I love swimming and was fortunate to grow up with a swimming pool where my sisters and I spent most of our summer days. I've always envisioned having a pool as an adult, but so far this is not a reality. In some respects, I know this is a blessing because watching children around a pool can be a full-time job. But swimming was a really big part of my childhood and is a very big summer activity where we live, so I've never questioned that my kids would have to learn to swim.
When Gemma was about 15 months old we enrolled in some mommy and me swim classes. It was a fun activity but I am not sure I'd qualify it as educational for a baby; I can't say either way if she actually learned anything from it, but at least it was an introduction to water.
This year, at 3 years old, and with daily temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, I made a commitment that I had to get her swimming at least halfway decently. Now that I have baby Summer, I need some assurance that Gemma won't be in danger if we want to go swimming at my parents' or sister's house and I am responsible for them both.
I arranged ten private lessons for her and the experience is something to definitely be shared. This was hard work--for both of us. The teacher was intense; she was congenial but firm and at three Gemma, had never experienced anything of this nature. The first lesson was hard. Gemma has a very stubborn and independent personality and her swim instructor had zero tolerance for her negotiation skills. Oftentimes, when she is feeling fearful, she tries to lesson the blow of something new by thinking outside the box. I think this is a great skill that applies in many situations but in this particular one, her instructor mistook it for defiance and made her swim more and more before moving on in the lesson. This type of negative reinforcement is not something that I practice in my parenting style so I felt very uncomfortable with it. Truth be told, we both wanted to quit after the first lesson.
After discussing it at length with my husband however, we both agreed that it would be best to work through the lessons and continue on. We did some research on different types of swim instruction and found that lessons of this intensity were actually quite common and necessary for a quick timeline advancement in skill. We agreed that although the instructor was quite strict, we wanted Gemma to learn to swim through these lessons and perhaps it was going to take hard work.
Each day was filled with anxiety and tears 30 minutes prior to the lesson, but after each lesson she had a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. Her skills grew dramatically fast. She learned to swim with her head underwater, a rudimentary dive, how to retrieve rings from the shallow end, float, jump in and swim across the pool and get her own breaths when in need.
Though these lessons were a lot of work for her and me (and her baby sister who proudly cheered her on in 100 degree weather each day), they were so worth it. I can now take her swimming with some level of confidence and feel secure in letting other family members swim with her and watch her around a pool.
If you choose to go the fast-paced swim instruction route and come up against some anxiety and fearfulness of lessons, here are a few things that helped us:
- a new swim wardrobe. I bought her a new towel and suit and set up a swim bag that she had a love-hate relationship with during the week. Overall, I think it helped when getting ready each day.
- youtube videos of other kids swimming underwater. This was a completely random, last ditch effort to salvage a smile and it really worked so well! Gemma was so inspired to learn to swim by seeing other children that could swim.
- incentive. We marked off the lessons on the calendar and at the end of them I planned a special trip to the zoo and a new princess dress up costume that she could work toward.
- strength. I had to be really strong even though I was ready to throw in the towel for her. It wasn't easy watching her be scared to let go and jump into the water and swim, but I realized I had to be strong because there will be days I'm not there to "save" her.
- lots of rest. After each lesson she was completely wiped out so I really didn't fill our days up too much during this time because it took so much energy each day.
Are you attempting swim lessons this summer?