5 Reasons Swimming lessons are non-negotiable for my children

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I first became a swimming instructor in the UK 12 years ago (!). I fell in love with the job immediately. In honesty; I wasn’t planning on working with children at any point in my life whatsoever, I was just ‘on a gap year from College’ and saw the course advertised at my local pool.

After a couple of months, my first employer (almost literally) pushed me into becoming a parent and baby instructor. For the first day or so of my in-water training I was petrified of the babies, and even more petrified of the parents.

Then I fell in love with it.

I also became a little bit obsessive and possibly a little bit preachy, but I am unapologetic. In my mind, swimming lessons should be compulsory for all kids (and they should be government funded, but that’s for another day). In the meantime:

Here are 5 reasons swimming lessons are non-negotiable for my children:

1. Swimming is the only sport that could literally save my child’s life.

There are an estimated 360 000 annual drowning deaths worldwide, as stated by The World Health Organisation 2018:

‘Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury-death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.’

‘Globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years.’

According to the Royal Lifesaving National Drowning Report 2018 (Aus)There were 249 drowning deaths in aquatic locations across Australia between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018’.

Drowning is quiet, and it can happen to anyone.

It isn’t realistic to expect that you can just avoid water. Even if you chose to avoid beaches, pools, lakes, dams, rivers, streams, oceans and ponds for the entirety of your life, drowning hazards still exist in your home.

‘Young children are especially at risk — they can drown in less than 2 inches (6 centimetres) of water. That means drowning can happen where you’d least expect it — the sink, the toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home, such as ditches filled with rainwater.’ – Kids Health.org

During swimming lessons, teachers work on numerous safety skills alongside general technique. You may not realise, but every step of a good lesson will be preparing your child for an emergency. I have outlined some below:

  • Breath control aims to reduce the risk of panic, meaning that precious air is not wasted
  • Floating minimises the energy used to keep a face above the water
  • Turning encourages little ones to find the nearest edge or flotation device
  • Holding on to the edge reinforces the habit of patiently waiting whilst remaining safe
  • Jumping in allows littles to experience the way their body feels when they land in different positions in the water, and how to get back to safety
  • Diving for toys encourages them to open their eyes and find what they need (i.e. an edge or an adult).

When my sister was just two years old, the family dog accidentally knocked her into a large pond. Her clothes immediately weighed her down and she sank. My Grandmother and Mother luckily saw it happen, and Mum jumped in and got her. While the likelihood of her swimming to save herself would have been slim (due to the heavy clothing) the fact that she did not scream and waste her oxygen would have given her precious seconds while under the water.

It was also incredibly, incredibly important that she was constantly supervised while close to the water.

2. Swimming is great for lung and heart development.

Swimming trains your body to use oxygen more efficiently and can also help to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. I liked this article here which goes into more detail. Sorry (not sorry) to harp on about my own experiences again, but I was born with a congenital heart defect which required me to have open heart surgery at around 18 months. Typically, a follow-up operation happens at 17 years, but so far, I have received the all-clear from my Cardiologist each year. I personally believe that my regular swimming has helped me to maintain a reasonable level of Cardiovascular health, and I want the same for my boys.

3. Swimming significantly enhances core strength and muscle development

While my children are growing, their bodies are developing at a rapid pace. Their muscles are going through a lot of changes, and being in the water strengthens them, but also allows them to recover.

‘The significant repetition of strokes improves muscle endurance, and because water creates more resistance against the body than air does in land exercise, the muscles are strengthened and toned. Swimming also significantly enhances core strength which is important to overall health and stability in everyday life.’ – Human Kinetics

A strong core improves flexibility, mobility and strength; which allows children to engage in a wide range of physical activities, from sitting up unassisted, to flipping into a foam-pit.

Swimming is also great for rehabilitation, as it can be low-impact, and the water itself provides support for your muscles, bones and joints. While this point may be more relevant for the older generations, you never know when you may need physiotherapy or some form of physical rehabilitation. If your first experience with a pool and water resistance happens when you are already physically vulnerable, it may be harder to find the confidence to get started.

