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 Teaching Your Kids to Tread Water Matters More Than Teaching Them to Float

Lots of swimming lessons teach kids the back float early on, but that’s counterproductive. Why?

Why Teaching Kids to Tread Water Should Come Before Teaching Them to Float

Treading water is important for water safety. While many swimming programs emphasize floating, floating is actually a more advanced skill. Although it helps kids to learn the idea of how their body should be positioned in the water—horizontally—their body composition and shape make it very tough for kids to learn to float without moving.

Treading water, on the other hand, is an easy, natural motion for your child. It will give him confidence in the water and help to develop his feel for how his body moves in the water.

While it’s a good thing to learn to float eventually, focusing on floating when your kids are just starting their swimming lessons can leave them demoralized and ready to give up. If they can tread water effectively, they can start to gain the confidence that will help them move on to more advanced swimming skills quickly and easily.

Teaching Kids to Feel the Water: Mastery

At each stage of the learning process and for each swimming skill you teach, devote some time specifically to feeling the water and its interaction with the body. When he’s learned to put his head underwater, to do the streamline position, and to kick, have your child experiment and explore.

What happens if you push off from the side with your arms or legs? What happens if you move your arms backwards? Forwards? Up or down? This experimentation is critical, because these things are all different than they are on dry land. Moving your arms backwards propels you forward in the water. Moving your arms down propels you up. Starting to understand this will give your child confidence and control in the water.

Have your child solve problems. How can you go backwards in the water? How can you go forward? Which movements and positions move you with the least effort? Which movements and positions move you with the least splash? Help your child learn to push back to go forward and down to go up.

Use play. Practice moving through the water like a fish or a ninja, disturbing the water as little as possible. How big a splash can you make for fun? How do you do it? Practice sitting on the steps and hitting the water with the flat, broad parts of your body. Okay, now how small a splash can you make? Can you slice your hand into the water without seeing any ripples at all? Practice no-ripple swimming. You’re learning to sneak up on Mom or Dad in the water, so that you can pounce on them.

Kids will discover these things on their own by playing in the water, but you can speed up the process by specifically guiding your child.

The Most Important Swimming Skill You’ve Never Heard Of

Without this skill, there’s no way your kids will learn to swim, but it’s not a skill we tend to talk about teaching or learning in a swimming lesson. What is this critical skill?

A Feel for the Water

The one thing that will contribute the most to your child’s learning to swim is his development of a feel for the water. Awareness of how his body feels in the water and reacts to the water and how the water reacts to his body is the foundation of every skill your child needs to learn in order to be water safe.

In the water, your child’s balance will be different than it is on land. Instead of feeling his center of gravity, he’ll feel a center of buoyancy. Instead of feeling a sense of easy movement through space, he’ll feel a sense of resistance. Instead of pushing forward to move forward, he’ll push backwards to move forward. Explicitly exploring and developing awareness of all of these differences will help your child learn each skill more quickly and effectively.

Most swimming lesson plans don’t explicitly teach this skill, but focusing on it can speed your kids’ progress in all of the other swimming skills they need to learn to be water safe. So how do you teach your kids this critical swimming skill? Tune in tomorrow.