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?

How to Make the Most of Your Kids’ Swimming Lessons

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

4 Steps to Teaching Your Kids Rhythmic Side Breathing

Now that your kids have gotten the hang of how they’ll need to move their bodies in order to streamline their breathing when they swim–see the previous post if you haven’t already read it–it’s time to move the practice into the swimming pool. Here’s a progression of four steps to move your kids closer to rhythmic side breathing when they swim.

4 Steps to Teaching This Critical Swimming Skill

Step 1: Practice the same exercise standing in the swimming pool.

Have your child stand in the shallow end and hold onto the edge of the pool with his upper body in streamline position. Ask him to put his face in the water and twist his torso. Does his mouth come just barely out of the water? Does he need to twist his head just a little more to get his mouth clear?

At this point, your child shouldn’t be relying on turning his head to breathe. He can stand up straight whenever he wants to take a breath. He should concentrate, though, on turning his head directly to the side instead of lifting it up.

Step 2: Practice the same exercise holding onto the edge of the swimming pool.

Have him do the exercise with the whole body in streamline position, gently kicking instead of standing. Once your child is comfortable with this, have him try to take a breath during one of his turns. Don’t try to move into this too quickly, and don’t try to establish a rhythm right away.

Step 3: Practice establishing a rhythm.

After he’s comfortable with taking one breath, have him try to establish a rhythm. Turn, turn and breathe, turn, turn and breathe. Make sure he understands that he doesn’t have to breathe every time he turns. When he practices, have him breathe on the same side every time.

Step 4: Practice exhaling to prepare for inhaling.

Next have your child practice expelling air while his head is underwater so that he’s ready to inhale as soon as his head is above the water. If he’s already learned to blow bubbles, he knows how to expel air while his head is under water. Ask him to expel all the air then twist his head and body to inhale.

Once your kids have practiced these four steps, they’ll be ready to combine their breathing with their swimming stroke. Tune in tomorrow for how to teach your kids to breathe and swim at the same time. (It’s not that different from walking and chewing gum. Anyone can do it.)