You’re shelling out a small fortune to ensure that your kids learn to swim. It’s a great gift that you’re giving them, one they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives. It will help to keep them safe. It will let them have fun. It’s the gateway skill to all sorts of other great water sports: surfing, kayaking, water polo, yachting, aquaerobics. How do you make the most of those lessons, though? How do you make sure that the lessons take, instead of just taking up summertime?
5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Kids’ Swimming Lessons
- Angle for the best teacher in the school. If the school’s owner gives lessons one day a week, sign up for that day. If the owner doesn’t seem to mesh with your kids, ask the owner who the best teacher is. Ask other parents who the best teacher is. Get that teacher. Most of the swimming teachers will be college students who are swimmers, not teachers. They’ve gone through a slapdash training program. They’re following a checklist, and they don’t know what to do if your kids need a little something more than what’s on the checklist. You need someone who has experience and an emotional (and preferably financial too) investment in teaching swimming to provide that something extra that will help your kids past the rough spots.
- Pay attention. That half hour may be the one solid break in your day, and you could spend it reading a good book or checking email, but don’t. Instead, pay attention to what your kids are practicing in class. You can use that later.
- Ask for a recap. It’s tempting to rush straight to the car or the changing room after class, but don’t. Instead, bring a warm drink in a thermos and a big fuzzy towel, wrap your child up and help him get warm, and ask for a one-minute recap of the day’s class. What was the point of the lesson? How did the teacher get it across? Was your child getting it?
- Review and visualize. A couple of times a day, discuss the swimming lesson with your kids. It doesn’t have to be a big discussion—a minute or two should do it. Talk about what you observed (that’s what the paying attention was for!) and about what you learned in the recap with the teacher. Ask your kids to imagine that they’re back in the pool and picture themselves going through the motions they learned in class. This visualization exercise, the same one that elite athletes use, will help your kids retain what they’ve learned from lesson to lesson. It will even improve their bodies’ muscle memory. (Weird but true.) One or two lessons a week aren’t going to give your kids the frequency of practice they need to retain much of what they learn. Just talking and thinking about it can help preserve at least some of that learning from lesson to lesson.
- Practice. If you’ve got access to a swimming pool between lessons, get in there with your kids. Have fun, and work on the same things they’ve been learning in their swimming lessons. Play games that support learning the skills your kids have been working on in class. If you don’t have a place to get wet (don’t forget the bathtub for practicing some of the basics like blowing bubbles), there are lots of swimming skills that you can practice or enhance with exercises on dry land. (Check out the archives for more tips.)
Even if you’re paying somebody else to teach your kids to swim (and there are reasons to do it yourself), these tips and a few minutes a day of your time can make those lessons go farther and can help your kids to learn to swim and to achieve water safety faster.
You’re doing your kids a great service by teaching them to swim. You’re helping to keep them safe and providing them with a skill they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, either on its own or as a necessary part of the vast array of great water sports. What are you waiting for? Dive in!
Getting Your Head in the Right Place
Teaching your child to swim can be a celebration of your relationship, punctuated by fun, hugs and laughter. It can also be a miserable experience for both of you. It all depends on your expectations and on your approach. Before you even think about getting into the pool, you need to decide how to make sure your expectations and approach are designed to make sure the experience is a joyful and productive one.
You don’t have to be perfect at this to have a great time with your child while you’re teaching him to swim. Like any skill, teaching will get easier the more you do it. Remember to keep your goals in mind:
- Teaching your child to be water safe
- Making it a fun and intuitive experience
Remember to be patient with yourself and your child. Trust yourself. You can do it. Use the lessons in this blog, and consider getting the book to give yourself every advantage when you’re teaching your kids to swim.
Now that you’ve taught your kids the basics of turning their heads to breathe while they’re swimming, here are the steps you can take to teach your kids to master side breathing.
Build on What You Know
After your child has gotten the hang of turning his head for single breaths, you can increase it to a sequence of them, starting with two and working his way to the width or length of the pool using this kind of breathing. Keep in mind that he won’t need a breath every stroke. Typically, a pattern of taking a breath every other or every third stroke on one side is comfortable.
Work with the Water
It’s likely that he’ll swallow some water and some air during this process. Warn him in advance that water might get in his mouth and practice having him spit it out. Make sure to give him plenty of opportunities to burp so that he’ll avoid getting a stomachache from swallowing air.
Refine the Form
When he’s comfortable with the process of turning his head to breathe, you can help him refine his form.
- Have him think of pointing his nose toward the bottom of the pool when he’s not taking a breath.
- Have him focus on having his head turned just enough, so that his mouth is clear of the water but the water is still touching the outer edge of his eye.
- Have him focus on swiveling his head instead of lifting it.
Now that your kids have extensive practice breathing by turning their heads, it’s time to teach them to combine it with the freestyle or front crawl. But how do you teach them to put it all together?
Putting It All Together
Have your kids swim from one side of the pool to the other in the shallow end, so that they’re confident that they can just put their feet down to stand anytime they want. Walk next to them in the water while they swim to provide them with an extra sense of security.
Breaking It Down
Once your child is swimming, the skill can be broken into two parts: the torso rotation and the head rotation and breathing. Start by working on torso rotation. Have your child do a couple of strokes of front crawl in the pool. When he would normally pop up to take a breath, have him roll onto his back and do a few strokes of the backstroke instead. The point of this exercise is to help him get a feel for keeping his body horizontal throughout the rotation.
If he has a tendency to lift his head, he’ll feel how it tips his body out of position. A simple verbal reminder like “turn don’t lift” or “turn don’t tilt” should help him to focus on keeping his head in line with his body while he swims. If verbal reminders not to lift his head aren’t enough to help him with the movement, you can have him practice rolling from a streamline position into a back float position while you support him.
Once he’s comfortable rotating his torso all the way over, have him practice doing the front crawl, rotating his torso and turning his head, but not taking a breath. Once he’s done that a few times, he’s ready to combine the skills: turn his torso and head during the stroke and take a breath through the space between the recovery arm and the water. Have him swim from one side of the pool to the other, practicing turning his head to breathe just once each lap and using popup breathing the rest of the time.
Back on land, you can reinforce the idea of turning-not-lifting his head by having him lie on his back on the ground and turn his head directly side to side.