjoy exercise, recreation and sport in the water. And, with infants there is the added benefit of enhancing and stimulating their general development. For parents involved in the water with their children, the close physical contact and quality time helps strengthen the natural bond like no other environment.
Physical activities like swimming have been shown to improve many areas of a child’s development including academic performance, language, maths, fine and gross motor skills, confidence and coordination. Getting a good start can make a big difference later on. In the United States, studies demonstrated the highest grade point averages of all scholar/athletes tended to be with members of the swimming and water polo teams.
Swimming lessons offer a unique combination of social and physical interactions with the teacher, their classmates and the aquatic environment. For some children, before starting school, these relationships can become their primary social bonds outside of the home and immediate family. It can be important to maintain these relationships with regular attendance.
Ultimately, the learning experience should be an enjoyable one. If children have a great time at the pool they will continue learning in their lessons because they are so much fun!
Most pools are maintained at constant temperatures throughout the year, so even when it is cooler outside, it can still be a comfortable, year-round, summer experience in the water. With a little extra attention, such as keeping children warm and drying them off well when they leave the pool, swimming will stay comfortable and beneficial all year.
Keep these ideas in mind as you continue with your lessons. Swimming is one of the best activities for children and it’s a shame if it only happens in the summer. Whenever possible, enjoy your swimming all year through!
©2005 Dave DuBois
Learn to swim programs are expected to meet many needs, not the least of which is teaching children to swim. Parents want to see tangible results from lessons to assure progress is being made and that they are receiving value for their money. Sometimes lessons can feel like a treadmill with no clear end in sight. This uncertainty about a definite timeline can leave parents wondering when their child will ever “complete” the task of learning to swim.
Following are some considerations if you have ever found yourself asking, “How long will it take” or “haven’t they learned to swim yet?”
With swimming lessons for babies and older children, there can sometimes be a belief – that a child will take some lessons, learn to swim and then be finished. Such an “event based” mentality can be a dangerous assertion to make.
A realistic way to approach swimming lessons is as a long-term process. Attending lessons as a regular part of a child’s weekly routine through their infant, preschool and early school years is a great plan to ensure proper development of their aquatic skills. Along the way, a child should be allowed to learn at their own pace, practicing skills appropriate to their developmental level.
So the question then often arises, how often should I attend lessons each week? While progress may be accelerated in the short term by attending lessons more often, a regular and consistent approach will often yield the best results. Towards this end, attending once a week through the year would be better than attending every day of the week for a month or two and then stopping for a long period. This is in line with the way children learn and how well they retain skills. There won’t always be leaps of progress every lesson or every week. It is normal for learning to plateau for periods, even regress at times and surge ahead at others. The once per week class allows skills to be maintained and for progress to be made over time.
Some periods of twice per week classes or holiday intensives can boost achievement. The important thing to consider is that more intensive lesson attendance can become exclusive of other activities and can’t often be kept up long term. This may result in lessons being stopped. Again, it is better to keep the lessons up, even if only once per week, than stop them entirely. Swimming lessons for children under 6 or 7 years should be a consistent, year round activity building toward a lifelong skill of proficient swimming.
So, when do lessons stop? While every program will have their own goals, a general idea for parents to consider is for their child to be capable of swimming 400 metres (with good technique, without stopping and without becoming exhausted). That level of skill may take years to reach, but establishes a strong foundation and children over 7 years should retain those skills. However, reaching this goal doesn’t mean a swimmer should leave the pool. It is still important to keep up the skill, continue to improve and consider the wide range of aquatic sports that will be fun, challenging and beneficial into the future.
Swimming lessons are not just another option on the list of activities for children, along with soccer, dance, gymnastics, etc. They are an invaluable life saving activity offering many benefits for the learner and for the more accomplished swimmer.
Enjoy your swimming, every stroke of the way!
©2005 Dave DuBois
Written by Kochen, C.L. Ph.D and McCabe, J. B.A.; The Baby Swim Book, Leisure Press, 1986
For many children (and parents) the first swimming lesson can be both an exciting and daunting experience. Here are some tips to help you make lessons less stressful and more fun.
Making sure your child is decked out with the right equipment is important. A quality pair of goggles will not only help them see under water, it will also make them feel more comfortable.
A swimming cap is often recommended as it helps keep your child’s hair out of their face. Caps will also help prevent hair clogging up the pool’s filtration system making the pool cleaner.
It’s a good idea to get your child used to their swim gear in the days leading up to their first lesson. Anyone who’s ever worn a swim cap knows they can take some time to get used to.
A dress rehearsal can also help your child get excited about their upcoming lesson.
Your local swim school will have a host of rules. These are in place for the safety and comfort of all customers so please follow them. Make sure you supervise your child before and after their lesson and teach them not to run near the pool or enter the water before being told to do so.
There’s nothing worse than the feeling of knowing you’re running late for something. Try to arrive at the pool about 10-15 minutes before the lesson. This will give you the chance to relax, de-stress and do all those last minute things (like going to the bathroom or wiping that runny nose) before the lesson starts.
Swim schools will encourage you to support your child while they’re learning to swim. But it’s important to remember that during the lesson, the teacher will need your child’s full attention. So try not to distract them.
Swimming lessons are an important part of your child’s development, but it’s equally important that they enjoy their lessons. So relax and remember to have some fun.
Organising baby swimming lessons is crucial, particularly in Australia where we have such a strong culture based around the water. Your child should have the skills and knowledge to be safer in and around water as possible from an early age. To arrange infant swimming lessons in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide or anywhere across Australia; find your local swim school and sign your child up today.