Saturday, 14 July 2012

Sink or swim? Tips for introducing swimming lessons

My husband and I have decided that it's time for our three-year-old to have swimming lessons.

Sophia has always been a bit of a water baby.  Ever since her dip in the pool at six-months-old she has loved it.  She's lucky in that her grandparents have their own swimming pool and she can spend hot summer days splashing around and having lots of fun with inflatable rubber rings and the like (apart from this year of course).

The trouble is, if she goes a few months (normally October until April although this year the grandparents' pool has remained closed for the majority of June and July so far) without swimming, she seem to 'forget' how to do it; her timidness around water returns.  My husband and I want to banish this trait and encourage her to become a confident and strong young swimmer.

So, I took Sophia to our local leisure centre where they have swimming lessons for a variety of ages.  I had shown her the special learner's pool where swimming lessons are held, she saw some lessons in action and she seemed genuinely excited by it all.  Buoyed by this excitement I promptly booked Sophia in to have lessons.  All seemed fine...until I was given one of the swimming caps that learners must wear.

Never one for being told what to do (I don't know where she gets it from!), Sophia promptly refused to have the cap go anywhere near her.  Throughout the week, I tried to persuade her to try it on so that she could get used to it before her first lesson.  Screaming fits would ensue.  Needless to say, the cap did not get worn.

Finally, last weekend, the day of reckoning came; it was time for her very first swimming lesson.   Sophia was excited, chattering on about how she would be learning to swim under the water (a tad ambitious for her first lesson but I loved her enthusiasm) and we piled into car with the weight of anticipation bearing down on us.  We got to the leisure centre in remarkably good time and Sophia once more got to see a lesson in action before getting ready for her own.  The mixed-sex changing rooms were a bit of a surprise but obviously done to be 'family friendly'.  I was pleased to see numerous differently sized changing cubicles and I got Sophia into her costume without incident.  But then...I reached into her swimming bag and felt something thin, flat and rubbery brush across my hand - the swimming cap.  Would she wear it?  Would she not?  Would there be an almighty hissy fit culminating in our being ushered out of the building never to return?

Thankfully not!

The cap was a little big for her petite head but she let me put it on her without a whisper of displeasure.

She was one of the first children at the side of the pool ready for her lesson and didn't even notice when I slipped away to the glass-fronted viewing room.  Halfway into her lesson though she spotted me and became upset.  I had to run to the side of the swimming pool to reassure her I wasn't leaving and encourage her to stay in the water and finish her lesson.  Ever the star (and despite being dreadfully upset), Sophia persevered with the lesson and made it to the end.  She goes back today for her second lesson and, while I'm not expecting it to go completely smoothly - I think Sophia's likely to want me close by for the first few lessons - I am confident she'll enjoy it.

So, what did I learn?  If you're thinking about arranging some swimming lessons for your child I would recommend:
  • Getting your child swimming as early as possible.  The earlier that children are introduced to the water, the easier it is to get them used to it and encourage their confidence to grow.  The great thing about public swimming baths is that everyone has the opportunity to use the facilities.  The general rule is that there should be one responsible adult for each child under a certain age so as long as you have that covered, you should hopefully have a whale of a time. 
  • If your child has to wear a swimming cap for their lessons, getting the cap out and talking about it beforehand.  Although Sophia refused to try her swimming cap on before the lesson, a number of family members (myself included) all put it on to show her what it looked like.  We explained what the purpose of the cap is and she held it and played about with it.  All of that, in its own way, helped her to realise that nothing scary or strange would happen by putting it on her head. 
  • Talking to your child about swimming lessons before booking them.  I had to block book Sophia's swimming lessons and pay upfront until the end of September.  That cost a pretty penny and I wanted to be as sure as possible that Sophia would stick with it and enjoy the lessons. 
  • Taking your child to see a lesson in action first so that she could see what goes on first-hand and can start to realise that parents aren't allowed in the water.  I did this a few times with Sophia and would use the opportunity to talk to her about how she would have to have lessons with other children and not mummy or daddy.  I think it helped her to understand. 
  • Being close at hand during your child's first swimming lesson to provide reassurance that you haven't deserted them.  Despite all of the above, I think most young children are apprehensive when they're doing something new but then realise their parents are nowhere to be seen.  With lessons only lasting for about half and hour though, you'll no doubt be watching your child anyway but it's a good idea to make sure you can dash out to the pool in case they get dreadfully upset during those first few lessons.  Of course, swimming lessons are never that long so you'll always be your child may be a confident and social starlet who won't even notice that you're missing until you rock up at the poolside to collect them. 
Do you have any more tips to encourage your child into the water?  How did you introduce the idea of swimming lessons and did your child enjoy them?


  1. Great tips - esp with the swimming cap, that could be a real stumbling block with my DD, I am looking to book my DD on a course from September, this has reminded me I need to pull my finger out and do it, thank you! 

  2. I totally agree the sooner they start to swim the better. Why the swimming cap though? G doesn't have to wear one for her lesson, I just tie her hair back. I am so glad that G enjoys swimming and we always have a treat in the cafe afterwards if she try's really hard :). Good luck today x

  3. Wearing a swimming cap for lessons is one of the rules of the leisure centre. I think it's so the teachers can spot the children in the water easily (they have to wear different colour hats according to their stage)

  4. Your local pool may not insist on a cap so you may get away with it. Good luck booking those lessons!

  5. I own a school that teaches swimming during summer, I would like to give you an advice when picking a safe school for your child, try to find a school that has a temporary fence cause you'll never know when you'll lose your sight with your child, she might run and dive straight to the pool. Try to train her if she really loves swimming, maybe you'll have a future Olympian someday. :)

  6. Thanks for the tips. My daughter has said that when she grows up she wants to be a swimmer so you never know!


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