What to Do When Swimming Lessons Aren’t Working

You’ve ponied up the big bucks to give your kids swimming lessons. They have to learn—it’s unsafe not to. You want them to learn—it’s summer, and the whole family could be having fun at the pool. Somehow, the lessons just aren’t working.

Make sure you’re making the most of swimming lessons.

If you haven’t already, read the post dedicated to this topic. If you’ve tried those five tips as well as the ones below and your swimming school still doesn’t feel right, consider switching schools. Sometimes the associations kids make during the first few lessons can influence their attitudes as they continue. Sometimes the teachers aren’t a good fit for your kids. Sometimes the pool is just too darn cold.

Understand that plateaus are a normal part of learning.

Plateaus are normal. So are setbacks. Sometimes increased awareness of what’s going on can actually make performance worse for a while, but that awareness is critical. It’s part of the learning process.

Your kids might get frustrated or discouraged at this point and want to stop trying. At first, they weren’t aware of the mistakes they were making. Now that they’ve got more awareness, they can focus on the mistakes they were making before but just didn’t notice. Try to keep your own expectations reasonable and to keep from adding to your kids’ frustration. Encourage them and let them know that the experience is part of getting better. If you worry, you’ll pass those feelings on to your kids. Instead, focus on providing support and trying new things, like games, that will strengthen what your kids have already gotten and spur them on to try new things.

If the plateau lasts more than two weeks, consult your kids’ swimming teacher, ask for help, and consider adding two or three private lessons in one week. (If that’s daunting, get the book and try some lessons on your own.)

Help your kids learn by reinforcing their swimming lessons on your own time.

Even if you don’t have access to a pool, there’s a lot you can do to teach your kids to swim. Look at the category “on land” for a list of posts that include exercises for each swimming skill that you and your kids can do when you’re dry.

If you do have access to a pool, ask your kids’ swimming teacher for specific suggestions for exercises to work on outside of class, or use the posts on how to teach individual swimming skills for ideas. Don’t forget that just visualizing and talking with your kids about what they’ve learned gives their learning a big boost.

Get some insights into how your kids’ minds and bodies influence how they learn and how they experience the water.

Kids’ minds, bodies, and feelings aren’t the same as grownups’. It’s possible that you’re expecting something from your kids that they’re not developmentally ready for. It’s possible that you or your kids’ swimming teachers are sending signals that are making it harder for your kids to learn. Check out these posts for detailed information about how kids learn and experience the water:

Make it fun.

Take it slow. Enjoy each other. Have fun. If you don’t enjoy each other and have fun, not only is it going to be hard for you to teach your child to swim, but also you’re going to miss an opportunity for bonding and creating happy lifelong memories for you and your kids.

Remember your priorities: safety and fun. If you’re worried about your kids’ progress, you’re not having fun. If you’re not having fun, your kids aren’t having fun. If they’re not having fun, they won’t want to keep getting in the pool. Smile! Hug! Giggle! Relax into the process. Trust that your kids will learn to swim, if not today, then soon. Did I mention the fun?

Why What You Wear to the Pool Can Make or Break Your Swimming Lesson

How you prepare for a swimming lesson can be the difference between pleasure and pain in the pool. What you and your kids wear is an important part of that preparation. What am I talking about? Isn’t it pretty much put-on-a-bathing-suit-and-hop-in? You need a little more prep that that to make sure teaching your kids to swim is fun for everyone. Here are 5 do’s and don’ts to make sure you and your kids are effectively outfitted.

Do Wear Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen liberally twenty minutes or so before you get into the pool. This is a safety issue as well as a comfort issue. Sun exposure can lead to long-term skin damage, including cancer. In the short term, it can lead to a painful sunburn. You might also consider having your child wear a long-sleeved T-shirt that’s designed for sun protection over his swimsuit.

Do Wear Synthetic Fabrics

If you do have him wear a T-shirt, choose a synthetic fabric designed to dry quickly, not cotton. Cotton becomes heavy when it’s wet. It can also become rough and uncomfortable to the skin when it’s wet. It does nothing to keep you warm in the water, and once you get out of the water, a wet cotton T-shirt will continue to draw heat from your body, keeping you as cold as if you’d remained in the pool.

Do Wear a Wet Suit If the Pool Is Cool

Consider a wet suit if the pool is cool. Kids lose body heat faster than adults. Most pools are kept at 70 to 80 degrees F. The ideal pool temperature for kids is at least 80 degrees F, preferably warmer. For infants, the pool must be very warm, around 95 degrees F.

Do Wear Goggles

If your child will wear them, he’ll be more comfortable learning to swim if he wears goggles. They’re great for protecting his eyes from the pool chemicals and for helping him adjust to putting his head under the water.

You can have your child practice wearing goggles on dry land and in the swimming pool. If he’s already used to wearing goggles before he gets into the pool for the first time, he’ll have one fewer new thing to adjust to.

Don’t Wear Sunglasses

This don’t is especially for you, grownup. You want to be able to have good eye contact with your child. If you need to shield your eyes from the sun, choose a baseball cap or another hat with a brim.


How to Teach Your Kids to Breathe While They Swim

Your kids don’t need to learn to turn their heads to breathe to be safe in the water, but if they want to do a true crawl or to swim as fast as possible, they’ll want to. Here’s how to teach this swimming skill.

There’s a lot of awareness of the body required to optimize this swimming skill. At the end of the process, your child will learn that, as his body rolls so that he’s mostly on his side, he’ll turn his head just slightly so that it’s out of the water and he can breathe in through his mouth. He’ll time the breath so that he’ll be looking through a triangle formed by the bent recovering arm and the surface of the water.

The First Step

You can practice on dry land. Have your child put his hands on the edge of a table and move his feet until he can position his upper body into a streamline position on a plane with the surface of the table. Have him hold onto the edge of the table with one hand—let’s call this the stroking arm—and gently touch the table with the other hand—let’s call this the recovering arm. Ask him to twist his torso, turning so that the shoulder of the recovering arm lifts toward the ceiling. The hand of the recovering arm might lift a few inches off the table, too. Have him notice the position of his head relative to the recovering arm.


How to Teach the Back Float: Stage 1

People tend to think of floating as basic, but it takes a lot of practice. Even for adults, floating without moving is tough. Floating is about getting a feel for buoyancy and your body. For kids, who are less buoyant, it can be one of the hardest things to master. Here’s how to teach your kids to float on their backs.

First of all, remember that the back float can feel precarious for kids without much body fat. We’re most buoyant in the lungs, but even if the chest remains near the surface, the legs and lower body will tend to sink. The sinking feeling can cause kids to panic. It’s important to ease into teaching this swimming skill.

The First Stage of Teaching the Back Float

The back float is an ideal skill to practice on dry land. Most kids don’t like the feeling of being in the water on their backs. They tend to try to lift their heads and bend at the waist, which makes them sink. Practicing on land helps them to get a feel for what to expect of their bodies before they have to cope with the water. Have your child lie on his back on dry land and focus on keeping his shoulder blades and bottom touching the floor and his legs and arms relaxed. Have him tilt his head back so that his chin is pointing up.

Use the bathtub to help your child get used to the sensation of lying on his back in the water with the water over his ears. Have him lie on his back while the pool fills or drains and the water is just deep enough to cover his ears. Lie in the bath yourself with your child lying on top of you on his back. He’ll get used to the sensation of being buoyant and floating but feel completely supported by your body.