Knowing how to swimming isn’t just important for those lucky enough to have regular pool access. It’s a necessary survival skill. Whether your child is a newborn or in third grade, it’s never too early or too late to get them into the swim of things.
Charles Philippi (better known as “Mr. Fish” of Mr. Fish Swimming School) is passionate about discussing the “brain connection” made early in life. “We have an infancy mentality,” he says. “So many connections are made at the earliest age.
“Look at the Mannings,” he says. “The sons are even better than their dad was. They had footballs in their hands at a very early age. That connection to football was made.” Charles and others want to help your child make the connection to water so they’ll be comfortable with—and more responsive to—swim lessons.
“You have a really small window of opportunity to help kids develop a love of the water,” says Kaye Doiron, co-owner of LoveSwimming. “The earlier you get them in, the better.” She’s not just talking about a swimming pool. “Get them in the bathtub [as infants], and don’t protect their eyes from the water. Get them used to water as early as you can.”
With all area infant/baby swim programs, adults (either mom or dad, or even a grandparent) participate fully in the class with their infants and young toddlers. More formal lessons usually start around age three. But even if you never took “mommy and me” classes and your child is now five, learning to swim might still be a breeze. “I’ve had some four and five year olds with lots of exposure, but no formal lessons, and they take 10 minutes to learn to swim,” says Kaye.
Teaching the Fearful
Charles knows all about the fear factor. He says it’s not uncommon to have half of the parents of his students who are enrolled in his baby swim classes (for children 10 months to four years of age) unable to swim themselves.
“They’re scared to get into the water with their babies,” says Charles. “They know first-hand the fear. But these parents have vowed not to have their kids become like them.”
If your child’s not fond of water, and you’ve been avoiding the perceived agony of swim lessons, stop stressing. There are programs specifically tailored for these students.
“We’ll help a child at any age learn to swim,” says Kier McGuire, owner of GNO Aquatics, a non-profit swim program she launched in November 2008. Among the classes she offers is one (titled “Scaredy Cats”) which promises to be “slower-paced and more hands-on for kids with large fears.”
Charles says, “A fearful child requires special skills to teach—knowing exactly what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do. You’d be surprised at how many nine-, 10-, 11-year-old children come to us and can’t swim a lick.” Teaching them, he says, “is a science, a process.”
At LoveSwimming, they see teaching an underexposed child and a phobic adult as being “basically the same,” says Kaye. “The longer you wait, the longer it takes,” but even the most fearful can be taught, she says.
Keep ’em at it
Just because your child can finally swim doesn’t mean lessons are over. “Imagine that your child learns to walk,” says Kaye, “and then he only gets to walk for six weeks each summer. He’s not going to be a very good walker, and he’ll have to relearn it each year.” It’s the same with swimming. Consistency is as important as exposure.
If, for example, parents can only afford 24 lessons, “I’d rather see them take one lesson a week for 24 weeks than two lessons a week for 12 weeks,” says Kaye. “It’s beneficial to come once a week for a long time—regular, on-going exposure.”
All of our swim sources stressed that tighter budgets should not hinder access to swim lessons. Kier created GNO Aquatics as a non-profit specifically to reach out to parents who otherwise couldn’t afford swim lessons for their children (her students range from infants and preschoolers to older children and even those undergoing advance training for a swim team). Her mommy and me classes are donation-only, and her swim lessons are offered on a sliding scale. She also offers multi-children discounts and frequent monthly specials.
Charles says parents should always ask about any discounts available when signing their children up for lessons. He also provides flexible scheduling and a generous rescheduling policy so that children receive all of the classes their parents signed them up for. “You can email or call me at 4:45 to tell me you’re rescheduling your child’s 5 pm class,” he says. “As long as you reach us before the class starts, we’ll reschedule it for anytime that you choose.”
With the New Orleans swimming community so dedicated to teaching your child at any age, any fear level, any schedule, and any budget, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take the plunge!
Written by Leslie Penkunas, Nola Family Magazine.