I’m really excited to be working with two colleagues and swim experts, Anitra Boszotta and Marion Falzeder from Austrian Baby swimming Association (ABA), learn-to-swim experts and baby and toddler specialists, on this blog. Anitra and Marion share some great insights by answering the 10 most frequently infant and ‘learn-to-swim’ questions which parents very often ask.
To be able to swim, it’s vital to learn this life skill. The earlier someone learns to swim, the more confident and safe they will be in the water. As a sport, swimming has many benefits for your health and wellbeing, and it is also a great form of exercise for people with restricted mobility.
Baby swimming (if taught by properly trained instructors), continues the natural life of the baby in water, and promotes the infant’s innate ability to move in water. If taught by professionals, baby swimming builds the foundation for a child’s ability to swim at an early stage of their life, as well as developing safe behaviour in water. The risk of drowning for children is greatly reduced for children who can float on their own by the age of 2 or 3. Currently, toddlers between the age of 2 and 5 years of age are the most at risk of drowning worldwide. The only sure way of preventing these deaths is to take babies swimming from a very early age.
Apart from this, baby swimming allows children to start learning swimming technique early on, because the basics, such as maintaining a good position in the water has already been established. As a consequence, it helps babies develop both physically and mentally, and they can start to learn other sports successfully at an early age.
As soon as a child has learned to float independently, and can cope with covering longer distances, you can start to teach them the “correct and professional” swimming techniques, the foundations of which will have already been established during their baby swimming lessons.
To be able to carry out instructions, children require a certain level of maturity and this is usually only possible from the age of four. However, before then children can still learn many elements of swimming through play.
That depends on the water temperature and how sensitive the baby is to temperature changes. You can introduce some initial baby swimming exercises in a warm bath with newborn babies. Professionally taught lessons can be useful from the age of 2.5 – 3 months. After that point, for most infants, a water temperature of 32 degrees is sufficient. In any case, it is best to start baby swimming before they are 6 or 7 months old.
If parents can spend time in the water with their babies or children, and can give them proper instructions (floating on their backs, going underwater and self-survival skills) then it’s possible for parents to take their children swimming. However, that’s not usually the case in reality. With competent guidance, and in the company of other like-minded people it is usually easier within a class environment.
Lessons should be well-structured with the objective of developing a child’s independence and safety in the water. To achieve this, a good instructor needs to be well trained. The main objective is to feel at ease in the water, and this is true for everyone – for parents, babies, young children and teachers. If this does not happen, then every lesson is pointless. Babies feel most comfortable when their parents are happy.
The most difficult phase is right at the beginning, and it is sometimes impossible for children to relax in the water. However, lots of games, songs and good instruction can encourage young children.
Going underwater is part of swimming and should be taught early on, as long as babies and parents feel comfortable with this.
“Shock submersions” should be avoided in any case.
When a child can go underwater on its own, then their progress should be positively encouraged. However, it is always important to respect the fact that some children do not enjoy going underwater. In my experience, there are hardly any children who started baby swimming and who do not go under the water by the age of 4 at the latest – even if they didn’t want to do this for a long time. This should be respected, and floating on their back should be employed as an alternative way of building confidence in the water.
When starting swimming lessons, when babies are still very small, first and foremost you have to educate the parents. Your competence and skills (both in the water and in building a rapport with babies and parents) will win the parents’ trust and from there, they will be able to guide and support their babies. Therefore it is essential to have an understanding of how children develop. You should be clear about what you want to accomplish in the water, and give the parents all of the information they need.
Establishing a good relationship with ‘new’ parents is especially important, so that both babies and parents feel at ease. The older the children, the more important it is to build a relationship with each child themselves, in order to gain their trust.
A pre-requisite for a good baby and toddler swimming teacher is that they make the parents and children feel safe, and that they take parents’ worries and fears seriously, so that everyone feels comfortable in the water.
Of course, it is essential to know all about swimming techniques and everything this entails, because the fundamentals of technique can be learned in childhood. However, a good baby/toddler swimming instructor does not have to be a professional swimmer!
ABA qualified instructors must participate in at least 75 hours of supervised practice lessons, and after 2 teaching sessions and theory exams they receive their teaching certificate.
The ABA qualification is specifically tailored for baby and toddler swimming, up to the age of 4 years old. In Austria, there are other qualifications which cover teaching children over the age of 4, and an individual’s skills are more important for these.
