It's that time of year again. With the warm weather and the school year coming to an end, folks begin to think of swimming. There is always a mad rush to sign children up for swim lessons just before, and at the start of summer. I have always been an advocate of swim lessons during the school year. I know it's "another" activity for families who are already over-committed, but of course, I think it should be a priority.
Here's the beauty of it. If you swim once each week, over an extended period of time, your children have the benefit of physically developing, and thus being more capable of preforming certain skills. This is not as important for the older swimmer, but can be critical for the 2-5 year old. Think of the milestones children reach at earlier ages; what they can't do one week, they've mastered the next month. Also, if you take lessons once each week during the school year, or even for a couple of months, and then take a break, and then sign up for another few months, your children will be way ahead of the game come summer time. While all of those other parents are scrambling to register their children for lessons, you can relax by the pool, confident that while your child is not taking lessons, he or she is practicing skills that have been learned already.
Summer should be a time for swim team or for vacation or for relaxing by the pool. So, if your child has not been swimming recently, go ahead and sign them up for lessons this summer. But when summer draws to an end and school begins, don't stop the lessons! You don't want to be the parent calling me the day the pool opens to say, "My child was swimming last summer, but he seems to have forgotten everything!"
Babies love to spend time in the pool being cuddled, watching other children play, watching the lifeguards, and splashing. I always spend time in the water pointing out things and telling baby about them. Lane ropes can be of great interest, and a good way to practice naming colors (blue, white, blue, white, and so on).
There are other skills that you can introduce your baby to as he develops (or she- my youngest just happens to be a he). Kicking, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is of utmost importance. While most of the competitive strokes rely mostly on upper body strength, the kick is fundamental to body position in all strokes. Babies and many children tend to pull their knees in towards their body or bicycle kick or kick with a really, really big kick. It is important to help babies get the feel for a flutter kick early on. I start this by putting the baby high up on my shoulder, so that I can rest his body on my upper arms and can place my hands on his thighs. In this position, I can control his legs and gently kick them up and down in a small, quick motion. We do this as we motor around the pool to get a toy. I toss the toy and then we kick to get it. Some babies will resist this position at first. I do it for 20-30 seconds and then stop; move baby into a position that he prefers for a bit then try it again. As I move baby's legs, I praise baby for a good kick. I ask if he can do it. I stop moving his legs and encourage him to try. Any noticeable attempt gets great praise!
Another skill to focus on from the beginning is getting/jumping into the water when you give an okay command. This is to help prevent baby from jumping in when you are not looking or not in the water. I start by placing baby on the side of the pool (hands on baby at all times) in either a sitting or standing position. I say, "Let me see you jump on the count of three. 1-2-3-GO!" Then help baby to "jump" into the pool. I keep my hands on baby at all times and do not actually let baby go under water- at least in the beginning:) As baby gets older, you can play a modified version of "Ready-Set-GO." Tell baby that he is to jump when you say "Ready-Set-Go." Then try to trick him by saying "Ready-Set-Snow" or "Ready-Set-Don't-Go" or anything else that might trick him. I always give lots of praise for being a good listener. This is a great game!
Pretending to be a monkey is another great game/skill builder. I often follow a "jump" with having baby hold on to the wall and pretend to be a monkey. See how much of the baby's weight he can hold. Encourage baby to wrap fingers over the ledge of the pool (some pools are easier than others) and traverse the wall by being a monkey. Make baby keep both hands on the wall as he slides one hand and then the next in order to move towards a ladder or set of stairs. With lots of practice, older babies/young toddlers are able to do this without support. You should always be their shadow (standing right behind them, ready to scoop them up) in the case their hands slip. To liven it up, talk about what monkeys say. Do they say Mooo?! Do they say Meow?! Now we are learning about animals too:)
Coach Mandi has been teaching and coaching swimmers at the USA, summer league, high school, and Masters