Teaching Children to Swim
Swimming is not only fun and a sport, but it is also an essential life skill. To a certain extent the younger you are taught the better. Teachers and coaches all over the world have their opinions on how and when teaching children to swim should take place.
The methods my good friend Ron Bower used to teach thousands of children to swim over a thirty-year period were gained through the actual doing and he read widely and developed his own method based on what worked. He continually racked his brain trying to put sometimes complex ideas, into language that the children could visualize, understand and remember. He often drew on his experience in teaching and coaching children in, not only swimming but also, soccer, gymnastics, and netball.
The when entirely depends on how well you know the child. If it is your own child, grandchild or similar relationship then you can start getting them used to a pool from 6 months or so on. If they do not know you very well, Ron found that they need to be between 3 and 4 years of age. This enables you to communicate with them and it is before a lot of fear has been built up with well-meaning parents and friends continually telling them to keep away from the pool, especially the deep end.
For this reason, despite the pool being 2.6 meters deep at one end, there was no deep end, only the other end. The children were shown how deep it was after they swam confidently all over the pool.
It is better if young children are taught in warm water as they relax much easier if the water is above 25o C and better still if it is around 30o. Their muscles tighten up in colder water and they become cold easily, even on warm days, so their experience is traumatic rather than fun. Learning with a friend, the ideal number is 3 per teacher, helps to take the pressure off them for some of the class time and seeing
Fun, patient, firm and fair
Ron found, for a group of 2 or 3 children ½ hour is the ideal period for each lesson. A child on their own should only have a lesson period of 20 minutes, if they are 5 years of age or under, as they become emotionally and physically exhausted if they go the full ½ hour
The first thing to remember is that the child is not always there because they want too. It is mainly because somebody, usually a parent, sees the importance of the child learning to swim. It is therefore very important to try and make it fun, but not at the expense of being firm but fair. The child will not progress very quickly if fun gets in the way of learning and many times an area of fear has to be overcome. This is where patience, as well as firmness, is required. You cannot move them through these times if you are not firm, fair and patient.
Ron was successful in teaching children to swim, who had had lessons from a number of other teachers because the child could control the teacher rather than the teacher the child. Parents often find this difficult but are assured, your child will still love you if you are firm and will be thrilled when they eventually succeed.
A waterproof puppet or toy (cartoon character or similar) can be helpful. The character can be used to relax nervous kids, demonstrate the floating position, and use a funny voice to speak to them. If you can get them to laugh they are more likely to trust you and take notice of what you say.