We get a lot of parents who come up to us and say, “how did you do it? I’ve been trying to get my child to do __________ and I just couldn’t! What is your secret?” The secret is…there is no secret! Just gentle repetition, practice, and a lot of distraction.
Here at Swim-in Zone, we use gentle techniques to get your child to do skills, particularly with back floating. Generally, kids HATE back floating. They hate back floating like they hate broccoli or anything else that is relatively healthy and good for them. The issue with back floats is water gets in their ears, and it is uncomfortable. It’s easy for most adults because we are used to it. We have adjusted. But for kids, they need more practice.
We like to start our back floats by having the kids rest their heads on our shoulder like it’s a pillow. This close contact gives them the security they need. We also only have them practice for about 3–5 seconds, and we count with them or sing a song; anything to distract them and make them forget they are on their back. Once they are comfortable, our instructors are able to sink down lower and start to gently get the kid’s ears in the water. We also practice on the steps, by having the kids use the top step as a “pillow.” In my classes, I tell the kids to take a nap, and we all snore while practicing our floats. We are still only trying this for a few seconds at a time.
I like to break it up and practice several times per class, especially in my younger Level 1’s. We practice back floating on the steps, and with me, we also practice back floats after we jump in. Practicing back floats after a jump is vital. It helps reinforce the idea that if they fall into the pool, they can float on their back and kick to safety or float until help arrives. Most importantly, floating on their back enables them to breathe or possibly call for help if needed.
Once kids are comfortable on our shoulders, we start transitioning them to floating with our hands behind their head. Because kids like to be in control, our instructors let the kids put their hands around their ears, then the instructor can put his/her hands on top of the child’s. This also helps change the child’s center of gravity and is less invasive than if the instructor was holding their head. They eventually get used to this as well, and then we are just holding the back of their head, and soon, they are floating by themselves!
The most important part is patience! All of this takes several weeks, if not several sessions. I do not expect my Level 1 Beginners (Reds) to be comfortable on their back. I do not even expect my Level 1 Intermediates (Red/Oranges) to be very comfortable. However, by the end of Level 1 (Orange), they should be comfortable, and the instructor should be almost able to let go of the child’s head for 2-3 seconds.
While this may seem like magic, it’s merely practice. And you can help us! Remember, we have free Friday Family swim times from 1–230 and 630–8, where the immediate family may schedule a 45-minute block to practice and have fun in the pool. Also, throughout Winter Break, December 27–31st, we have Family Swim times for $10/45 minute session, which may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. Bring all the kids and get their energy out (and get them out of your house!)
So this month I had this really great idea to get a video of all of our staff saying what they were grateful for and to have a special statement from Jim and Penny. Penny, by the way, hates pictures and videos of herself, hence, the statement. And then….I started exhibiting symptoms and Swim-in Zone made the decision to shut down for the rest of the Fall session, and now I am stuck with “what am I thankful for?”
Many of you are not aware of some of the personal issues that hit me earlier in the year. I’ve been dealing with the fallout of my marriage. I’ve had to adjust my living situation and I got a roommate, then of course, Covid and quarantine and the rest of the dumpster fire of 2020. And now, I’m stuck at home, quarantining again, because I may have gotten it. It would be so, so easy for me to wallow. I mean, this year, specifically, I could beat almost anyone in a “Woe is Me” contest, lol. But, I won’t. Mostly because I have started to look for the silver linings
And yes, it is so easy for me to say to look at the silver linings and be grateful for what you have this November. It’s practically a November cliché. But this one is different. It is different because I’ve had to change my perspective on every aspect of my life, and honestly, if it wasn’t for my Swim-in Zone family (because, that’s what you guys are at this point), I’m not sure I would have gotten through this year so unscathed.
