In part one of this blog, baby swimming guru and writer of ‘Swim With Love’, Terje Stakset, explained that the goal of baby and toddler swim lessons. He explained young children can develop an affinity for swimming and learn the very basics in order to be ready and confident to join traditional swimming lessons when they are pre-schoolers.
The aim of baby swimming is to help children to develop a love for water for a life.
In this blog, Terje looks at the more technical aspects of how baby swimming lessons should be approached by parents and swim teachers for have the best outcomes.
I think babies can start swimming lessons from when they are three to four months old.
As mentioned in my book (Swim With Love), a newborn doesn’t have any control over his/her neck and the neck cannot support the head. But by three to four months of age, most babies can hold their head up themselves.
It takes up to three months for a baby to develop the necessary visuals to enjoy being in a swimming lesson environment. Newborns have a blurred vision and colours are undefined. However, between 3-6 months of age, they should:
Babies under three to four months old, cannot express themselves properly when distressed because they are too young to identify the exact cause.
For example, if a baby’s stomach is rumbling and there is also noise of thunder storm in the background, a baby cannot differentiate between the external and internal noises and figure out where the distressing noise is coming from.
Swimming pools are noisy environments. Now try to put yourself in a baby’s shoes: blurred vision and unidentified noises coming from various directions. This is a potentially frightening situation for a baby.
I think there are plenty activities that parents/carers can do at home. Introducing newborns to water at home during bath time is the best approach, since this is where babies feel safe and secure.
When babies are developed enough to be relaxed in a swimming pool, then they can start baby swimming lesson with confidence.
As explained in my book, using trickle exercises (introducing water to a baby’s face by running just a few drops of water at a time over it) is the best way to prepare a baby or a child for water.
Start off by doing only a few drops and then build it up. Use bath-time to do trickle exercises consistently and gently. Prepare them for what’s coming with cues such as ‘ Ready, Steady. Go’ so the water becomes a game and not a shock.
Babies who have learnt how to control their breath through trickle exercises, normally show positive facial expressions like closing their eyes and brining their chins down when their faces are close to the surface of the water. Parents and teachers need to understand and read babies facial expressions which could indicate that they are not distressed by immersing their faces in water.
I personally believe submersion is not teaching anything to a baby or a toddler regarding how to swim.
Swimming is about the ability to travel in water whilst maintaining your balance and staying afloat.
Even if a baby or toddler is happy to be submerged during swimming lessons, later on when it comes to teaching them to swim properly, it could turn a problem.
The reason being, if a child has learnt repeatedly that every time he/she is free in the water in order to travel, he/she has to glide under the water, rather than through the water, then that is all they want to do when they start being taught how to properly swim by a swim teacher.
So a swim teacher has a huge task of helping a child to de-learn the habit of automatically going under the water and ‘swimming like a fish’ before teaching the very basics of swimming which are floatation and an ability to travel on the top on the water.
A gentle approach baby swimming classes, will help children to learn swimming with proper technique faster later on.
Gliding under the water doesn’t transfer to swimming. Swimming is about staying float and travelling on the surface.
In general, forcefully submerging an infant could do more harm than good.
Countless parents have approached me, especially after our baby swimming programme has built up a reputation in Norway for its gentle approach. All of these parents had one thing in common. Their babies had been traumatised by being pushed under the water in other swim schools.
Years later, those babies had become school-aged children who were very nervous about water.
A big pile of letters in my office from parents whose children have been put off from swimming by being pushed under the water .
Between the ages of three and four years children can start to learn the basics of main swimming strokes like Front crawl. This is the age at our swim school in Norway when kids start moving out of our ‘Parent & Child’ classes and move into having lessons with a teacher independent from their parents.
Babies and toddlers read the facial expressions of adults and for them they are the main source of communication. A smiley face would provide a sense of reassurance and security.
Good baby swimming teachers never just rely on the information which they were given out during their teacher training courses.
They must always be seeking to gain more information in relation to teaching swimming (i.e, by observing other teachers) and the topic of ‘child development’ in early years (0-5 years old), by going on to further training programmes and workshops.
A good baby and toddler swimming teacher should be capable of reading the little ones.
Young children rely so much on communicating with adults through their facial expression and their body language. A baby swim teacher should be very good at reading different facial and body languages of babies.
Good swim teachers generally can think on their feet. All healthy babies and toddlers have mood swings. It is completely normal for them to feel happy one minute and sad the other. Children don’t have the cognitive skills to regulate their own moods and their moods could change very quickly. Not enough sleep, too much noise or teething pain could affect a baby’s mood.
Plus, little children transmit their moods to other children very easily. If a baby starts crying in class, within a minute other babies start crying too.
Sometimes children are not in the right mood for a swim lesson. A good swim teacher should know how to handle a class when things don’t go to plan.
A good baby swimming teacher should be able to keep clam and make changes quickly in his/her lessons.
With a big ‘Thank You’ to Terje for sharing his expertise with us.
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