4. Swimming is inclusive

Swimming as a sport is incredibly inclusive. The water will provide support, the intensity is variable, and lessons can be held as groups, or as private 1-1 sessions. I have been privileged enough to have taught children and adults with diverse physical, mental and psychological needs; some as complete beginners and some working on techniques for triathlons. I love the diversity with which my job provides me, and I love that there is a sport that can change along with the needs of myself and my kids.

5. Swimming compliments a wide range of other physical activities

Knowing how to swim will enable my kids to participate in a wide range of sports (which would hopefully keep them out of trouble).

They are already showing an interest in surfing, kayaking and snorkelling, and as they grow older I expect that they will also enjoy diving, scuba diving, water polo and of course competing in swimming carnivals. I mean honestly, just look at this list of water sports.

I understand that I am in a position to ensure that my kids always have access to swimming lessons, and I am thankful for that. As I mentioned above, the dream would be for all children to have access to swimming lessons, but I hope that if you have a choice to enrol your child in any sporting activity, you choose the one that may save their lives.

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Dear parents: You need to put your phone down and watch your child’s swimming lesson.

 

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Teachers bring it up in meetings, coordinators brainstorm ideas on changing the culture at the pool, and, yes, kids get upset.

This week one of our teachers came out of his shift and told us that he almost cried during a lesson, because a little boy in his class swam the length of the pool, looked up at his Dad for praise, and said:

‘Why won’t Daddy watch me? He’s always playing on his phone.’

His Dad was so engrossed in his phone that he didn’t hear his son call out to him. This particular boy had put in so much effort. He had listened well to the teacher, he had tried his hardest, and he just wanted his Dad to be proud of him.

Sadly, we see it all day every day.

I teach classes and see parents/grandparents/caregivers/whoever completely missing out on the effort that their children are putting in to this lesson, the comedy they bring to the classes with their imaginative ideas, the competitive streak that suddenly appears when a child realises they can do something and do it well.

You could walk into any learn-to-swim environment, and I bet you will see a row of parents sitting on their phones.

As an instructor I can tell you that overall, lessons are great fun, and we get so much out of them. We get to see children change, develop, grow. We get to hear about their days, we get to help them through what can sometimes be a frightening experience, and we see progression.

That progression can be huge; it can be a child finally trusting themselves (and us) enough to let go. It can be a child mastering bilateral breathing. It can be a child perfecting a streamline kick. It can be a child putting their eyes in the water, it can even be minuscule (in appearance), e.g. tucking a chin in further towards their chest; but that could have taken weeks, if not months to happen.

How are you going to see those accomplishments if you are on your phone or ipad, or reading a paper?

How are you going to know that your child IS benefiting from the lessons if you are not watching? Do you see how much they have to take in and do all at once?

Honestly, I get sad as a teacher. I am a little disappointed when ‘Michael’, after months of encouragement and gentle guidance, finally trusts me enough to push off from the edge and paddle out to me, only to see that his caregiver hasn’t noticed. They are not even looking our way.

That’s me, feeling sad, as an adult.

Imagine how ‘Michael’ feels.

I do get it, I know that sometimes it is unavoidable. I know that work can reach us any and everywhere, and while your child is in a safe environment, being watched by another adult, it is convenient to get those final emails done. It’s finally ok to book that appointment online, without your small person trying to talk to you or show you something.

It’s just that, they usually are trying to show you something.

I work for an ever-expanding company, and at the co-ordinators meeting this week, an item on the agenda was: HOW do we get parents to put their phones down?

We discussed banning them (not very realistic)

We discussed posters (will you see them?)

We discussed talking to parents and gently encouraging them to watch

We discussed creating an app where you can watch your children swim (in real-time)

We even discussed offering free wifi and changing the password to “please get off your phone and watch me swim”.

Then the following day, our amazing teacher told us about the boy in his class, whose Dad didn’t realise his son was calling out for him.