I’m so, so thankful that I was super poor in 2013 and decided to apply to SiZ. I had/have a job. Some of you know that I am a professor at Northampton Community College. But, adjuncting is hard and inconsistent. So, I applied for a job that I knew I could do since I worked at various YMCAs teaching lessons throughout high school and college. I thought, “hey, this’ll be easy and fun”…and probably short term. From here, I met all the staff that would eventually become my family. Betsy, who worked at SiZ until recently, is my de facto big sister and emergency contact. Dana, who is the office manager, and the one who responds to your general emails, is my best friend. Jim, Penny, and Sue, the owners of the business, are my parents and saviors and life guiders and sometimes pain in my butt, all rolled into one. Many companies say that they are like families, but so few actually achieve the sentiment. I am so glad that way back in 2013 I couldn’t get a summer class and needed a job. Like I said, silver lining, right.
And even though this is so fresh, I am so glad that my life turned absolutely on end this year. There’s an idea I always see floating around the interwebs and that is the concept that an arrow can only be shot forwards by pulling it back. So, the saying goes that when life drags you back, it means it will eventually launch you into something great. The first 3 months of 2020 were a personal hell for me. Jim and I had a candid conversation and he asked me what I needed. And the only thing I could think of and the only thing I could honestly do, was to keep working. I said, let me just keep working. And they did. Ooh, they certainly did. The pandemic hit in March and Sue, Jim, and Penny decided to reorganize and I got promoted to Swim School Director and working with the Marketing team and helping with communication to the Staff and training instructors and front desk reception and getting made part of the administration team and now I’m doing the blog and they totally kept me working! The silver lining is that I am actually better off now, then I was a year ago–definitely financially and most definitely personally. Life certainly did fling me forward, more than I ever thought possible.
So, as this year comes to a close and I am now stuck quarantining at home with potential symptoms of Covid and more than likely not able to join my friends and adopted family for Thanksgiving, I am reminded that there are silver linings and there are things to be grateful for and there is goodness and kindness and caring still happening in the world. If there is one thing 2020 did for us, and I mean all of us, was to give us the time (literally) to keep looking, and most importantly, to be all of these things.
Pumpkin Week starts on Friday, October 23rd, and it is my absolute favorite week of the year. The kids get super excited to see the pumpkins (their Halloween pumpkins) floating around our pool. They get to see the big pumpkins as well as the little ones bobbing and moving with the waves and they see each other hanging on and floating with them.
While Pumpkin Week is fun and exciting and something a little different, it serves a vital importance, and that is in teaching floating. Floating is probably the number one, most important skill to teach your child–not breathing, not freestyle, not treading water–FLOATING!
Floating is so important because it is the foundational building block to actually swimming. Floating teaches you to relax in the water. (You can’t float when you are panicked.) Floating teaches you your own buoyancy. While floating, you can do small movements with your arms and legs and reach a destination. Floating on your back will help you breathe, and good floats with arms and feet added becomes swimming. This holds true for breaststroke and butterfly as well.
