When is my Child Ready to Stop Swimming Lessons?
One of my swim school parents recently told me of their intention to stop their 6-year old’s swim lessons as they believed that their child was now “water safe”. When pressed as to what exactly they meant by “water safe”, the parent explained that her son had been taking swim lessons for 3 years, and could now swim 25m unassisted and float on their back, and was aware of basic water safety information. Moreover, the little boy had said to his parent that he wanted to start sailing lessons instead. Discontinuation of swim lessons at this early age and for reasons similar to those mentioned above is all too common. However, before interrupting the progress of a child’s swim lessons, there are several issues that I believe a parent should consider. Firstly, there is a popular misconception that attending swim lessons will ensure a child’s safety around water and guarantee them “drown proof”. While swim schools are in the business of providing water skills which are designed to help assist in the prevention of drowning, they cannot prevent drowning from occurring. There is no such thing as being either “water safe” or “drown proof”, and the role of a swim school is to impart knowledge, tools and skills to a swimmer for them use when a dangerous water-related situation arises. So, is the decision to replace swimming lessons with another activity the right one? Ignoring the health and psychological benefits of all of the various sports and activities available to the child (after all, each has its own inherent advantages from the standpoint of developing strength, coordination, endurance and social skills and, as a parent, any form of participation in a physical activity is to be encouraged), swimming differs from other activities in that it is a life-long, potentially life-saving skill. No other sport or activity can be said to be able to provide the same. But what classifies a person as adequately prepared to deal with an incident in an unwanted and unexpected water-related situation? There is no definite answer. However, what is certain is that a swimmer needs to be equipped with safety skills and stroke endurance sufficient to maintain themselves until assistance becomes available, and to be able to swim a distance to safety should the conditions be turbulent – scientists have found that it is possible for a human to swim approximately 180m without being able to breathe effectively. The level of swimming ability that I suggest (and that I believe all swimmers should aim at) is competence in all 4 of the competitive strokes, safety skill competence, and the ability to swim at least 400 metres freestyle non-stop using correct breathing and with the correct technique – including a relaxed and rhythmical stroke. Not even this, of course, will guarantee a swimmer’s survival, but it will provide them with a set of skills that will markedly enhance their capacity to cope with most life-threatening water-related scenarios . Ideally, I hope that every child falls in love with the water and never wants to stop swimming, but of course it’s no secret that some kids love swimming, and some don’t. So, when it comes to the question – “How Do I Know When My Child Can Swim?” or “When is My Child Ready to Stop lessons?” – don’t base your answer on your child’s preference for one activity over another. Ask yourself if your child has the water competence to give them the best chance of survival in all situations. And remember, while learning to swim takes time it can save your child’s life, be it now or in the future. That’s worth the investment of time. After all…. learning to swim is an asset for life! © 2010 Julia Ham/Hampton Swim School Pty Ltd Julia Ham is a former Australian swimming representative. She operates Hampton Swim School, Morningside which specializes in aquatic classes for children from 3 months of age to adults. Contact 3399 2004 or www.hamptonswimschool.com.au