How long will it take my child to learn to swim? We get this question so much at the Front Desk and the answer is so nuanced and based on the individual child and his needs. But, I will attempt to answer it here…hopefully, lol. This might be a bit of a long one, so, in the words of Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park, hold onto your butts! haha!
When a parent asks me when his child will be able to swim, the absolute first questions I ask back is what is your definition of swimming and what are your goals. When I (personally) think of “swimming,” I think of a person who can swim at least 1 length of the pool freestyle with side breathing and a propulsive kick, like a baby Micheal Phelps. (I then imagine a 3-year-old swimming like this and it makes me giggle, but I digress). However, many times parents reply that their definition of swimming is being safe in the water without them having to watch the child. Then I laugh and tell them it’ll be a few years before that happens. Other parents are more realistic and say that they want their child to be able to paddle a few strokes and “swim” 2-3 feet, and depending on the age and ability of the child, this is totally feasible within 2-3 sessions.
So let’s look at our levels and our goals. Level 1 is all about comfort, then mobility. You will not be able to swim in the water without being comfortable and being able to float. So much of Level 1 is centered around comfortability (playing games, doing crocodiles and bunny hops, practicing jumps) and floating. Every single one of my level 1 classes float on their front and back at least twice per lesson because it’s that important! (Even the first few weeks of all our lessons center around the basics of swimming, including floating and breath control). So while Level 1 may not look like we are doing all that much, we are building the foundation of all the levels and all the skills.
It’s not until a child can submerge themselves underwater that they will be able to swim, and this doesn’t happen until the end of Level 1 (Orange) and Level 2. Once a child can float with their face in the water, they will be able to begin paddling around and “swimming.” From there we start learning how to do “big arms” or “alternated arm and switch.” You’ll definitely see my Level 2 classes kicking with 1 hand up and 1 hand down because we are practicing not only our propulsive kick but a full stroke from hip to above the head. This goes beyond the doggy paddling that some parents might be referring to when they want their child to “swim.”
Finally, in Level 3, we are working on perfecting our freestyle, including the side breathing component, as well as our backstroke. However, in levels 1-3, all the focus is on perfect short distances. That is why you will not see very many of our kids doing full laps repetitively. It’s not until the end of Level 3 (Blue) and Level 4 (Blue/Purple and Purple) that we get to my definition of swimming (a full-length freestyle with side breathing and propulsive kick).
And just to complete the goals of our levels, Level 4 & 5 is all about building the distance on freestyle and backstroke and coordinating breaststroke and butterfly.
Once I have established what the parent is looking for in terms of swimming ability, then I look at the individual child. Is the child afraid of the water? Does the kid mind getting splashed in the face? Will the child go underwater happily? If the child is afraid of the water, we are starting at the beginning of our levels, at Red, and depending on how afraid the child is, it might take a while for her to get comfortable and start dipping her face, then submerging herself. Getting a child who is afraid of the water to start going underwater could take up to a year (or more!). If the child doesn’t mind getting splashed in the face, but maybe isn’t dipping his face in the water yet, we would place him in a Red/Orange class. Now we are working still on comfortability, but there’s already some comfort there, and working on dipping the face for longer and longer periods, up to about 5-6 seconds. If the child is happily going underwater, then they are already at Level 2 (depending on age), and it makes our job so much easier! Now, we are just building those floating, kicking, and arm stroking skills. And, this is all for a neurotypical kid. If your child needs special accommodations or is on the spectrum, it could take longer.
“But my child’s been doggy-paddling around all summer–why can’t he do that here?” We get this question a lot too, and it goes back to comfortability and floating. Yes, your child might be able to swim with his head above the water, and he might be really good at it too, but this type of swimming is exhausting! Will your child be able to do this if he falls or is pushed in the water and his face gets wet? Will he be able to do it if he gets splashed? What happens when he gets tired? Swimming with your face out of the water doesn’t equate to comfort in the water. These are all safety concerns, and it’s why we focus on submersion, then mobility.
