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 🙂
We know parents want their children to be safe in and around the water. It is imperative to us as well. However, what parents think is safe in and around the water and what we know to be safe in and around the water can differ greatly.
Many parents think that if their child can jump into the water and get to the side, they are safe. But this isn’t necessarily true. There is so much more to swimming than just hanging out in the pool.
Being safe in the water (not just a pool) means being able to swim a distance and get a breath. It means being able to call for help if needed, and it means being able to help someone else, if necessary. We structure our lessons with these ideas in mind.
Our Levels 1 and 2 focus around safety, specifically for the self. In Level 1, we emphasize that an adult should always be watching the child and that the child is never the 1st one in the pool. We also start working on floats, so that by the time they are in Level 2, the child is able to roll over onto his or her back and float independently, ensuring they can get a breath or call for help, if needed. However, after Level 2, parents stop thinking about safety, and we are just getting started.
Our Level 3 classes start focusing safety lessons around helping other people. We start teaching reaching and throwing assists, and Level 4 classes look at rip currents, how to identify a drowning person, and what to do if a person is choking. We even revisit jumping and diving rules since many of us will swim in ponds, lakes, or even a quarry sometime during our lifetimes. Our goal for water safety is to be safe in any body of water, not just in a pool.
For us, safety doesn’t begin and end at the walls of our pool. It goes beyond, into the shores of our world.
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.