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?

Time to Play! Feeling the Water

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them. Helping your kids get a feel for the water will give them a leg up when they’re learning every swimming skill. This game can help give them awareness of how moving their bodies in the water feels.

Play Rock-a-bye Baby. (If your kids are older, you can make it campy, even though they’ll secretly enjoy it.) Start by holding your child just at the surface of the water. When you get to “the cradle will fall,” allow your arms to drop a few inches quickly. Your child will get a feel for being in the water by himself with all the security of your arms. After you’ve played a few times, talk about the physical sensations of rocking in the water and falling. Is it fun? Does it feel delicious?

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.


Time to Play! Getting into the Pool

Kids learn by playing. The more you can make learning to swim fun for your kids, the more they’ll like it, the quicker they’ll learn, and the more fun you’ll have teaching them. This game can help you ease a kid who’s nervous about the water into climbing into the swimming pool.

Have your child pretend to be a plant or tree reaching its roots into the ground. Have him sit on the edge of the pool. How does it feel when the tips of his roots—I mean toes—touch the water? Can he dip them in farther? Can he wiggle and stretch them? Can he stand on the step and reach his arms up like branches while his legs are under the surface? Can he stretch his roots down to the next step? What nutrients are his roots getting from the water? What kind of tree is he? A cherry tree? Does he giggle if you pick cherries from his branches? Try not to tickle!