An interview with Claire Harrison, Managing Director at Swimming Rocks.
What age can children start having swimming lessons? Is it important to start early?
You can start lessons as early as 6 weeks old. Babies have a number of natural reflexes that will help them in the water. Specifically the gag reflex which allows them to be able to hold their breath under the water and the grab reflex which means they can even hold onto the side of the pool themselves!
The earlier you start, the happier, safer and more confident your baby will be and the sessions will also help develop good motor skills as well as co-ordination.
Babies love the water, it’s natural to them. Take your time and don’t push your baby. If they become upset in the first couple of sessions, it will soon pass and they will quickly learn that they are safe and there to have fun!
It’s a great idea to start at bath time. Sing a song, use a sponge to dribble some water over baby’s face, splash and blow bubbles on their hands.
Finally, keep smiling! You are the most important person to them; they are familiar with you and will respond to how you are around them. So when in the pool, smile and be happy and you they will be too.
How many lessons will it take for my child to start swimming, and how frequently should they have lessons?
Oh yes, the question we are always asked!
Learning to swim can be really daunting for some. For others it’s a doddle! It’s difficult to put a precise a time frame on progress and learning to swim is different for every individual.
Generally, a 30 minute lesson once a week is limited in its scope for progression. For a non-swimmer to become safe and independent in the water, they would need regular practice. 1-2 (30 minute) lessons per week plus a ‘family’ swim on weekends. Following this would most definitely deliver a water confident child in about two school terms.
To really deliver progress, we would recommend crash courses to boost swimming development. Most good swimming schools will offer these.
What does my child need for a class?
Babies need a good swim nappy and a nappy cover/swimming costume. Some mummies like baby wetsuits for extra warmth. However as pools for babies are normally quite warm it’s a matter of preference. We recommend Konfidence babywarma wetsuits. For the older children, just a swimming costume and pair of goggles. Some swimming pools require swimming hats to be worn, so check locally.
Do you agree with armbands / flotation devices, do they help or hinder new swimmers?
Floats do have a role to play and can be used when developing specific skills or undertaking technical drills, for example, developing the leg kick. However, they should not be relied upon and never used when the child is improving body balance or freedom of movement.
We avoid using other floatation devices, like armbands, as we prefer to teach the correct way to swim from the start and developing confident swimming with small steps. Our teachers are always in the water so we are always in close proximity to the students and we use pool platforms where the water is too deep and we need a shallow area. That said, when on holiday we would advise parents to use floatation devices for safety reasons.
What can one do as a parent to help increase a child’s confidence in and around the pool?
In the beginning, babies want to see you happy and confident too. It continues as children get a little older. We always see little ones looking straight to mummy or daddy as soon as they have performed a skill for the first time!
Praise and persistence. Sometimes, small advances and early stage key fundamentals seem to take ages to achieve. Bear with it and once overcome, progress is often superfast. Practice is key for anything in life. The more time spent in the swimming pool, the faster they will progress and more confident they will become, so those family trips to the swimming pool are vitally important too!
What age can a child safely swim unaided? i.e without armbands etc.
More important than the age is the process that leads to that moment. A 3 year old may be able to swim safely in the deep end without any floating device but then you may have a 7 year old with skills nowhere near that level.
Your instructor should provide constant feedback on what stage your child is at and with regular lessons a child should become safe in water of any depth. That said, even apparently confident children should have constant supervision when in and around a swimming pool.
The thought of water terrifies me, especially the thought of my child falling in. What advice can you give me to keep them safe?
It’s a fact that a parent’s fear passes to the child. Win over your fears. Take lessons yourself and don’t underestimate the joy of time in the pool with your little ones.
Bring your child to the swimming pool and spend time walking around. Start slowly, dip your foot in first, sit on the poolside and splash each other. Gradually move in to overcome this barrier. It’s much more fun enjoying being in the water with your children rather than watching you children being in the water on their own!
If you had one piece of advice to give parents, what would it be?
Praise and persistence (okay, so that’s 2 pieces of advice)!
It’s really daunting for some children but with practice they can develop a lifetime’s enjoyment of swimming. A healthy activity forever and you never know, we may even find the next Michael Phelps or Rebecca Adlington!