If you know how kids learn, teaching them to swim becomes much easier. Here are the five keys to kids’ learning.
Kids learn by playing
When kids—and adults, for that matter—play, they explore situations beyond what they’ve actually experienced, develop problem-solving skills, and create new neural networks. When they’re creating huge towers out of blocks, they’re learning physics. When they play princess or imagine being cats, they’re learning sociology and psychology. When they play with plants or bugs, they’re learning biology. They’re also learning how to think, they’re learning about themselves and other people, and they’re creating friendships with the people they play with. Playing is a safe way for the brain to learn, because you can use your imagination without risk.
You can take advantage of this by using your imagination to create games and ways of looking at the lessons you’re teaching that turn them into play. You can make improving form a game. This is also a chance for you to play yourself and to play with your child. (If you need ideas, check out the 150+ games and activities I’ve put together to help.)
Kids learn by figuring it out themselves
Kids learn best by thinking and solving problems. When kids figure things out themselves, they remember what they learn better and longer. Help and encourage your kids to explore, and point them gently in the directions that will be more useful to them.
Kids learn in short spurts
Kids can focus intensely, but their attention spans aren’t as long as adults’ attention spans. Short and frequent lessons are better than long, occasional sessions. If you have easy access to a pool, two or three fifteen- or twenty-minute lessons a day would be ideal. (Don’t worry, three fifteen-minute lessons a week will yield progress, too. It just won’t be as fast.)
Kids need lots of practice
Practice is key. Studies have shown that complete mastery of a skill takes around ten thousand hours of practice. Most of our kids won’t achieve this level of mastery in their swimming even as adults, but each hour of practice brings them that much closer to the level of skill they need to be safe and confident in the water.
Provide as much opportunity to practice as possible, and make sure that a good chunk of that is unstructured.
Kids sometimes get stuck
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 child might get frustrated or discouraged at this point and want to stop trying. At first, he wasn’t aware of the mistakes he was making. Now that he’s got more awareness, he’s able to focus on the mistakes he was making before but just didn’t notice. Encourage him and let him know that the experience is part of getting better. It’s the perfect time to incorporate a game into practice.