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Learning to Swim takes Time, but How Much? It Depends…

Learning to Swim takes Time, but How Much? It Depends…

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. 

Is Summer Swim Team A Good Fit For Your Child/Family?

Is Summer Swim Team A Good Fit For Your Child/Family?

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.

Water Safety Begins with You, the Parent

Water Safety Begins with You, the Parent

The world is getting closer and closer to normal, and this summer is looking to be the first time in over a year that we get to truly be social and have a sense of normal. I am personally looking forward to getting together outside with friends and have my daughter, Reilly, now 16 months old, meet her extended family and friends. My name is Kevin, and I don’t normally write our monthly blog, but since it is water safety month, and I’m a new parent, I thought I would give it a shot. 

I little bit about myself. I have been a lifeguard since I was 15 and a lifeguard instructor for the Red Cross since I was 16. Now at 33, I have seen I lot in my career and I have learned that it’s more about prevention when it comes to water safety. So, let me take you back a few years and tell you a story from my time as a lifeguard at the Hellertown Pool.

Lifeguarding at the Hellertown pool are some of my favorite memories growing up, as pretty much all my closest friends were lifeguards as well; however, it was not easy by any means. With hundreds of people in your section alone, it was a daunting task. I remember guarding down at the deep end at the slide area. That day there was a family with a little boy who had to be no older than 3. The parents were not paying attention to him as well as they should. Before you know it,  he had walked from the other side of the pool and started climbing the steps to the slide. Luckily, I saw him halfway up and was able to get to him before he slid down. The mother was very grateful, and I hope learned an important lesson about watching her children at the pool.

You see, what most parents don’t understand is just because there is a lifeguard on duty at the pool, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to watch your child. You are the best line of defense for your children. Lifeguards, as well trained as we are, don’t always see it all. So, get in the pool and play and watch the same trick (repeatedly). Your children want you to be in the pool anyway.

If you don’t want to get in the pool, make sure your children are enrolled in swim lessons and know their own limits. And be sure an adult is always watching them. Swim-in Zone has water watcher badges at the entrance. These badges are for an adult to wear while the children are playing in the pool. While wearing the badge, you promise to put everything else aside, the phone & that book you were reading or even the conversation you were having, and just watch the children, so they are safe. These are great for when you are at summer parties. I don’t know how many times I have been at a party and I end up being the lifeguard because no one else is truly watching the children in the pool. I have one final story to leave you with. 

Get yours at the entrance!

A couple of summers ago, my cousin was having a get-together with friends and family (I wasn’t there). They have a pool right outside on their back porch. As the night went on everyone was enjoying the party and all the kids were out of the pool. But his daughter saw a toy in the water and was reaching for it and slipped into the pool. She didn’t know how to swim and sunk to the bottom. You see, drowning is silent, especially with small children. No one heard her go in and no one saw her either. Until my cousin finally saw her at the bottom. He dove in and got her out. She came up coughing, but was, fortunately, okay. When he got out of the pool, he asked everyone who was watching her?! 

At parties, you think there is enough people around that someone will see or hear something. But that isn’t always the case. That is why you must make sure someone is always watching the pool, even if the kids have left the area and the party is winding down. 

I want to take some time to leave you with a few additional things if you have a home pool:

  • If a child is missing, check the pool first!
  • Install a pool isolation fence
    • It should be at least 4ft high with a self-latching gate
  • Install alarms on the doors leading to the pool and even in the pool
    • They make water surface alarms that go off if something disturbs the surface of the water
  • Learn the signs of drowning and learn CPR 
  • Enjoy the water with your child. Get in there, play games, and just be a kid again too!
Regression: It Happens and It’s Okay!

Regression: It Happens and It’s Okay!

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 🙂

Our Philosophy: Water Safety Not Just Pool Safety

Our Philosophy: Water Safety Not Just Pool Safety

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.

Swimming Pumpkins? A Fun Way to Learn About Buoyancy

Swimming Pumpkins? A Fun Way to Learn About Buoyancy

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.