I have been teaching swimming for over 40 years and I have tried to study, read, explore and digest everything there is out there to make me a better teacher. I can tell you now there is NO right way or wrong way to teach swimming. There are as many methods as there are religions and no one can say which is the right one but everyone believes theirs’ is the right one!
Whatever works best for you but do not be dogmatic in your approach and always try something new. You never know it might just work on some children.
How do we approach our first swimming lesson? There are 5 basic steps to take to make sure you start the child off on the right road. This edition will discuss the first step.
ENTRY AND EXIT
A child will develop confidence and feel more secure once he/she knows they can get in and out without help.
No matter which way you look at it this is where everybody should start. The child must learn to get in and out of the pool safely and without hindrance to anybody else.
If you have steps leading down into the pool you can begin with those. Hold the child’s hand and walk them down into the pool. Songs are great i.e.” The Grand old Duke of York”. Children need to feel safe so hold their hands at first. The water moves and sways and can be quite scary and sometimes a child can lose their footing and be put off. Take it slow until the child becomes acclimatised with the motion and movement made with and in the water. As they become more confident you can progress to maybe running down and up again. Make it fun and gloss over any mess ups with a smile and a joke as if nothing really matters. Let them always see you smile or laugh.
FROM THE POOL SIDE
This is more tricky and the child may need a little help initially as they need to use the strength in their arms to undertake this approach. The child sits on the side facing the pool with their feet dangling in the water. They place one hand either side of their body. Take one hand over to the other and twist round to face away from the pool but try to keep the feet still in the water. “Who’s got muscles?” Keeping their hands in place the lower themselves down into the pool. Hopefully, the pool is shallow enough for them to stand. The relief on their faces when the find they can touch the bottom is a treat in itself. If the pool is not shallow enough maybe you should put some kind of swimming aid on to help them feel more secure. Just in case they do let go of the side! With this method ideally they should maintain holding the side as their bodies sink to maybe shoulder level. Hold on and let them feel the floating sensation as they bounce gently up and down, still holding on. That’s enough for now. Let them then try to push up and climb out of the pool using their arm muscles. At first some children will need a little help with this but as they get more secure and develop their strength they will get out easy enough. It is important that they learn to do this by themselves as quickly as possible. They have got to pull themselves out for safety sake and you do not want to be hurting your lower backs continually helping them. If mum or dad are around keep them away too. They love to help their little ones but, really, it is not helping!
You can make a game of this too. “Turn around, jump up and down 10 times and climb out. Who can do it the fastest?”
The muscles that the are beginning to use doing this exercise are the same arm muscles they will be using when they start to swim. Encourage this method in the early stages.
Children can be quite scared to jump in at first so do not rush this either. Always make sure the stance is right from the get go. Two feet placed on the edge of the pool with the toes curled over the edge. “Like a little bird holding onto a branch” and the feet slightly apart. You can hold their hand to start with and do not let them go under in the beginning. The shock of leaving the side is enough at first. Soon they begin to trust you a bit more and you can let them go under but keep holding the hand. Make sure the child jumps with 2 feet at the same time. You do not want them to step off one foot at a time. They will eventually progress to jumping in by themselves. Make sure they land on 2 feet and stand still. Children love it once they can jump in by themselves but they must learn to make sure the area is clear before they jump in. Accidents happen so quickly and they must be made aware that other swimmers might be in the water.
The final entry of course if to Dive into the pool. I will do an article on diving and the progressions at a later stage as this is an exercise all on it’s own and I am sorry to say that I have witnessed a lot of bad methods from teachers who think diving is an exercise taught at the deep end of the pool and so the reluctant child is dragged to the deep end and force to dive with horrible repercussions. Watch this space for learning to dive.