While this method of learning to swim takes time, we believe in our process. We believe in it so much, we offer a guarantee to all our students, ages 4+, that if they spend more than 3 sessions at a specific level, they get the 4th session for free! So parents, trust us! We know this way takes time, but so does learning how to figure skate, do karate, or play basketball. You wouldn’t expect your child to do triple axels, go up a few belts in karate, or make a layup in a few short months, and we cannot expect a 4-year-old to move along the top of the water long enough or far enough to get out of trouble in this short amount of time either.
So what can parents do? Practice, practice, practice! Tub time is the best time for trying skills out, like dipping faces in the water and even floating (depending on the size of your child and tub). I can totally remember trying to float in my bathtub when I was little. I can also remember trying to swim and making a mess, lol. Tub time is also great for practicing with goggles. A lot of kids will try more skills with goggles on (it’s like Dumbo’s magic feather). And also, we have our Free Friday Family Swims from 1-230 and 630-8 pm, where the entire immediate family can come swim for free! So everyone (yes, even you, Dad), can practice floating and goof around. You can have your child show you their tricks, and you can even show your kid some of your own.
Summer Session is notorious for having older kids (think 6+ years old) who don’t know how to swim. Well, let me rephrase that, summer is notorious for having older kids who think they know how to swim, but really don’t. We get so many people, both young and old, who take lessons, and think that swimming is thrashing their arms and legs in the water. They think that they have to “do something”–like move their arms or kick really hard to be able to move through the water. But this is not how you swim.
Swimming is really just floating. That’s it. It’s floating with gentle movements from arm and legs that propel you forward. The best way to swim is to actually do the least amount possible. Kind of like golf.
Floating, and therefore swimming, is understanding that the water works opposite. To move forward, you need to push the water backwards, and vice versa. It is trusting that the water will hold you up (buoyancy), and working with the water to move.
And this is why floating is so important in swimming because floating IS swimming. If you can float with your face in the water and move your arms, BAM, you have a freestyle. If you can float on your back and gently kick, BAM, that’s a backstroke. It may not be Olympic quality swimming, but it will get you from point A to point B safely. This is why we spend so much time in our Level 1 and Level 2 classes on floating, because floating is the foundation of swimming, and back floating especially, is the foundation for being safe in the water.
Safety-wise, back floating is incredibly important. Every single one of my Level 2 classes does a component of back floating every class. If you can float on your back, you can breathe! This is why we focus so much on rollover breathing because back floating enables you to catch your breath, relax, fix goggles, or call for help if needed. Kids who can roll over and float on their back can swim quite a distance as well (which is what makes these younger Level 2 kids so dangerous, but that is for a different blog). If there is one safety skill that you emphasize with your kids, it is back floating.
There is also something called vertical floating, which is my favorite. Vertical floating is floating straight up and down (vertically). Vertical floating is great because it is such a flex, a power move. If you can float vertically, you can tread water, and if you can tread water, you can play water polo (the best sport ever).
So while many people may scoff at floating and think that it’s not important or it’s just for lower levels, it is actually the most important part of swimming, hands down (or no hands down, because that wouldn’t be floating, and no feet down either). Next time you’re in the pool, try just floating around and see what all you can do with such a basic skill.
I was an annoying child. At least that is what my mother told me when I asked her why she signed me up for swimming when I was little, as opposed to girl scouts or softball. Well, she didn’t exactly say that I was annoying. She said that I had a lot of energy that needed to be used and focused, and also, I needed something that would help me sleep at night. I’m pretty sure that is mom code for I was an annoying child though.
Little did I know that her decision to enroll me in the Summer Swim Team would have such big implications in my life, and I’m so glad that it did.
But what she didn’t know and I didn’t know was that Swim Team, and Summer Swim Team in particular, has a culture all its own. Parents need to make sure that not only are their kids ready for a swim team, but that they are ready too.
The biggest difference that parents should be aware of is that Swim Team practice is NOT lessons! Ms. MacKenzie, an instructor here and Head Coach for Salisbury High School and Middle School Swim Teams, as well as Head Coach for Down at the Severns in Annapolis, Maryland, says that coaches are fine tuning techniques during practice; they are not teaching your kids the complete stroke. That means that your child should know all 4 strokes and they should be comfortable swimming multiple laps of each stroke.
