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I was certified as a swim instructor through the American Red Cross two summers ago, and I recall stressing over what my lesson plan would be each time I had a new student. What I usually did was cater the lesson to what the parents’ goals were. Some wanted their toddler to stop being afraid of the water, while others wanted their kids to be able to at least tread water so they could go their cabin at the lake on weekends. Very few actually cared about whether or not their kid would be the next Michael Phelps or could swim each stroke perfectly. I found that when I listened to the parents, they felt they got more of their money’s worth at the end of their series of lessons, and I was able to more efficiently teach their child.
These days, I don’t have time to continue teaching lessons, but I still find myself in groups where moms are talking about how they’ve been meaning to sign up for mommy & me swim lessons or how they’re not sure if they want to spend the money on lessons for all of their kids this summer.
“You don’t have to spend a dime, actually,” I say.
Everything I learned from the American Red Cross is published online and printable for free. If I recall, I probably have access to parts of the website with tutorial videos and renewal information, but for the most part, everything you need to know about what types of skills correspond to which swim levels is not hard to find. Executing the lessons could be tricky, but you likely will not face this problem until you’re attempting to make your child a level 2 or 3 swimmer.
And here is my advice, speaking as a former instructor with experience teaching various ages, and having swam competitively since the age of 6.
If you want your baby to learn to be happy in the water from day 1, then start by making bath time fun. The more he learns to be comfortable in the tub, the easier it will be to transition to a pool. Bath time is also a good place to begin the practice of blowing bubbles.
If you want your toddler to dip his head in the water, start by encouraging him to sink his head deeper and deeper each time he goes to the pool. When he’s gotten to the point where at least half of his ear is underwater, that means he’s getting braver and soon enough, he will be all the way in. There are games you can look up online which will help with this skill in a manner where the child focuses less and less on his fear or anxiety and more on the object of the game.
If you want your older child to be able to swim across the pool, so you can gage if he will be ready to swim in a river or lake, then teach kicking first and arm strokes next. Combining both is the challenging part, because the child has to learn how to do multiple things with his body at the same time (including breathing at the appropriate times). Again, specific games can help your child improve these skills. Holding their torso the first few times makes a huge difference as well, so they don’t fall in as they practice all movements.
My son took swim lessons at our community center when he was only 6 months old, and I found it to be a waste of time. A teenager looked at her lesson plan frequently and when she ran out of things for my baby to do, she just encouraged play time. I don’t mean to criticize her, but it made me realize that anyone with a child under the age of 3 can probably teach their own kid the basics of swimming without paying for a professional lesson. In fact, sometimes, I think kids will learn better with their parents rather than with an instructor because a parent can ease their fears and hold them in a way that an instructor may not know.
For moms out there who want to start getting their kids familiar with the water, in hopes of one day having your own little swimmer, I encourage you to do as much research as you can first—whether that means looking up videos online, printing lesson sheets, perhaps viewing a lesson before paying for it, or experimenting with what makes your little one happy in the water. Then, consider a professional lesson when you have done all you can do and believe it would be better to allow a seasoned instructor to take over. For example, when you want your child to learn how to do the butterfly stroke properly or how to dive without belly flopping. Overall, you will have helped your child develop the fundamentals so that they can get the most out of whatever swim training they receive after you. And making them comfortable when they’re small is the best we can do sometimes in order to pave the way for further learning.