Swim Lessons Kids Will Really Learn From comments (3)

By Wendy Mihm | Tuesday June 21, 2011

Now that summer’s here, many of us really want our kids to learn how to swim, so that they can enjoy the water and we can relax a bit more, knowing that they’re safe.

But which are the swim lesson kids will really learn from, as opposed to those that you’ll just keep paying for, summer after summer?

As a mom who’s signed up for (and paid for) three different styles of swim lessons, over the past three years, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned—and maybe save you a little time and money. 

From what I’ve seen, kids respond to the water in a wide variety of ways.  But there has only been one style of swim lessons that actually taught anyone to swim: private lessons that took place over the course of 8 consecutive days.

Now, before you think that your child will be the one who will not learn from this type of swim lesson, let me describe the three types of swim lesson styles I watched, and then you can decide for yourself.  Believe me, if I had not watched my own daughter learn to swim, along with several other students of various ages working with their teachers, I would not have believed it myself!  The whole process was very impressive.

Baby Swimming “Lessons”

This was the first type of lesson I enrolled my kids in and, though it was fun, not much learning took place.  It was more of a “Mommy and Me” style class where one parent (which, in this case was actually my husband, so it was technically a “Daddy and Me” class) plays in the water with the child, sings some songs, bobs the baby up and down and dunks his or her head underwater for a fraction of a second. 

The babies enrolled in these swim classes typically range in age from about 9-12 months.  The goals of the parents are usually just to get their babies to enjoy the water and view it as a positive experience, rather than to actually teach the baby to swim (hence the quotes in the section heading above). There are probably other types of baby/infant swim classes, but my goal is just to provide an accurate description of my experience so that you can picture what you might encounter if you sign up for such a class.  Since that was our goal for our daughter at the time, we deemed the class a success.

Group Lessons for Kids

I enrolled our daughter in group swim lessons last summer when she was 3 and a half years old at the Rose Bowl Aqauatics Center.  My hope was that she would both have some fun and actually learn to swim.  There were 8 students in the class and 2 instructors.  The class met twice a week for 4 weeks.

She had fun, but did not learn to swim.  The instructors did their best to teach them to float on their backs and to get them to put their heads underwater and actually swim a few strokes out toward them.

But because they did not get enough time with each student (that’s my theory, anyway), they did not make any real progress.  In fact, I did not see much progress being made by any of the students in my daughter’s class, but I did see students in the higher level classes actually swimming.  Where they had actually learned to swim, I don’t know.  I do know, however, that the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center does offer private lessons, so that could be where the progress was made, but this is purely a guess on my part.  Because I did not witness any swimming progress on my part by my daughter, or really by any of the students in her class, I did not think the class was particularly successful.  However, she did have fun, so I didn’t consider it to be a waste of money.

One thing to note:  I did talk with a few parents in the bleachers and some were veterans of the group sessions, meaning that they had taken several in a row that year and had also taken some the previous summer.  Their kids still could not swim.

Private Swim Lessons

In my experience, these are the swim lessons kids will really learn from. Not only did my daughter learn to swim right before my eyes – by the 3rd day,—but I also watched a whole fleet of other students accomplish the same feat. The age range appeared to be about 2.75 years to about 6 years old for the first-time swimmers.  The format was as follows:  8 consecutive days of 25 minute one-on-one lessons with the same instructor each day.

Mind you, the youngest swimmers cried a lot for the first 3 days.  They were not happy at all, but they were swimming successfully and safely by themselves by the 3rd day.  By the 4th day even the youngest and unhappiest among them were jumping off the diving board. Yes, the diving board! And by the 5th day, all were very happy and proud swimmers, and all were sliding – head first – down a great, big slide!

All of the instructors used the exact same steps, in what appeared to be the same order. They were kind, but firm with the kids about keeping their heads under water, kicking their legs, and using their arms to paddle. None of the kids were happy about this at first, but every one of them – even the very young ones who cried – got used to it and were very proud of their own progress.

On the 5th day, they also practiced what the kids should do if they accidentally fell into the pool.  The teachers would walk next to the pool, holding the child’s hand, singing “Walking along the pool! Walking along the pool!  Ooops!”  And then gently but firmly push the child into the pool. The child was instructed to immediately turn around, swim to the edge, and get back out.  This drill was repeated about a dozen times under eagle-eye supervision, which I loved.

If any of this sounds scary or difficult, let me note that each morning during the duration of swim lessons, my daughter would wake up and ask “How long till swim lessons, Mama?!”  She would also plan which swimsuit she was going to wear that day, because she has two, and she wanted to alternate so that each swimsuit got a fair shake.

Know Your Swimming Goals

As a parent signing your child up for swim lessons, you should really ask yourself what your goals are for these lessons.  Because the private lessons were twice as expensive as the group lessons!  But for us they made sense because they accomplished our goal of teaching our daughter to swim.

Are your goals for your child:

  • To have fun?
  • To stay cool and occupy some time during the heat of the summer?
  • To teach your child to swim and be safe in the water?
  • To have your baby feel comfortable in the water?
  • To bond with your baby and enjoy some time together with other Moms/Dads and their babies?

I hope, once you know the answers to these questions, that the experiences I’ve shared about our family’s swim lessons will help you decide what’s right for yours.

Good luck and happy swimming!



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Comments for Swim Lessons Kids Will Really Learn From
By Vivienne on June 22, 2011

Great recap! We arrived at the same conclusion also, after paying for three sessions of group classes (some of which only had 2-3 students, but still), where A never even put her face in the water.  Then we went for individual instruction, and had a breakthrough within 10 minutes.  Your format above sounds even more awesome, though.  Was it a particular philosophy, or location?

(with that said - I recently saw a vid of a friend’s daughter who is maybe 2? has been in water baby classes from the get-go, and she was actually diving for things in the pool under her teacher’s supervision.  So maybe some kids get it even in the group classes?)

By Wendy Mihm on June 22, 2011

Per your question, I think it was the philosophy that was working for the kids.  To be honest, the location was a bit odd… it was a big pool in someone’s backyard and it was a little, well, un-fancy. 

There were lots of flies and bees buzzing around the parents watching the swimmers, and the pool deck was covered in well-worn astro-turf and old plastic chairs.  Not much charm, but the instructors were all consistent, kind, firm and well-trained in their method.  Despite the lack of fancy decor, I would recommend this swim class and this method to friends without hesitation because of the results and because of my daughter’s enjoyment of the class itself.  Her instructor heard, but did not give in to my daughter’s hesitation.  She greeted her warmly every afternoon and celebrated each success along the way.

Would other kids succeed in a group session if they started young enough and took enough classes?  Maybe…!  Thanks for the feedback and the stop-by, Vivienne!

By Mary Helen Sheriff on July 13, 2011

I had the same experience with the baby classes and chose not to do them at all with my second child.  Our first group session with my 3 year old was worthless in terms of progress. But, then we did group lessons at another pool with teachers who sound much like the ones you describe and we made progress I was happy with.  However, I can see that one-on-one lessons would be ideal and may resort to them next summer, but around here they are pretty expensive. www.silverbellsncockleshells.com

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