‘why won’t Daddy watch me? He’s always playing on his phone.’

Please just try it. You will be amazed how much you get out of it, and I’ll bet you your child will work their absolute hardest.

©notsogreatcatsby2018

Big thanks to K N for the pic.

Ten things your child’s swimming instructor wants you to know

Knowing how to swim competently could save your child’s life. For this reason, swimming lessons are not only beneficial for physical strength and development, but should also be seen as providing a vital lifesaving skill that everybody should possess.

Swimming instructors take their time to get to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and try their hardest to bring out the best in their students; but in order to help them do so, here are ten things swimming instructors would like you to remember:

1) Children learn at their own pace

Some kids will swim like dolphins from the get-go, but others will take longer. They may need to build up a relationship with their instructor before they can physically progress, they may need to get to know the pool and their classmates, or their little bodies may take time to develop the strength needed to propell them forwards.

It’s all progress, it’s all development; it’s all important. Try not to compare your child to others, they are trying their best!

2) We all learn differently

Similar to learning at their own pace, children also learn in their own ways. Some respond well to gentle teaching methods, some excel under stricter guidance.

While we try our very best to teach in the best way for your child, sometimes they will be suited to a different instructor. You are more than welcome to talk to us, or to the coordinators about what (or who) will best suit your child.

3) Let them play!

Outside of lessons, the very best thing you can do for your child’s progression is to enjoy water together! Don’t worry about their technique, teach them that swimming can be fun and they will WANT to improve. Do reinforce the usual rules, though, such as staying out of the water until you are already in.

4) Your children really want you to be proud of them

Sometimes it can be frustrating to see your child’s progress plateau, or to see others catch on quicker, but as mentioned above: there can be so many developmental reasons behind this. They do want to do well, they do love your praise, and they do check to see that you are watching.

Sometimes we will see an improvement in their technique or their body positioning, and we will try to make a big deal out of it. It may be miniscule; but it may also signal a complete change in their ability.

5) We all have bad days

Sometimes your child will be tired, uncooperative, grumpy; human. We understand. Give us a heads-up if you can, and remember that we all have bad days. Generally speaking, the best way to handle this is to persist with the lesson. If your child climbs out early, they may expect the same result in future; when they aren’t having a bad day and they just want to do something different.

They may not accomplish the most on that bad day, but seeing the lesson through will set a precedent for the future.

6) Being on time is important

While this one is easier said than done, and we know lateness is sometimes unavoidable, arriving with enough time to get your child used to their surroundings before they are plonked in the water really does make the world of difference.

Children have no real concept of time, but they are incredibly in tune with their parents. If you are rushed and anxious, the chances are that anxiety will come with them into the pool.

If you do happen to be late, we understand; a deep breath may ease that transition into the lesson.

7) It’s best to stay committed

Physical activity and group sports are fantastic for your children; but swimming is also a vital survival skill. Maintaining your commitment to lessons is the best way to develop your child’s strength and capability in and around water.

8) Children pay more attention than we realise

This one is especially relevant for make-up classes. Routine is important to children, but sometimes life gets in the way of that. If your child has a lesson with a new teacher, try to be excited for them! Explain it in a way that will make them feel good about this change, and the chances are they will love it. If they don’t, remember it’s just one lesson, and the same rule applies about sticking it out until the end.

9) You can talk to us!

While we know the job; you know the child. Feel free to talk to us or one of the coordinators about any past experiences/injuries/illnessess/bad days that you may think are relevant.

That being said; we do deal with A LOT of children, so your faith and trust in us and our methods goes a long way.

10) We really do love your kids

Even when they are challenging. In fact, sometimes those challenges make the rewards that bit sweeter. Your children are strong, clever, funny, and the reason we are in this profession.

We genuinely enjoy our time with them; working out their personalities and watching them grow. We are so proud when a child masters a new skill or overcomes a fear; so thank you for trusting us to do so!

©CatOwens2017

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©CatOwens2017