Learning to Swim: Jumping in Feet First

As I mentioned last week, this week I’m jumping into the aquatics programs offered by the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. I don’t know about you, but it’s a combination of YMCA & Girl Scout camp that taught me how to swim back in the day.

While I learned how to swim myself, I wasn’t sure what to do when it came to instructing my own children (ignore the fact that I am a teacher, married to a lifeguard, ok?) on how to swim. We’ve always swam each summer, and enjoy hotel pools when we can, but how, exactly, were we supposed to teach our kids to swim? What’s the definition of knowing how to swim? Doing the front crawl? The deadman’s float? Treading water?

In my conversations with Javier Urias, Aquatics Director for the Ft. Benjamin Harrison YMCA, he answered these questions and many more (his answers are in italics).

What’s a good age to start swimming lessons? The earlier, the better!

The YMCA (and many other swimming programs around town) offer parent/child classes for children as young as 6 months old. The sooner your child is comfortable in the water, the better. Parents are required to be in the water for the 0-3 classes. When parents are there for the early lessons, it makes the separation easier when your child is old enough for the peer classes.

Once your child is in a peer class (no parent participation required)– what do you do as a parent?

This is a direct quote from Javier made me laugh out loud: “As an instructor I don’t mind if the parent sticks around and watches from a distance at any level. They must be in the water with the children in the parent child classes which are for children 6mos -3yrs. It’s when parents try “help out” during the class and jump in the water, this can interfere with the Peer grouping/Instructor relationship that we try and develop during our classes. It’s important for children to be in a group of their peers experience swim lessons with their peers.” (Can you imagine??)

Last summer MaM took lessons through the parks department, and the policy there was for parents to sit away from the lessons, and that worked just fine. To be honest, at MaM’s first YMCA lesson this week, we sat a foot away from the pool. Not because she needed me to, but because her younger brother was miffed that he couldn’t jump in with her (friends, it was not pretty- note to self, the boy is ready for swim class).

If given the choice of having 8 swim lessons over the course of 8 weeks (1x per week)  or 4 weeks (2x per week), which model works best for most kids? Does frequency help retention? YES! Frequency does help. Either way works fine but the most important thing to keep in mind is that if the parent is willing to work with the child and come to the pool on the off days to practices what was taught during lessons this helps tremendously. Make sure your instructor gives homework for you and your child to work on in between classes. Extra practice always helps when you are learning a new skill.

I never thought about asking for homework from our swim instructor, but it makes sense. Whether it’s simply getting comfortable leaving the side the pool, a particular part to a stroke or coordinating breathing and arm movements, of course practicing helps. Mam’s lessons are Tuesday/Thursday, so I’m planning to review the skills she’s learning over each weekend.

Thanks to Javier for answering my incessant questions. Next week we’ll be talking about what to look for in group instruction, and when private lessons may be the answer to learning to swim. Have a question or a funny swim lesson story to share? Leave it in the comments!

Disclosure: This is the second in a series of posts about the program offerings through the  Greater Indianapolis YMCA. MaM is being provided swimming lessons in exchange for these posts.

2 Replies to “Learning to Swim: Jumping in Feet First”

  1. Living in FL swimming was VIP for us. We took kids to a red cross certifired place when they were 3 YO. Prgm was 4x a week as long as u needed it. Instructor’s 1st goal is to be able to swim so kid could get to the side of the pool by themselves so they could hang on and save themselves. This is level 3 (I think). No parent allowed in pool at all. Expected to be on grounds, but no involvement unless instructor asked for it. We kept them in lessons until they were proficient at diving and could swim the length of the pool without stopping. They are fish. Good thing, as we have an in ground pool in our backyard. 🙂

    1. Grace, I love the “4x per week for as long as you needed it” concept. Where you live, swimming is just as important as walking, maybe even more so! We have a pool in the neighborhood, but a retention pond in our backyard (hate it! hate it!).

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