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Making the most of pre-school swimming lessons

 
Learning to swim is such an important life skill for children to learn from a young age and having swimming lessons even before they start school is a great place to start. Here are some expert tips to help you navigate the process, from choosing a swim school and booking lessons to what you can expect from lessons, moving through progressions and everything in between.
Find out how to make the most of pre-school swimming lessons, from choosing a swim school and booking lessons to what you can expect from lessons, moving through progressions and everything in between.

Learning to swim is such an important life skill for children to learn from a young age and having swimming lessons even before they start school is a great place to start.
 
Swimming lessons should be a positive learning experience for your little one and as a parent you should feel fully informed and involved in the learning process too. 
 

1. Finding a swim school


Before signing your little ones up for swimming lessons, research different swim schools.
 
Do they have clear progression pathways? What qualifications do the instructors hold?
 
Ask if you can’t find the information. 
 

2. Booking lessons


Find an instructor that works for your child’s personality. Ask questions and explain your child's needs and learning style.
 
Commit for a fair period of time. Children that attend sporadically have a slower rate of progress. The best learning happens with a consistent approach.
 
Check how the swim school incorporates water safety into their lessons. These are fundamental skills that could one day save your child's life.
 

3. Attending swimming lessons


Try to arrive at lessons in a positive way and with plenty of time.

As in any learning environment, being positive and relaxed is important. If you are stressed your child will be as well. Feeling unsettled will markedly slow your child's learning process and skill acquisition.
 
Check in with the instructor before or after the lesson. They may not have a lot time between lessons, but they do want a positive relationship with you and to see your child progress.
 
You know your child best so share helpful information. It will assist the instructor in building a stronger relationship and allow for faster progress during lessons.
 
If you have a question or you're unsure of your child’s progress, ASK. If you need more time than the instructor has available call into the office or look for a supervisor poolside.
 
Swim schools want your child to improve so if something isn’t working for you ask the question.
 

4. Swimming progressions


Whether your child is a beginner or has had some previous swimming experience, they will fit within the progressions outlined below. Children learn at their own pace, so try not to put expectations on achieving a skill or level in a specific timeframe.
 
Before formal swimming strokes are taught, a positive relationship between your child and the water needs to be nurtured. Activities are carefully selected to encourage a positive relationship with the water.
 
For example in a beginner class passing a ball while standing is increasing your child's confidence as they participate in the activity while managing the splashes the ball makes.
 
Like any skill, swimming and water safety skills take time and practice to master. Roughly ninety correctly performed repetitions of a particular skill are required to complete a learning pathway.
 
Swimming strokes are taught through progressions. Key skills taught build on each other to create a formal swimming stroke. When one skill is achieved the next skill is added in.
 
When skills are skipped through too quickly and a child isn’t allowed the time they need to learn (for example kicking and stroking at the same time) progress can be impaired later on.
 
Skill progression is achieved through many different teaching methods and a good instructor will be able to adjust and use different teaching methods to best suit the needs of each student.
 
All of the below progressions are important in your child's development and should be taught concurrently on both the front and back.
 
Confidence
 
  • Safe entries and exits, moving in the water, splashing and pouring water. These are critical in building confidence and developing an understanding and feel for the water.
 
  • Learning different ways to propel through water (from walking to jumping to spinning) is good for your child's vestibular development, the earlier they start this the more beneficial it can be.
 
Submersion
 
  • After building up confidence your child will start to learn how to submerge. They will start gradually until they are comfortable to fully submerge their body and head under the water in a relaxed way.
 
  • Breath control will also be taught at this stage as part of submersion so that your child can remain relaxed and control breathing when in, under or on the water.
 
Floating
 
  • Floating is a key water safety skill and will be taught in a variety of positions. Being able to roll onto the back and float is a crucial water safety skill.
 
Gliding
 
  • Floating with movement, rolling and feeling the water move with and against you.
 
Kicking
 
  • Crucial for propulsion and balance in formal swimming strokes, this is where your child will move from fundamental skills to formal swimming skills.
 
  • You can practice the kicking action at home – this helps with muscle memory. Ask your swimming instructor for some drills that your child can practice between swimming lessons.
 
Arms
 
  • The main propulsion skill in many strokes, good arm movements allow your child to move efficiently. These strokes set the rhythm. This skill can also be practiced out of the water.
 
  • Watch the instructor when teaching this skill and ask about the many drills your child can practice with you at home.
 
Breathing
 
  • Learning how to role, breathe and incorporate this within the natural rhythm of the swimming stroke. This allows your child to swim longer distances without having to stop.
 
5. Long term investment

If you do nothing else, invest in your child and ensure they learn to swim from an early age.
 
Make it happen in whatever capacity you can, there are many options so find one that works for your family.
 
Learning to swim is a life skill, it opens up endless opportunities to pursue water related recreation and most importantly it teaches core water safety skills that could one day save your child's life.
 

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Source: This article was written by Kew Taggart the Acting Programme and Activity Leader, Western Area for Christchurch City Council. She has over 15 years of experience as a learn to swim instructor, swim coach and swim school manager in the South Island.
 
Swimsmart is Christchurch City Council's learn to swim programme. Tap into the benefits of aquatic activities for a lifetime. With Swimsmart you and your family can gain confidence and enjoyment in the water - for more information, click here.
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