It’s hard to believe I have been teaching people how to swim for 15 years! In the water, I am home. The stress from the day melts away and I love that I can give this skill to others as a lifelong gift. All mushiness aside, there are some things I would like parents to know before they bring their child for their first lesson. Many of these things I have to convey post-lesson, shivering poolside and dripping like a wet dog all over mom or dad’s shoes. If you want to avoid one of these little talks with your kiddo’s swim instructor, read on!
*Note: This article is geared toward swimming newbies who are about to brave their first lesson SANS parent. These classes usually can be identified as a small group of kids between approximately 3 and 5 years old, however, these tips will help most beginners.
Here We Go!
4 Things Your Child Needs For Their First Swimming Lesson:
If your little fish is not potty trained, it is time to rock those swim diapers. Pretty much all public pools require them. Sidenote: Little tidbit that I did NOT know when my little one was a new swimmer – they do NOT absorb liquid – if you know what I mean. Wait to slide those suckers on when you get to the pool, otherwise your carseat will become its own little wading pool. I don’t know, maybe it was the mommy brain, but no one ever told me!
If potty training is in the past, still make it a habit to head to the restroom before every swimming lesson. Not only will it help to avoid any accidents that cause the pool to shut down for the day, but it mainly helps to dissuade any excuses that, “I HAVE TO GO POTTY!” for the kiddos that are scared and just looking for a reason to hop out of the pool.
Stay in the eyeline of the swim instructor in case your child really does have a potty emergency. Some parents like to hide because they find the child doesn’t cry as much that way – which is fine! Just make sure to keep watching and come over if your instructor motions for you. Most pools do not allow the child to go to the restroom alone, or with a staff member, for safety or liability purposes. Again, it really is best to make sure they go before the lesson starts.
The Wall Talk
Though your child’s swim instructor SHOULD have this talk with the class on the first day, it is important to go over it at home prior as well. Every pool holds beginner classes differently. Some kids sit on the steps, some sit on the wall, and some hold onto the side of the pool.
NEVER ASSUME that holding on is an innate skill. I have seen some first timers slide in and sink right to the bottom without grabbing for anything. Kids need to be told to hold on tight.
It is a good idea to practice having your child hold on to the pool wall, and then practice “wall walking,” which basically looks like they are side stepping with their hands to get around on the wall. Or, come early to classes and show your child how the other swimmers hold on or stay in their designated area. This may also help to calm any nerves if they know what to expect.
A “Cool” Parent
We all know children can smell fear, especially when it belongs to their parents. First time swimming lessons can be scary! For some parents it is even the first time that their little fish has a teacher that is not Mom or Dad. And let’s not forget the elephant in the room: pools can be deadly. That is the whole reason you made the brilliant decision to get your kid to lessons in the first place! Well done you! But now that you are standing by the pool ready to hand off your precious little fish to the instructor, YOU GOTTA BE COOL.
Smile, learn the instructor’s name, and put your trust in that instructor. Sure, say in your head that you will be watching like a hawk, and mean it. Say something to your child so they know that you trust this person and they will do great. When I have parents show up to first lessons with confidence and respect for me as the professional, and convey that confidence to their child, the first lesson goes so much better. Other times there is nothing you can do and they cry, which is normal. They will get over it if you keep bringing them back. Then there are times when the parent is not cool, and the kid picks up on it. The little fish cries, and the parent rushes to the poolside, or even worse, TAKES THE LITTLE FISH OUT FOR A BREAK. Do not do this. A vicious cycle will begin and you will not be victorious. Trust the instructor. Keep your cool. You can do it!! If there is anything that you have questions or concerns about, talk to the instructor about it after class.
Tie Up Those Strands
I will keep this one short. I cannot tell you how many times I have swimmers of all levels walk up with gorgeous long locks (thanks postpartum hair loss) and no swim cap or band to tie it up with. Yes, your child will look like a beautiful mermaid in the water, until they have to actually take a breath. Then it will look and feel like they are trying to breathe through the thickest spider web ever. Tie it up and out of the way.
And Finally, the One Thing Your Child Does Not Need For Their First Swimming Lesson:
Okay you guys. I love goggles. When I go for a swim: cap, suit, goggles. All day. I will probably even write a post someday about the best types of goggles to choose for your little one…but… when I have a three year old walk up for their first lesson clenching those goggles for dear life, I have to admit: I cringe a little.
You want your little fish to get used to swimming with their face in the water. Eyes down, bubbles on (NO pinching of the nose! I ‘smell’ a future post…heh). Yes, it is uncomfortable, but it is a hurdle that everyone has to get over – the sooner the better. It is about getting little fish as watersafe as possible. I am telling you, as someone who has taught thousands of kids how to swim, if your child cannot swim without goggles, they cannot really swim. I have watched kids who have been swimming for years dive in, lose their goggles and start to drown.
In addition, most water sports do not allow goggles. Water Polo? Nope. Synchronized swimming? No. Diving? No Way! Not to mention if your little fish wants to grow up to be a lifeguard someday. “Excuse me ma’am but I need to put on my goggles before I save your daughter,” will not go over very well in court.
The goggle topic can be touchy and a bit scary to get over, and your child’s swim instructor will NEED your support. If you haven’t started lessons yet, great! Do not introduce goggles until your child can show you that they can swim without them on a consistent basis.
If your little fish has already become dependent on their goggles, talk with your swim instructor about splitting the class into goggle-on and goggle-off time. Make sure to have your kids practice taking goggles on and off on their own so that it does not waste class time. Start with a few minutes at the beginning or end of class and add time from there. Or, go cold turkey on the goggles. Just make sure you let the instructor know so they can add some extra encouragement and coaching. What the child needs to learn is, “Your eyes do not control your body. You can still swim even if you cannot see as well. You must THINK and get moving before you SINK!”
Be wary of a young instructor who does not address this issue. Sometimes it is easier to just let the kids wear goggles and never challenge the problem. At times like this you may have to step up and advocate for your child. You can do it! Just remember to BE COOL.
Thanks for reading! Please follow me for more posts like this and inspiration, tips and tricks for getting outside with little ones in tow.
– The Open Air Mom