Monday, June 23, 2014

Teaching My Own Kids How To Swim

When my children were younger, we were planning a vacation where we'd be swimming in the ocean, so we joined the YMCA and signed them up for swimming lessons.

We arrived for the first lesson and met the instructor. She was a girl of 18 or so and did not smile much. She impressed me as anxious and annoyed but I figured it was just first class jitters. Her "class" of several children sat at the pool's edge with their feet dangling in the water. There were far too many children for one person to effectively teach them all in the time frame given.

I soon understood why so many parents had their children in swimming classes for years, when I knew it didn't have to take that long. I learned how to swim in just one summer. We had an in-ground pool in our backyard when I was a kid and some of my happiest memories are diving into the crystal blue waters each hot summer morning. Bliss! My dad made sure we all learned how to swim when we moved into that house and taught us all. It was only a few weeks before we were bouncing fancy dives and canon bombs off the diving board.

So as I was standing and watching this swim instructor grab the children with a bit more force and hurry than called for, I anticipated my older son's turn. After some brief, distracted words she sent him off dog paddling. He sank like a rock. She got him up, as he gulped and gasped for air. This little scene repeated a few times and he was glad to return to the poolside and do some side kicking. I brushed off my growing concern chalked it up to a rough start.

Then it was my younger son's turn. He didn't have as much trouble keeping his head above water, but he was a little distracted by all the chaos around him. There were rows of "classes" all around, divided only by a string of bobbing buoys.

At one point, the swim instructor called his name (once) but he was gazing just over her shoulder at something that had captivated his attention. She did not hesitate to then use both hands to splash a large wave of water right into his face.  This was not a playful splash, it was disciplinary. And highly unprofessional and inappropriate. My little 8 year old now had his turn at gulping and gasping for air.

I immediately became angry. I have a glaring lack of understanding and tolerance for unprofessionalism. If you can't do your job professionally, then get a job where professionalism is not expected. Perhaps digging ditches. But don't take a job where a gracious disposition is called for.

As soon as we got home,  I told my husband how awful the class was and he agreed that we should just cancel their lessons and get a refund. I knew we could do better. Especially after my conversations with a few of the poolside moms that first day. All of their children had taken years of swimming lessons. Years!

One of the mothers said her kids had been taking swimming lessons for 6 years. But the worst part was that she said they still hadn't learned how to swim! Part of me felt a little sorry for them. But another part of me felt indignant. If they themselves knew how to swim, why not teach their own children? If they didn't know how to swim, they should've taken lessons themselves and then taught their own children.  I would like to see the the trend of turning to the "pro's" for nearly everything to go by the wayside. I understand if it's something you have no knowledge or means to teach, like horseback riding. But swimming? I think every parent that doesn't know how to swim ought to learn. And everyone that knows how to swim ought to teach their own children. It's really not difficult and its loads of fun.

I wasn't interested in my kids becoming Olympic athletes. I just wanted them to know how to handle themselves in the water and safely have fun. So I began taking them to the YMCA for 2-3 days per week and taught them to swim. On weekends, my husband and I both taught them, which was the most fun.

We taught them the front crawl, elementary backstroke, sidestroke and breast stroke. We taught the pool safety, blowing bubbles and diving for objects. They loved diving for the pool rings we bought in the water toy section at Walmart. I loved passing our new little swimmers from my husband back to me. First only a couple of feet away and gradually increasing the distance. We loved being able to encourage them and give them challenges mixed with parental love and safety.  We loved exchanging excited smiles with them and watching them beam over each new accomplishment.

We had a blast and they became great swimmers. They were ready for our vacation that September and we swam the California beaches together and had so much fun! And to think I'd almost given it up! If that initial swim instructor hadn't been so awful, I might have missed one of the most rewarding experiences of my parenting journey.

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