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World Aquatic Babies & Children Network

For Learn-to-Swim Program Directors & Teachers

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Tips for Parents & Caregivers
in Selecting a Program for a Baby or Young Child

Choosing the Best Program For Your Child

Most parents investigate a two or three program options available in their local area. To find these options you might:

* check the listings in the yellow pages of your phone book under ‘Swimming Instruction’
* look in your local newspapers’ (dailys and weeklies) in the classified section under ‘Instruction’
* check local monthly and quarterly magazines aimed at parents and families
* speak with friends & teachers who share a common parenting style to yours about aquatic programs they recommend

What to Expect

The best programs focus on helping students become water competent. This includes instruction in three areas:
1) swimming skills
2) safety behaviors for the student to use around water and
3) education of parents about the learn to swim process as well as about drowning prevention and other safety strategies they can employ.
Swimming skill is attainable for young children. Ask for details on typical progress made in the programs you consider for your child’s age and experience level.

Learning to swim and maneuver in water takes time to learn, therefore – an aquatic education program should also include instruction in water safety behaviors on land that the student can adopt even while not yet being a skilled swimmer. Instruction should continue long term over childhood helping a child become a strong swimmer – one who is reasonably safe in water and able to approach water sports and activities with confidence.

Realize that swimming skill and safety behavior around water grows along with your child. Plan to enroll them in a program yearly during early childhood.

While there is variance as to the age a child becomes ‘water competent’ the good news is that every child can ‘get it’ – in time with your support.

Swimming and water safety behavior are lifesaving and life maintaining skills (recreation, health and fitness) that are rightfully learned at an early age.

Program Features

Safe Clean Environment – Look for a clean safe supervised atmosphere in which to learn.

Warm Water – Warmer water enhances enjoyment and speeds learning. Temperatures 86° to 94° are seen as desirable by most national aquatic organizations. Inquire about pool temperature with programs you consider. Temperatures 80° to 85° are passable however the learning will be slower. Avoid temperatures below 80° and above 94° since the present increased potential for health risks to infants and toddlers.

Teachers with Rapport – Look for a teacher who has rapport with his or her students – first. And teaches swimming – second. The teacher should aim to initially build a relationship of trust with your child and then weave in swimming. Everyone wants a nice teacher for their child. Look for a smiling teacher who can focus on you child’s feelings and needs during the class.

Class size – The smaller the class size the more individual time and attention your child gets with the teacher. This can speed learning and increase the student’s enjoyment of the instruction. Private lessons, if available / affordable, help fearful beginners get 'over the hump'...otherwise group lessons are usually fine for most children.

Smiles, Games, Songs, & Toys – While water safety is serious business, most programs incorporate play, toys, games and songs into the lesson so that children enjoy the learn-to-swim experience. Respect for the water and safety are also taught. Teachers are frequently smiling and expressing joy in working with children.

Parent Education – The best programs will partner with you in educating your child. They will have an open-door policy. They might encourage you to be part of the class or they might educate you verbally or in writing about the learn-to-swim process your child is going through. They impart important water safety strategies to apply. Trust your instincts – if you think "This isn’t the program for us" then you are probably right. Look elsewhere for a program that is a match for you and your child. There are many ways to get to a similar end.

Qualifications – Take a look at the program and the teacher your child will be paired with. What reputation does the program have in the community? Do they adhere to a code of ethics and practices spelled out by national aquatic organization? Does the program invest in continuing education for staff? What is the experience and what are the qualifications of the teacher you child may have? You might observe – without ‘suiting up’ – a class taught by one or more teachers that your child might have.

Choosing a Program

For children under 36 months of age – there is a wide variety of programs and philosophies in programs for this age child. While most programs offered involve the parent or other caregiver in the pool with the child, have each program you are considering explain the rationale behind their program. Some do this in writing. To participate in parent-tot classes, no swimming skill is needed by the adult accompanying the child. Many programs encourage the primary caregiver to accompany the child, regardless of their swim skill. Teaching pairs comprised the child and one or both parents, grandparent, nanny, etc. are usually welcomed into classes. One student to one teacher lessons may be available if you are not confident with being in the pool or if there is a need or desire for the student to be taught privately.

Which program is better? The facility, water temperature, class size, concern for the well being, readiness and happiness of the child and teacher rapport being key – choose a program that earns high marks in these factors. Do select a program that has operating and child rearing philosophies that are closest to your own. All programs are not the same in terms of intensity and methods.

Price – choose the best program you can afford. A student only learns to swim once! Invest as best you can. Though some programs may cost more per lesson, small class lessons given in warmer water by caring teachers in a nice learning environment, can be well worth a higher price. Finding and selecting an aquatic education program needn’t be troublesome. A little research - like you are doing right now - will give you a far better result than making a selection without information and insight.

Good luck, be safe and have fun!