by Lisa Y. Taylor
And they’re off. As kids make a splash in pools this summer, many of them are having fun and becoming safer through swimming lessons. While some parents want their children to one day win the Olympic medal for the freestyle stroke, others just want them to be safe in any body of water. Whatever their expectations, the sport is a must-have ability, and practically no one is too young to learn, according to local swim school experts.
“Our area has rivers, water parks and we live in a climate where pools stay active the majority of the year,” says Dean Wiederstein, owner of the San Antonio Swim Academy. “We want to reach as many people as we can and make them as water-safe as possible.”
Babies and Tots
Wiederstein’s Exploration program helps parents teach their children 6 to 36 months old skills such as blowing bubbles in the water, rolling onto and floating on their backs and using their arms and legs for propulsion. These skills encourage a horizontal body position, which Wiederstein says could mean the difference between life and death.
“Learning to get to the top of the pool horizontally, if it gives a mom or dad 10 extra seconds to react, could make all the difference in the world,” he says.
In the school’s Aquatots class, children 24 to 36 months old are taught how to grab the edge of the pool, use their knees and elbows to get out and some even learn the breaststroke and elementary backstroke.
“They are not competing for the Olympics, but they are understanding how to move independently,” Wiederstein says.
Parents can prepare their tots for swimming lessons by giving them positive experiences with water at home, according to Love to Swim School owner Mary Reilly-Magee.
“The best teacher for kiddos under 3 is the parent,” she says. “When they expose them to water, give them lots of time in the bathtub and pour water over their heads, they’re less likely to be afraid of the pool.”
Love to Swim’s Baby and Me class is designed to help parents work with their youngsters 6 months to 3 years old gain independence and learn water safety. Games and songs encourage the children to submerge their faces in the water and roll onto their backs to float and yell for help. Preschool skills include glides and front and back floats as well as how to jump in the pool, turn around and swim back to the wall.
“There is no such thing as drown-proofing your child,” Reilly-Magee says. “All you can do is assess the risk and mitigate the risk. One way to do that is to teach children how to swim well and make sure they know how to sustain a back float and yell for help.”
What should parents expect from swim lessons?
For kids between 5 and 8 years old, learning the breaststroke and elementary backstroke could be crucial survival skills because they enable the body to recuperate between strokes, Wiederstein explains.
“These two strokes allow the individual to glide after propulsion or kicking,” he says. “After kicking, they get to glide one to three seconds, depending on their buoyancy.”
At about age 9 or 10, children have the muscle tone to be strong swimmers, so lessons should focus on refining their movement and breathing techniques, he adds.
“Once the kids understand the proper body position and the characteristics of each stroke, they take off because the muscles are there. We want elementary-aged kids to get from Point A to Point B with controlled strokes, but to be fast they have to coordinate their arms and legs, and their movements have to be smooth,” says Wiederstein.
Over time, school-aged children should feel comfortable in the water, know when to inhale and exhale, balance and float on their front and back, effectively propel and acquire swim strokes, Reilly-Magee says.
“Parents should expect that learning to swim is hard, it’s going to take some time, and they should celebrate their child’s every success,” she says. “They may have to explain to their child that learning to swim is not negotiable just as sitting in a car seat and going to kindergarten are not negotiable.”
Ready for Racing
Learning the competitive strokes of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly is a natural progression for older school-aged children, says five-time Olympic medalist Josh Davis of San Antonio.
At age 10, Davis joined his neighborhood swim team where he remembers struggling at times.
“I just never gave up,” he says. “I loved being in the water, and coaches kept helping me with my technique, and it took me a while.”
During the summer, he checks the progress of students at the Josh Davis Swim School offered at the Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio. His new website, www.usaswimmer.com, provides children ages 10 and older, their parents and coaches with tips and curriculum for competitive swimming.
“I’m always amazed when I see kids ages 7 to 10 racing because they are way ahead of where I was at their age,” he says. “Every time kids show up and give their best effort, their parents should celebrate it as though they won a gold medal.”
Whether children take formal lessons, race for their neighborhood swim team or acquire skills in their backyard pool as Davis’ five children did, they learn to swim best when they have a good time, he says.
“It comes down to giving them consistent and supervised play that helps them fall in love with being in the water. It also helps for them to be around older kids who do more tricks than they do.”
Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother of three daughters.
Looking for swimming lessons for your kids? Below is a list of some organizations offering lessons this summer. Times vary, so parents should contact the organization for details.
- Alamo Heights Swimming Pool, 250 Viesca St. – https://www.heightspool.com/
- City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, (lessons offered at 11 locations around the city) – www.sanantonio.gov/parksandrec/swimming_lessons.aspx
- Greater San Antonio YMCA, (classes offered at 12 branch locations around the city) –www.ymcasatx.org
- Green Tree Tennis Club, 4721 Callaghan Road – www.greentreetennis.com/
- Infant Aquatics, 1020 CR 768, Devine – www.infantaquatics.com/
- Barshop Jewish Community Center, 12500 N.W. Military Highway –www.jccsanantonio.org
- Josh Davis Swim School, 12500 N.W. Military Highway http://www.jccsanantonio.org/aquatics/josh-davis
- Love to Swim, 15502 Huebner Road, Suite 111, www.love-to-swim.com
- Martin Swim School, 14406 Briarbranch St. – www.martinswimschool.com
- Northside Aquatics, 7001 Culebra Road (classes offered at two locations) – https://www.teamunify.com/Home.jsp?team=stnsalp
- San Antonio Swim Academy, 4817 Fredericksburg Road (lessons offered at seven locations) – www.saswimacademy.com.