By Holly Murray
Hello! I have been teaching swimming lessons to infants and young children for over 10yrs. During that time I have taught over 600 infants & young children and fine tuned the Swim Kids program to cater to the specific needs of my Calgary clients.
When I talk to parents about swimming lessons I am often surprised that they qualify their child as being able to swim when the kids are comfortable in the water while wearing a life jacket. Does this mean that a baby qualifies as being able to sit if they are comfortable in a bumbo seat? I’ve never met a parent that has said to me “Yes, my baby can sit up, as long as they are in their bumbo”. And yet, I often have parents tell me “Yes, my child can swim, as long as they are in a life jacket”.
Life jackets hold kids vertical in the water. This vertical posture is reinforced by the child being able to breathe when they are bobbing around. Young children do not understand the difference between the posture and the device. What happens when the life jacket is removed? Well, the child has learned that if they go into a vertical posture in the water that they will get air. This might be true when they have a life jacket on, but without a life jacket a vertical posture will increase the speed at which they reach the bottom. The same can be said about water wings, puddle jumpers, pool noodles, floating rings and every other ‘swimming aid’ on the market today. All these devices hold kids vertically.
Learning a horizontal posture in the water allows your baby to float without the assistance of a life jacket, or the support of an adult. I know from experience that infants and young children are very capable of learning how to surface after being fully submerged, rotate to their backs and find a comfortable balance point where they can float and breathe unassisted. Swim Kids lessons teach your child proper posture in the water. Learning these skills from a young age means that your baby will never know a day when they were not able to swim. What a great gift to give your baby!
As babies grow and develop they go through a number of learning stages. There are differences between babies within each stage and there are also differences in the length of time it takes for a child to move from stage to stage. Think of walking. Most babies will take their first steps between 9-12 months old, however, there are many children that will wait until 15-17 months before they decide to walk. It is not fair to group children by age and expect them to learn the same things in the same way.
When it comes to swimming, traditional methods group all our babies… 2yr olds… 3yr olds etc… together. At these ages there are so many developmental stages that it’s almost impossible to find two children of the same age in the same learning stage. Even twins do not always learn at the same rate! Patience and a real understanding of child development is required to introduce each child to the water in a way that they learn to react properly. There can be no ‘running through the motions’ when it comes to teaching our little ones about water safety.
Children learn best by interacting with their environment. This is called sensory motor learning. Think of learning to walk again. First a child will lean on furniture, toys, or parents, and attempt to balance on two feet. Once their confidence is high they may try to lift a foot. Lifting a foot may or may not result in the action of taking a step. If the baby looses balance they will most likely fall and try again. Daily experimentation with all of these actions create knowledge for a child. They are interacting with their world and learning through their senses. Little by little babies build walking skills by making attempts, failing and trying again. The same is true for swimming. When proper posture and movements are introduced in short bursts over a period of time, the baby is allowed to create knowledge about the water environment. With the support of a fully trained instructor they can learn what works and what doesn’t. The difference between walking and swimming is that the trial and error margin is too great. If an untrained child enters the water without assistance and finds themselves under water there is no way for that child to press a reset button and try again.
I am a mother to 4 kids. I know all too well that I am out numbered! We live in a lake community and enjoy our time spent there every summer. The water is cool on the hot summer days. One day we pulled up to our usual spot – playground on the left, water on the right and beach area in the middle. I watched as my 20month old wandered to the playground and my two older boys ran towards the water. I took one towel out of the wagon and began to set up our spot. It was at this point that my 5yr old started yelling at me “Mom!! Truman is floating”. My head jerked towards the water to see my 20month old son floating in the lake! To this day I can not figure out how he was able to cross my path and make it to the water without my knowledge. I was right there! He had to walk right in front of me, and I only looked down for a second to take a towel out of the wagon! Thankfully, my son has a very clear understanding of water. He was only in about 10 inches of water but he lost his balance and fell. It was too deep for him to gain his footing so he rolled over and floated until I was able to run and get him. When a baby knows how to react properly to water, what could potentially be an emergency situation is no longer an emergency. My son took care of himself to a point that he was able to float and wait safely in the water for me to arrive.
There is no replacement for adult supervision. Keeping a close watch on kids around water is by far the best way to keep everyone safe and having fun. My kids are good kids. They are good listeners and usually follow the rules we set (they are still kids after all!). Accidents around water are just that, Accidents. Even though I was watching, and we had done this routine many times before, my son was still able to get past me. I am so grateful that I taught him that if he needs air he should wait while floating on his back and I would come to pick him up. I know that your baby is capable of understanding these things as well. I know babies can learn where and how to find air if they need a breath. They can know when to create movement and when to rest and breathe. It’s time that swimming lessons are changed for the better.
Ph & text: 403.831.2591