Also, parents should be aware that their kid might not be the best. They might not be 1st, or even 2nd or 3rd. MacKenzie also says that this doesn’t matter as much. Swim Team will make your child stronger and they will improve. However, it might be a struggle to get there, especially with swimming full laps. It’s imperative that parents remain patient.
This all boils down to intensity. Swim Team, even Summer Swim Team, is definitely more intense than lessons, and it’s competitive. From a coach’s point of view, parents must be patient, keep an open mind, and know that practice and lessons are two totally different things.
Swimming runs (swims?) in my family, so I spoke with my sister-in-law, Jenni, about being a Swim Team Mom. Swim Team Moms are a different breed of mom, but Swim Team Moms make great (albeit, loud) friends. Jenni recommends doing this by volunteering at the meets either by timing, being a runner, or a wrangler/zoo keeper (keeping the kids together, especially for relays). This will also help you get to know the other kids and start to understand swimming as a sport. It’s also important to get to know the coach, but not BE the coach. While Summer Swim is competitive, it’s not as competitive as the regular season. (Which, BTW, swimming is a Winter sport).
And finally, I interviewed my nephew, Gregg, on what he wished he would have known before he started swimming. He states, emphatically, to not worry about breaststroke, lol. As a butterfly-er, he loathes breaststroke, and is always trying to convince people that fly is not that bad. (It’s terrible, don’t do it!) But he wishes that before joining, he would have known more about each of the strokes.
And that seems to be the mistake parents make; they equate practice with lessons, and throw their kids in to literally sink or swim. I know my mother did it to me, but I was annoying, so she had good reason 🙂 Parents, just understand that while Summer Swim Team is fun and a great workout, your kids should have some idea of what they are doing. If you’re not sure, sign them up for lessons and our instructors can let you know if they are ready. And, if your kids love swimming, but Summer Swim Team is too much, you can totally look into our non-competitve Swim Team, which we have this summer, as well as during the school year.
Swimming and joining a swim team changed my life. It’s a great way for me to stay active as I get older, it’s also provided me a great career path, and I hope, I’m slightly less annoying (to my mother and to all of humanity). But, it’s also important to understand where lessons end and Swim Team begins.
One of the fondest memories I have of me and my dad is swimming at the Upper Perk pool in the summer. Now, you need to understand my father. He was born and raised in Germany and emigrated here when he was 18. So, he was very much European, and his swim attire definitely portrayed this.
As much as I loved swimming with my dad, I also absolutely hated it because he indeed wore a speedo; a big, giant, German guy in a speedo. Yes, that was my childhood. And while I hated it at the time, I can definitely look back on it now and laugh because really, a big, giant, hairy German guy in a speedo at this barely suburban, local pool??!! LOL!
But my favorite thing about swimming with Norbert wasn’t so much about “practicing my skills,” it was about having fun in the water with my dad (which, btw, once we were in the water, the embarrassment faded–as the water covered up that speedo). We would totally race, but he would also toss me around, and flip me and it was always just a nice time of us goofing off and being outside on those warm, summer evenings. We would always leave the pool starving and eat ice cream when we got home, and my mom would always give us “the look” when we wanted 3 scoops, but we were growing kids! Yes, Norbert was a giant kid when it came to us playing and eating.
I never thought of this time as practicing, but that was what Norbert and I were doing, however unknowingly. When I was super little (like 4 years old), he would toss me up in the air spinning and catch me and splash me. This got me more comfortable with being splashed, with getting water in my face, with going all the way under the water. As I grew, our races meant that I was practicing my strokes, however inefficiently they might have been. But, I was learning how my body worked in the water; how I could make it go faster; how I could hold my breath longer and longer; and how I could flip and turn and rotate and use the water to my advantage.
While this might seem like a simple story about me and my dad, it really extends out to what parents can do to help their children progress at swimming, no matter their ability level.
And parents, you don’t have to wait until the pools open for the summer. You can practice this all year long with your kids, even in the comfort of your own home!