The need to be horizontal in the water is essential to good swimming and floating teaches us this. It is why we practice it so much in level 1 and 2, but also reinforce it in level 3, 4, & 5. I’m sure once parents notice their child putting their face in the water and floating on their bellies, all of a sudden, swimming “clicks.” Now, even a two or three year old can “swim” a few feet through the water–it is because the child is completely horizontal and floating. For example, my student Gus, who is 5 years old, just figured this out this week. Gus started as a Red/Orange in the beginning of the Fall Session. He was not an afraid swimmer and had no problem getting splashed in the face or going underwater (briefly) during jumps. Within a few weeks, he was dipping his face for longer and longer periods of time, starting with 1 second and eventually increasing it to 5-6 seconds. Once he became comfortable dipping his face, even for a second, we added it to our crocodile walks, because crocodile walks force children to be horizontal (even though hands are down on the steps, their legs are stretched out behind them). As Gus got more comfortable with his face in and legs out, he was able to start feeling his own buoyancy, which led to him being able to trust the water to hold him up. This was demonstrated in his front floats. He started with holding onto my arms and dipping his face. Eventually, his face would stay in just a little longer and a little longer. Then, his grip on my arms would loosen and I would start to loosen my grip on him. He began to feel the water hold him up. Once he learned to dip his face for longer periods of time, he moved up to Orange. This week, Gus decided he wanted to go underwater and you could see his comfortability in going under (and not listening to me, lol). This week, in going underwater and in putting his face underfor supermans (or torpedoes), he figured out that when his face goes in, his butt and legs come up and he can paddle around like that. And because Gus is now underwater and ignoring me, he graduated to level 2, Orange/Yellow. (That’s how we know kids should be in level 2; they want to swim around underwater; they don’t care what their teachers are talking about =). But before parents get upset that your child might not be listening to us, let me tell you right now, that’s a good thing! Your child knows how to float and before long, he or she will be off swimming around (and being more dangerous in the water because they don’t know their limitations, but that is another post for another time). Gus is an exception, however. Gus is older (5 years old), he was not afraid, he has a natural athletic ability, and he was in a private lesson–which all make teaching him a little bit easier.
So what does all this have to do with pumpkins? Well, pumpkins float. Big pumpkins, little pumpkins, all pumpkins float–even the 800+ pound one sitting out front. Pumpkins float because they have air in them and we float for the same reason. Now, we aren’t just talking about hypothetical theories. We are learning science (Archimedes Principle) and we are experiencing and demonstrating that science to our kids. And hopefully, while seeing these pumpkins, as big as they are, our kids realize that they too, can float.
Over the years, many studies have been published regarding exercise and academic abilities. Much of what was concluded was that exercise does in fact help academic performance. But this was all generalized, as in any type of exercise or sport would help boost a child’s grades. For instance, if your child played soccer, they would have good grades, just as if he would play basketball, or she would play softball. However, research published in April 2020 has found that swimming is a bit different. Swimming does just a little bit more and kids that keep swimming end up quite academically accomplished.
So why is swimming different and what exactly does it do?
Swimming provides what is called bilateral cross patterning movements, meaning that the right and left side of the body are doing opposite movements. Think about swimming freestyle or backstroke. When one arm is in front of the head, the other arm is down by the side. These cross patterning movements help the brain develop nerve fibers between the hemispheres that “facilitate communication, feedback, and modulation,” according to Lana Whitehead, a lead swimming researcher in her pamphlet Water Smart Babies: Scientific Benefits of Baby Swim Lessons. The more both sides of the brain “talk” with each other, the more efficient neurological development will be. However, if there is poor interaction between the hemispheres of the brain, the slower language development, and academic learning will be. In addition to stronger neurological development, the water provides a gentle resistance that forces the body to work through it, thus further developing nerve fibers and muscle control and coordination.
The neurological development that swimming provides literally sets children up for academic success. A 2012 study out of Griffith University in Australia found that kids who took year-round swimming lessons were approximately 20 months ahead in major milestones, compared with their peers within the same age group and socioeconomic status. This further breaks down to 11 months ahead in oral expressions, 6 months ahead in mathematical reasoning, 2 months ahead in brief reading, 17 months ahead in story recall, and 20 months ahead in understanding directions for the average 4-year-old. The benefits of swimming lessons further extends to better mathematical scores in elementary school. A study out of the United Kingdom in 2016 looked at 6400 children at ages 5, 7, and 11 years olds found those who participated in organized sports were 1.5 times more likely to “reach higher than expected levels in tests” compared with peers who did not participate in sports. And, kids who continue swimming into high school had 89.3% better than typical grades.
Swimming isn’t just conducive for neuro-typical children either. Kids with ADD/ADHD who swim show “improvement in ADHD symptoms and social functioning” according to a 2016 study. Kids with ADD/ADHD have issues with impulse control, processing speed, gross and fine motor skills, and academic achievement due to focus problems, and swimming addresses all these issues through the neurological and chemical responses in the brain. The best example of swimming benefiting kids with ADD/ADHD is Michael Phelps, who’s mother enrolled him in swimming after being diagnosed with ADHD at age 11. On a more personal note, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, had me swimming at age 3-4 just so I would sleep and stop annoying her (her words, not mine. Also, love you mom!).
