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Like a Fish to Water


Teaching Children to Swim



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Temperatures in Kern County are on the rise, which means playgroups, picnics, and family gatherings for the next few months will most likely have a water theme. Pools become the focal point in a Bakersfield summer and parents across the city are beginning to think about signing Junior up for swimming lessons.

But what is the right age for Junior to dip his toe in the water? After his fourth birthday, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"...even though we have a fence around it, she had managed to fall in twice (with us right there, thank goodness!)."
"Generally, children are not developmentally ready for swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday," accord ing to an AAP policy statement on infant and toddler swimming programs. "Aquatic programs for infants and toddlers have not been shown to decrease the risk of drowning, and parents should not feel secure that their child is safe in water or safe from drowning after participating in such programs. Regardless of the program design or focus, infant and toddler aquatic programs are unable to ensure that children will understand water hazards, use appropriate avoidance strategies, or attain program safety goals. Programs that claim to make children safe in water or safe from drowning are misrepresenting what is possible and are giving parents a false sense of security about their child's safety in the water. Young children should receive constant, close supervision by an adult while in and around water."

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And while four may be the magic number in terms of age appropriateness for swimming lessons, being four doesn't mean Junior is going to take to water like a fish. I, myself spent many a scorching afternoon trying to duck out of view as my four-year-old daughter cried and threw up practically every day of her week-long, 30 minute a day swimming lessons. I felt like I died a thousand deaths with every sob that shook her little body as she reached for me from the pool, but I also knew that swimming lessons were a necessary "evil," given the fact that we have a pool, and that, even though we have a fence around it, she had managed to fall in twice (with us right there, thank goodness!).

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So how does one approach swimming lessons for a hesitant swimmer? With long-term views towards your goal, advises Barry Shrewsbury, professional swim instructor and author of Luca Learns to Swim: a Family's Companion to Swim Lessons (go to www.lucalearnstoswim.com for more information).

"The optimal choice is for private lessons or the smallest class size available," Shrewsbury says. "With one-on-one lessons, your child will have the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with the instructor who will have the time and attention to focus on their unique personality and needs."

"...ask questions about the pool temperature. 85 degrees or warmer is best"
Private lessons can be costly, he admits, but they can save time and money in terms of overall cost effectiveness because your child will progress more rapidly with individualized instruction.

Thoroughness in checking references and asking about the instructor's philosophy in how to approach the reluctant swimmer is key, Shrewsbury stresses, adding that parents should also ask questions about the pool temperature ("85 degrees or warmer is best").

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"I use a style which is light-hearted and compassionate, yet firm," he says. "I've had tremendous results moving a child through fear with this approach."
Make water time playful at home, he suggests, use the instructor's name often and "talk up" the fun of swimming. Get to the lesson early and make sure Junior uses the bathroom before getting into the pool. "Praise your child for any success and invite him to talk about his feelings," Shrewsbury suggests.

It was a long week, but somehow my daughter (and I) made it through the very emotional experience of Swimming: 101. "That which does not kill you makes you stronger," so they say. I think of this axiom every day now as I drop of my daughter, now a freshman at Garces, everyday for practice on the varsity swim team.

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