Swim Lessons

My three older girls (ages 9, 6, and 4) just completed seven weeks of swim lessons through our parks district.  Two nights a week we loaded up and headed to the indoor pool.  Bailey and Piper were together in the class for school-aged children while Katie was in the class for toddlers and preschoolers.  By the end of the second session, Bailey had learned her front float, back float, mushroom float, and the basics of the front stroke.  Piper got her back float down, and progressed on some of the other tasks.  While Katie, basically refused to even set foot in the pool for the last 3 classes.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I signed them up.  Mainly, I just loved the idea of all three kids being in the same activity on the same nights at the same time.  I guess I expected the older girls to get some basic swim safety knowledge and for Katie to just have some fun.  I didn’t expect how many lessons I would learn and re-learn by watching them through those seven weeks.

  1. The key to kids learning anything in  swim classes is based on their willingness to put their entire head underwater (repeatedly).  If they are too scared to do that, then they are not going to be able to learn any basic swim skills no matter how many times you send them to class.
  2. I always believed that swim lessons for babies are a waste of time.  After all there is no way that babies could really learn how to swim, much less retain those skills long-term.  I always figured that baby swim lessons were just somethingfor first-time parents to do with their new baby because they have no idea what else to do with the kid when it doesn’t need to be fed or changed.
    *
    Then I saw a small class of toddlers who were jumping into the water and swimming almost two feet into their parent’s arms with little fussing or crying.  I realized that it might not be a waste of time to put babies in swim class if the parents were willing to commit to swim classes non-stop for a period of several years.
  3. There are a lot of middle-aged parents with tattoos.
  4. There are a lot of middle-aged mothers who don’t realize that their body does not look as good in that bikini as it did when they were younger and had not yet been pregnant.
  5. I usually had the girls wear their swimsuits along with pants/shorts, sandals, and sometimes a jacket to the swim class.  I would then pack a t-shirt and underwear for each kid to change into after class (along with their towels and a large plastic shopping bag to hold their wet things).  At the first class, I just had them strip down to their suits in the locker room and tried to carry everything with me into the pool area.  That was a total pain.  It didn’t get any better when I had to dig through the bag to get out their towels and find their clothing to change into afterwards.After the first class, the lockers became my friends.
    *
    I learned how to arrange things in the locker to make it easier for everyone to get changed and then I only had to carry their towels (and maybe a book) into the actual lessons.  It’s like my high school calculus teacher used to say “Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance”.  (That was the only thing of value I learned from that man!)
  6. Sometimes if you wait until a kid is older and more developmentally ready to teach them something, then they might pick up certain concepts/skills quicker and easier than if you try to start them too early.  I think this partially explains why Bailey picked up on swim skills the fastest and Katie picked up the skills the least.
  7. Young teenagers (15-16) are allowed to teach swim classes.  While it was great to see them doing something that requires so much responsibility and focus, it also reminded me of the importance of experience and wisdom.  While these teens were really good at understanding swim techniques, they were often unprepared to deal with the psychological aspects that come with teaching groups of small children.  But then again, I’ve seen this this same problem in some of the adult coaches/teachers my kids have had in other activities.
  8. Sometimes it is better to go back to the beginning in order to reduce stress and build confidence rather than plowing ahead into increasingly difficult concepts/ skills.  The first swim session was three weeks, and by the end of the session all three girls were getting increasingly nervous about what they were being expected to try in the water.  When the new session began, they all started back at the beginning since none of them had progressed to the next level.  As a result, all  three started to enjoy the lessons again.  Especially for the older girls, the familiarity of what they were being asked to do again gave them the courage to push themselves outside their comfort zones a little bit more.  I think this is why Piper particularly made so much progress in the second session.
  9. At the indoor pool they crank the heat up in the building even if it is hot outside.  This is obviously great for the kids swimming in the water.  For the parent watching from the sidelines, it feels like the tenth circle of hell (especially since all of the seating is up against the heater vents).  The first few weeks were particularly interesting because it would be chilly outside and sweltering inside.  The kids obviously could change in and out of temperature-appropriate clothing, but this poor pregnant momma with a limited maternity wardrobe was not so lucky.
    *
    I learned do not wear sweat pants on swim class days but do wear long pants that can easily be rolled up.  Even when it is chilly, I learned to wear my sandals so that I could give my feet a quick dip in the pool to help cool down the rest of me.
  10. Perseverance is a wonderful quality as long as it is tempered by love and common sense.  The first three to four weeks of swim class were an emotional roller coaster.  From class to class, at least one kid would be begging not to go back while another couldn’t wait.  But it wouldn’t always be the same kid!!  So for the first six weeks, I made it very clear that everyone was going whether she wanted to or not.  For Bailey and Piper this meant that they were able to accomplish things that they wouldn’t have if I had allowed them to give up the first time they got a bit scared.  There can be so many psychological benefits that come from sticking with things even when they seem a little over-whelming.
    *
    However, as the end of the second session approached, Katie started crying a lot during class as they again got to the point where she was expected to jump in the deep end and put her head underwater.  It became a struggle to get her into the water at all even when they were just working in the shallow areas.  I realized that there was no point in forcing her to continue (especially considering how her behavior also effected her teachers and classmates), so I just let her stay at home with her little sister for the last week.  I could have forced her to just finish it out, but I really don’t think that anything positive would have come of it for her or for me.

All in all, I think the swim lessons were a success.  Bailey and Piper were both able to have so much more fun when we went to a public swim time then they would have before they took lessons.  While I have no illusions that they are fully-competent swimmers, I feel like they have enough knowledge not to panic at the pool and to get themselves to the surface and to the side of the pool if they were to accidentally fall in the water (or get pushed by mischievous tween/teen friends).  At this time, though, I have no plans to sign the kids up for anymore swim lessons unless they request them, but I think that we all learned a lot from the experience.

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