It doesn’t just stop at high school though either. Swimming at any age provides better blood flow to the brain. A study conducted by researchers from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom found that simply standing in the water chest deep significantly increased blood flow to the brain, which has been shown to increase cognitive function. (Our instructors might be geniuses!)
Swimming provides some amazing life long benefits and while good grades and socialization are incredibly important during childhood and adolescent years, the health benefits of swimming and exercise pay off in later years as well. If you want to give your child a head start in their education, sign them up for swim lessons. It’s fun, it teaches them a lifelong skill, and it sets them up for a future of academic success.
And for our shameless plug, we are offering Fynn’s Academy for the Fall. Fynn’s Academy is a 3-hour program, in which your child receives academic assistance with online learning by a certified Pre-K–12 teacher for 2 hours and 1 hour of free swim, thus fully linking academic skills with swimming skills. You can sign up for this online, at the front desk, or call us at 610-625-4848.
It’s summertime and the pools are open! Well, at least YOUR pool is open, and all the neighbors want to come to your house and swim. But, how do you make sure you are keeping your family and friends safe? According to the CDC, the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4 is drowning, and 25% of these little ones drown in home pools. Drowning is also the second leading cause of unintentional death for kids ages 5-9 (the first is motor vehicle accidents). This equates to about 700 children a year dying, and approximately 6000 children in the ER with non-fatal injuries. And this doesn’t even take into account children on the spectrum, who are 160 times more likely to drown.
To make matters more depressing, it’s not just kids and it’s not just pools. According to the Red Cross, approximately 54% of all Americans either can’t swim or don’t have the basic swimming survival skills, which are the ability to jump into water over their heads, take a breath, tread water or float for one minute, swim one length, and get out of the pool without a ladder. This means the adults at your home are also in danger, especially if they don’t know how to swim and/or drinking is involved. And everyone without a pool–you’re not off the hook. Infants and toddlers can also drown in bathtubs, bath seats, buckets, wells, cisterns, septic tanks, decorative ponds, and toilets. Children can drown in as little as an inch of water. Almost 70% of kids who drowned were not expected to be in or around a body of water. Make sure that if your child is missing, you always check the water first!
With all this bleak information, you might feel like, “why bother?”, but there are many preventative measures you can take to keep everyone protected. The two, single, most important things you can do is to have a designated water watcher and to have physical barriers surrounding the pool that prevent unintended use.
A designated water watcher doesn’t necessarily have to be a lifeguard. It should be someone who is responsible, sober, and dedicated to undistracted watching. This means they are actively watching the pool, and not chatting with friends, reading, or playing on their cell phone. Besides just having a water watcher, all children who can’t swim should be within arm’s distance of an adult. Drowning is not like in the movies. There’s no screaming, no splashing, and no calling for help. So even though an adult might be right there, a child could easily go under without anyone noticing. Having the adult and having the water watcher provides layers of protection to help ensure this doesn’t happen.
Another layer of protection is physical barriers. The Red Cross highlights many physical safety measures to take to secure your pool. Your home pool, whether in ground or above ground, should be completely (all 4 sides) surrounded by isolated fencing. The pool should be separated from not only your backyard, but the house as well. All gates should be self-closing, self-latching, and out of reach of children. This alone reduces drowning risk by about 83%. For above ground pools, any access points, like ladders or steps, should be secured, locked, or removed after use.
The bottom line is drowning deaths are preventable. Once precautionary measures are in place, and you commit to teaching the entire family safe swimming practices, it will give you more peace of mind and make your home pool a more enjoyable place to entertain. Happy Swimming!