Teaching Swimming to Children, Part 1 – “7 Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

7 Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them:

Teaching children to swim can be frustrating, but water  safety is a necessary part of a child’s education.

Parents often ask, “what’s the secret to teaching a child to swim?”. Of course, there are no secrets; just a few time-tested strategies to get a child water-safe and swimming correctly as soon as possible, without the parent going insane in the process. Just like teaching any other subject, we need to set age appropriate goals, and then teach to a plan.

This article is the first instalment in an on-going series of articles on teaching swimming to children, and focuses on several mistakes parents often make when starting to teach their child to swim.

Common mistakes parents can make when teaching swimming to children:

Don’t teach not knowing the correct techniques and form yourself:
If you don’t take a little time to understand what is correct, or close to it, then you are not doing the child any favors. If you were helping them with their homework, you would want to understand the concepts before helping them. There are many good sources for swimming technique. I will write on this topic in later installments.

Don’t make it all work:
Teaching anything should be enjoyable for teacher and student.
games and drills leading to proper skills should be fun for the child not drudgery.

Don’t make it all play:
Allow time to play after the instruction or break up the instruction with games that stress skills, so that they don’t even know they are learning.

Don’t ignore the attention span of children:
Age of the child plus 2 minutes is the max for a single task (such as practicing gliding) before moving on to something else.
* Do a variety of things in quick succession – 3 reps of each skill, then move on to something else if the skill is not progressing – you can always come back to it again after a bit
* Play a game then, come back to the skills – this is not only for little kids, older kids want to play games as well.
* But stick to the plan

Don’t push too hard when the child is afraid (that can take a long time to undo):
We have spent many months teaching a skill that should have been learned in days because dad tossed them in the deep water to learn to ‘swim’, just like granddad did to dad. Fear is the biggest obstacle to learning to swim as it is all in the mind. Don’t inadvertently teach fear of the water, teach respect and skills.

Don’t rely on ‘floaties’ and other devices that position the child incorrectly in the water (so they can’t physically be in the right position):
* There are some products that can help in learning, if used properly, arm floaties are NOT one of them.

Don’t try to teach swimming skills when you can’t swim yourself:
* Get lessons yourself first, then teach; or send your kids to class while you learn too. Take a private lesson on the side while your child is in the group class. It is easy to model something you can do yourself.

Later I will write on some skills that are easily taught at the home or community pool and some useful products for teaching swimming to children.

About the author:

My background is both as a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, and as a school teacher with teaching experience from kindergarten through high school. At the Aqua Gear Swim School we have been teaching people of all ages to swim since 1997.

We use a time tested Red Cross based methodology for many years, but have added many of our own drills and games over the years and have been very successful with children who are eager to try everything and those who are very afraid of the water.

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