The ABA training comprises, in addition to 75 practice hours in the water, 6 days of training covering theory and practice with dolls, babies and toddlers. Here basic skills, such as the holds for different levels, submersion, swimming aids are taught alongside a video analysis of the trainees. We place a lot of value on teaching the right way to interact with parents, as well as an in-depth knowledge of how babies and children develop in the water.
24 years ago I (Anitra) started baby swimming with my son. As we spend summer by a lake each year, it was extremely important to me that he could learn to swim and be safe in the water as early as possible. I did our first lessons with a Polish baby swim teacher. After that, I taught my son myself and at the age of 3 he was swimming independently in the lake. As a PE teacher I regularly spent time in the pool at Eisenstadt and in October 1995 I held my first baby swimming course there.
In the years that followed, I developed a technique for using Delphin swimming aids (arm bands), which meant that children between the ages of 24 – 36 months could swim on their own. Due to the success of this, demand for classes grew.
The first course for Austrian baby swimming instructors was led by Dr Ludmilla Rosengren from Sweden, here in Eisenstadt. In Summer 1999 I founded, along with some newly trained colleagues, the Austrian Babyswim Association with the goal of rolling out baby swimming across the whole of Austria, and to offer a higher-level qualification for instructors. In Autumn 2000, we held the first training course. Since then, the qualification has been regularly updated and developed, and it is now available to all interested parties in Austria and in other countries.
The ABA now has almost 130 members and even more clubs that offer baby and toddler swimming throughout Austria. At the end of March 2017, we will be holding our third baby and toddler swimming training and development conference. In 2011, Marion Falzeder replaced me as chair of the ABA.
Swimming is not only an essential life skill (unfortunately still too great a number of toddlers and children drown because they have not learned how to be safe in water), it is also the first sporting activity that a baby or toddler can take part in. It builds the foundation for further sports and also therefore for the health and well-being of children as they grow.
Besides this, there are few children who don’t love being in the water, but they must learn how to behave and be safe, especially in deep water where they can’t stand up. Also, it can be difficult – or impossible – for parents to teach their children themselves if they are too anxious as this can be transferred to the child.
In swimming lessons, children learn through play alongside children of their own age how to behave correctly and safely in water.
We have already answered some of this question in point 7. The most important skill for teaching children is being able to build a rapport with children, as well as being aware of, and understanding their level of development.
If parents are present, they should also receive the correct guidance, in order to gain their trust. The ‘psychology’ of the parents comes into play during lessons, which must be taught through play. Swimming teachers who work with older children and adults can deliver clear instructions to their classes, because these will be understood. But herein lies a problem, as many teachers who are technically very strong themselves are unable to communicate this.
With a big ‘Thank You’ to Anitra and Marion for sharing their expertise and wisdom with us. If you wish to learn more about Marjan Moosavi’s key takeaways 2015 ABA international baby swimming conference held in 2015- not to be missed by swimming teachers.
Anitra completed her degree in PE & Sport Science from the University of Vienna in 1984 and she taught PE for 15 years. After birth of her second son in 1992, her interest in teaching swimming to her baby boy led her to start baby swimming training from one of the gurus of baby swimming, Dr Ludmilla Rosengren (Sweden). Anitra then set up the Austrian Baby Swimming Association (ABA) in 1999 and has been teaching children (0-5 year olds) ever since. She runs the Eisenstaedter Babyswim Association (EBA) which offers swimming lessons to children aged 0-6 in Eisenstadt in Austria. Since 2000, she has trained almost 200 new teachers to deliver baby swimming programmes in different countries including Austria, Germany, Hungry, Sweden, Israel and France. She has presented at different international swimming conferences in the U.S and Sweden.
Marion has been teaching swimming for 20 years. Her swim school, Nessie – Waterfun Society, in Linz (Austria) has been offering swimming lessons for babies, toddlers, children and adults for 16 years. She has an MA in sociology and she is a qualified cranio-sacral-practitioner. Recently, she has completed a 3-year programme in Somatic experiencing (a psychobiological method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress). She is particularly interested in working with people who suffer from water-anxiety or have had traumatic experiences with water. Marion has been an ABA tutor since 2000 and is its current chairperson. She is regularly invited to present at international conferences in Austria and Germany.