Baby & Toddler Swimming Lessons; WHY and HOW they’re done internationally!

I recently met 26-year-old Rebecca Adlington, the most successful British Olympic swimmer ever, in London and I asked her how her swimming journey began. She smiled and mentioned that she used to go swimming with her parents and her older sisters as a young child, but, the interesting part was when she said there was no baby swimming lessons when she was a baby. The fact is she never did any baby swimming lessons and at the age of 3 years old she was introduced to lessons but, she still made it as a top international swimmer.

Marjan Moosavi & Beck Adlington-May 2015

With Becky Adlington-May 2015

I’m writing this introduction, to highlight the global growth in infant swimming lessons in the last two decades. Although, there were ‘Parent & Child’ swimming classes (at least in London) 20 years ago, but the main objectives of such classes were to provide parents and young children a safe environment to have fun in water, splashing around in the pool and sing some popular nursery rhymes. Today, however, it is completely a different story.

With evidence continuing to mount about the benefits of swimming for young children, around the world there’s an increase in popularity of baby and toddler swimming lessons and this strand of teaching swimming has a life of its own. You are very likely to have done these classes with your little one or would like to start or you are a swimming teacher.

Literally, millions of parents in all four corners of the world are attending these classes everyday and although the experience of such classes could be amazing for some parents, for some, could be the complete opposite.

With so many swimming schools around, there are many different approaches about what and how things should be taught in infant swimming classes. Knowing what works and what doesn’t, is vital in keeping these classes enjoyable for all. Yes, at Blue Wave Swim School, we are passionate about keeping our classes efficient and our teaching methods effective.

Austrian Babyswim Association

In March 2015, I attended an international baby swimming conference in Austria which was  organised by the Austrian Baby Swim Association (ABA). For 3 days I had a great opportunity to share experience and ideas with excellent teachers and educators and hear firsthand from the experts about the best practices. There were plenty real-life stories and fascinating insights into how things are done at other places and different countries.

For me, the key highlights were:

1) Universally, games, toys, nursery rhythms and songs (or music) are used to engage children and add fun in baby and toddler swimming lessons.

2) Class activities need to be consistent, honest and joyful in order to built children’s trust and confidence in water. The reality is water-confidence is built over time and for some children it may take MORE time compared to others.

baby swimming lessons at Blue Wave Swim School in such west London

All experienced teachers were in agreement that making babies to do activities that they don’t like to do in water, is not a good idea since that could lead to making both children and parents anxious of being in water. However, with a bit of creativity, every activity could be changed to something more fun and engaging both for parents and kids. So, teachers should be sympathetic to the fact that these kids are very young and need time to settle in and learn at their OWN pace.

The clear message was; if an activity is distressing a child in water, there is no need to be pushy with it.

3) The variations in starting age for baby swimming lessons in different places was really interesting. Some may start babies as early as 8 weeks some may like to wait till they are a few months old before introducing them to lessons.

In fact, one of the internationally known gurus of baby swimming, Mr Terje Stakset from Norway, believes it’s better to start baby swimming lessons around 4 months when a baby has some control over his neck and can support his head.

'Mummy and Me' class

4) When kids should be graduating from ‘Parent & Child’ classes and move on to normal lessons? Would you be surprised if you heard there is no universal agreement on the ‘graduation age’ and when would be the right time to have swimming lessons without parents being in water.

At Swimmix (a Danish swim school), parents are allowed to be in water with their kids till age 8 years old, whilst a Mexican swim school has used many many years of their own swimming teaching experience and have decided to have a cut-off point of 3 years and 7 months before moving children to standard classes.

In England, children go to school when they are four years old.

So, in our ‘parent & toddler’ classes we normally accept children only up to age of 3 to 3.5 years old and from 4, the expectation is children do swimming lessons independently from their parents.

Parent and Toddler classes in WimbledonIn the Scandinavian countries, kids don’t start school till they are 6 or 7 years old therefore, letting parents to be in the water during their children’s swimming lessons till much later is very acceptable by both parents and
swimming teachers.

To sum it all up, it is so interesting to discover there are so many parallels and similarities between activities and practices which are making up the ‘Parent & Child’ swimming programmes in different countries. However, the ‘WHY’s’ for offering these classes are a bit different. If we assume for a moment the ‘WHY’ is the foundation for the approach, that each swim school has regarding how their infant swimming programme is structured, we can understand why there are variations from one place to another and without a doubt, culture and society are the big influences.

For example, some swim schools would like to have their main focus on providing a quality time for parents and infants to bond and using the water as a medium to nurture the overall development of children,

whilst other swim schools (like ours) offer ‘Parent & Child’ classes with clear objectives to teach young children water-confidence and the basic skills of swimming like kicking and flotation, through structured play and in a fun and safe environment. For us, our baby and toddler classes are part of the building blocks of our ‘Learn-to-Swim’ programme.

Regardless of the ‘WHY’s, baby and toddler swimming world is expanding, period!

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