Monday, June 11, 2007

Looking for a swim class?

Advice from

In addition to boosting your child's self-confidence and providing a great form of fun and exercise, learning to swim is a vital survival skill. A good program teaches much more than how to get across the pool — it teaches your child how to be safe in and around water, whether it's at a pool, lake, beach, or water park. That's why it's so important to do a little research before enrolling in a swim program. It's important to understand, too, that kids don't learn to swim in just a few lessons — it takes lots of time and plenty of practice.
If your child hasn't been around water much or is extremely fearful of water, it's a good idea to sign up for a parent-and-child swim class first, or at least take a few recreational dips together in the shallow end of your local pool.

Ia good idea to observe a class before signing up (any reputable swim center will welcome you to do this). If you can't sit in on the class, at least speak to the program supervisor, asking her to describe the focus of the program and the class activities. Some things you'll want to know:

• Class level placement: Find out how children are placed in the various class levels (there should be a "skill set" associated with advancement into each new level) and exactly what will be expected of your child in the level you're planning to enroll him in. Children should be grouped with others in their age range and skill level.

• Class size: If your child has special needs, has trouble learning in groups, or is especially anxious around water, think about signing him up for private (one on one) or semiprivate (one on two or three) lessons. In general, though, it's a good idea to have your child at least try group lessons. Not only are private lessons expensive, but your child will miss out on the valuable social skills (working with others, taking turns) that group classes provide.

• Staffing: In a group class, there should be at least one instructor for every six preschool-aged children or eight grade-school-aged children, or one for every ten parent-child sets. There should also be a lifeguard on duty at all times.

• Teacher credentials: Ask how the instructors were trained and what certifications they hold. The YMCA, for instance, requires that instructors have a current YMCA lifeguard or YMCA aquatic safety assistant certification as well as a specialized YMCA instructor certification for the age group they're teaching. Other programs may require that teachers be American Red Cross-certified water safety instructors.

• Class organization: Kids learn best when they know what to expect, so each class should have a consistent schedule that strikes a balance between skill time and play time. The class should follow a logical progression of swimming skills (for example, children should master breath-holding before they're asked to dunk their heads underwater).

• Instruction style: The teacher should clearly demonstrate what she's asking the kids to do and explain why she's doing it that way. She needs to know what children are capable of at various ages but allow each child to master new skills at his own rate. If the kids seem unhappy, frustrated, or unable to do what they're being asked to, that's a huge red flag.

• Downtime vs. swim time: Notice how much time each child has to wait for a turn with the instructor. Even in group classes, there should be more "doing" than waiting. While the teacher is spending individual instruction time with one child, the others should be busily (and safely) practicing the skills they've just learned.

• Behavior management: Take note of how well behavior is maintained — the kids shouldn't be splashing or dunking each other or running around the pool.

Once you've found a good class that you think your child will enjoy, you may be taken aback to find him crying and clinging to you when it comes time to hop in the pool. Understand that tears and anxiety are pretty common at the beginning of swim lessons. What's important is how quickly your child gets over it — or doesn't. (Another child may have told him that there are snakes in the water as a joke, for instance, or he may be terrified of getting water in his eyes — a common fear that a pair of swim goggles will quickly remedy.) If your child's fear hasn't abated or if he hasn't acclimated to the water after a few sessions in the pool, consider private lessons or a low-pressure parent-and-child water-play class instead.


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