As a family we pretty much went from one extreme to the other whilst trying out different methods for learning to swim. When our first child was born, we were surrounded by beautiful images in the birthing centre of floating babies photographed in water attending swimming ‘lessons’ from only a few months old. We fell in love with the concept of offering her the opportunity for learning to swim at an early age as it was such an important skill for a child to have.
Fast forward a few months of round the clock infant care, we suddenly realised that she was turning 18 months old and we’d forgotten all about those baby swimming lessons.
Luckily she loved swimming more than anything and was getting crazy confident in our local pool that we occasionally visited, trying to copy exactly what all the big people were doing and launch off to glide accross the surface to the other side.
Technique obviously wasn’t quite there yet to back up her big ambitions. So we thought why not sign up to some of those lovely baby swimming lessons we had always intended to do, as the good parents we aimed to be.
We found a well known company offering baby sessions at a hotel pool, signed up and pre-paid a small fortune for the term, excitedly awaited our first session.
Our little one had already got used to jumping in off the side into our arms when entering the pool, proudly mirroring the other big kids who would watch jump in around her.
So we knew we were in trouble when before the first lesson had even started, we had been told off by our new swimming teacher for letting her do this. Who promptly reminded the class of the only ‘correct & safe’ way for a toddler to enter the pool (they must sit on the side, turn and slowly lower themselves into the water, supporting their weight on the poolside without any help and float there awaiting further instruction) not saying this is bad advice but at 18 months old this very specific way of getting into a pool was a bit lost on our little one!
The lesson continued, the teacher demonstrated an exercise (such as gliding through the water whilst holding a woggle) we all took turns doing it in front of the class. There were 8 toddlers and mums in our class and the wait was boring for the adults, let alone the children. I chatted and bobbed in the water with our daughter going for a little float around whilst waiting our turn but promptly got asked to return to line. The boredom and frustration grew. After 30 minutes of trying to distract our 18 month old into keeping still, whilst she was desperate to get away from me and go for a swim, she finally gave way to her feelings about the situation and began to cry.
The teacher was very sweet and took pity saying it’s ok if it’s all a bit much for her first time and she wants to get out of the water.
I smiled sweetly and graciously accepted her offer, leaving the pool as my daughter tumbled into full emotional breakdown. All the while in my head thinking this is crazy…our child wants to be bobbing around, moving through the water, chasing floating toys, splashing about, jumping in off the side, giggling and having fun with other children. Instead she had been shown the water but not allowed to swim and then told we can leave. How confusing!
Our little one had got used to swimming as a fun activity, yet all of a sudden it had become boring and pointless, with no explanation as to why.
We left dissatisfied but hopeful it was just the introductory session and next week would be better.
It really wasn’t! More of the same forced turn taking, set rules for how to behave in every part of the lesson. The swimming demonstrations were the same things any parent would naturally end up doing with their child in the pool. The only difference was the turn taking made non of it child led, natural or fun. What made the second week worse was the pressure from the teacher to dunk all of the children under the water at the end. Our daughter was fine as had already done this many times on her own terms, but so many of the others left the pool crying, with the teacher reassuring parents ”don’t worry they’ll soon get used to it!” We left the pool dismayed thinking these are not the new progressive fun and sociable baby swimming lessons we had hoped for. There was no understanding or empathy of what young children have the capacity or desire to do.
On the third week we got the swimming kit out and our daughter ran away from us. She refused to put her costume on, for the first time EVER! We knew in that moment we had failed her. We did not even think twice about taking her back, loosing out on the money wasn’t important it meant more to us that she was free to choose her own path.
It was four weeks before she even considered setting foot inside a swimming costume again!
Once back in the water on her own terms her love of the water blossomed. She carried on splashing about, having fun and desperately trying to copy the adult lane swimmers in any way she could. Progress was at her own gentle pace, we would just go and hang out, playing in the pool whilst her ambition to swim continued. By the age of three she had taught herself how to swim. At the age of four she now snorkels in the sea with her dad and is practising her free diving.
As parents we learned so much from our daughter about this experience and vowed that we would never blindly follow parenting trends when it came to our children only ever our heart. Most importantly we would always support our children to walk away from any situation that doesn’t feel right for them.