Tub time is a great time to start acclimating your kids to the water. It’s your child’s home, so it’s completely safe and comfortable. This is where you can start dripping water over their head (and eventually face) with their buckets and toys. This is also a great place to start splashing and blowing bubbles. If your tub is big enough and your child is small enough, you can even work on back floats and possibly front floats.
We have spent A LOT of time in our houses this year, and if you are ready to get out, we offer free Friday Family swims for students currently enrolled in swim lessons. Here, you can practice all those skills that I practiced with my dad. We have times on Friday afternoons from 1–230. This time you don’t need to schedule in advance. We also have Friday evening times, 630-715 or 715-8. These times you must schedule in advance with our Front Desk so we can maintain physical distancing. And just because your kids might be able to beat you in races, you should still come and swim and play. You can have your child teach you breaststroke or butterfly, even if it’s not exactly correct. The very act of teaching will help solidify the theory of what the stroke entails and how to do it in the child’s brain. Showing you can help them understand how their body works in the water.
Always remember though, Family Swim is for play and for fun! Let your child splash and experiment and be goofballs in the water. So much of their time is spent having to “be serious and listen.” Let them have this time with you to have fun, practice some skills (even if it doesn’t necessarily look like practicing), and be kids. While they may not end up becoming Michael Phelps, they will probably remember spending this time with you and enjoying swimming and playing in the pool for years to come, even if you do wear a speedo.
This is not an easy blog to write this month. The blog is a bit late because of the sensitivity surrounding this topic. Parents, we gotta talk about your behavior. I’m not talking about your kids. Your kids are great!
Here’s the fact: Swim-in Zone creates color levels to organize your child into the appropriate class based on his/her skills and their age. That’s it. That’s why we have all our pretty color levels. In no way does your child’s level reflect on your parenting ability.
Here’s the other truth, but we all know this one already: 2020 sucked! For many kids, they didn’t swim at all this past year. And those 2 weeks last spring totally didn’t count. So kids who come to Swim-in Zone just for Spring, haven’t actually swam since June 2019. And I’m not talking about swimming around your backyard pool in the summer. Those aren’t lessons. Kids are having fun and doggie paddling around–as they should! But they are not learning the proper techniques for side breathing, they aren’t learning how to add the arms and adjust timing to create a beautiful breaststroke, and they aren’t mastering butterfly by themselves. And that’s okay.
Here’s the other hard part: your child has probably regressed in swimming skills. But guess what, that’s okay too!
The statistic is that for every month out of the water, it takes the child 1 week to regain those skills. As I said before, many of these children haven’t actually swam in lessons since June 2019. Even if we are being generous, the last time they were in a pool could very easily have been August 2019–that’s a year and a half of not swimming. That’s 18 months and will therefore take about 18 weeks or all of Spring Session just to get to where they were before. Even if they were able to paddle around this summer, that’s still 7 months out of the pool and half of Spring session (7/15 weeks) just to get back to where they were.
Here’s what’s not okay. Arguing with an instructor about where your child should be placed. Just because your children were doing something with you all summer doesn’t mean they will do it with our instructors or they remember the skills they practiced a year ago. Some children need to rebuild those skills.
We talk about giving kids a break in school because they lost out on a whole year and we need to extend that same courtesy to sports as well. If your child had just learned how to shoot a lay up and then didn’t shoot another one for over a year later, he or she isn’t going to remember to do it properly the 1st time. It’s going to take time to review and sometimes relearn dribbling, shooting, jumping, where to hit the ball on the backboard, how to extend the arm. While parents will understand this about basketball, swimming takes on “less importance” because it’s just fun or it’s just for safety and they aren’t going to a swim team.
Let’s all agree that it’s been rough lately, and this Spring Session, we are all about fun and having a good time, with some life-saving skills thrown in. Parents, don’t ruin it for your children by focusing on a color or a level. Let your children have this time to be even more of a kid and get their crazies out, and let your instructor do the job that she has been professionally trained for. I promise you, if you can relax, you will enable your instructor to relax, and your child is going to learn a whole lot more 🙂