This week is National Baby Swimming Week and I wanted to tell you about our own experiences with swimming lessons in Devon.
My youngest, Laurie, is a fish.
He can glide under water. He has absolutely no fear and loves nothing more than jumping in. On holiday his catchphrase became “More jump”. He attracted onlookers because people couldn’t believe how competent and confident he was in the water. They watched in awe as he dived for hoops and kicked to the surface.
He’s only 2.
My eldest son, Tom, likes swimming but he’s terrified of going under water. At bath time, he needs a towel close by in case he gets water in his eyes. When we go swimming, he clings to us.
How can two brothers have such different attitudes to swimming? For us it’s been Water Babies.
When I saw my eldest son’s anxieties developing during the stubborn toddler years, I decided to enrol my youngest on baby classes. Our one mum/baby activity.
Aged 8 weeks – and barely of this world – Laurie had his first Water Babies lesson with the lovely Amie. And we’ve never looked back.
Water Babies is a bit like marmite. It can divide people.
The reason might be because the lessons include submersions. You give your baby a command, ‘Laurie, ready, go’ and then dunk them under the water. There are weeks of gradual build up to this moment – wiping their faces with water, then splashing, then pouring a handful over their heads.
Eventually it leads to a full submersion. Some parents are uncomfortable with this, and some babies aren’t big fans of it either. But with time most people get used to it and before you know it, your baby is swimming under water through a hoop. Laurie now submerges himself. We have to keep a close eye on him!
‘Dunking’ might not be for everybody but I think it’s what’s made the difference between our boys. I tried it a few times when we took Tom swimming as a baby but as soon as he showed any signs of hesitation, I lost my nerve and confidence. It meant that he didn’t get used to going under water.
With Laurie, my confidence grew as his did – I could see what he was capable of and I knew what I was doing, thanks to Amie’s excellent teaching. Being underwater is second nature to him now. We can even swim under water together, his arms around my neck.
Teaching a baby to swim
The Water Babies lessons aren’t just about underwater skills. It’s only a small percentage of what you teach your baby. They learn how to get in and out of a pool safely. As they get older, you teach them how to swim and reach for the side, then safely hold on and move along the edge of the pool (‘Monkey, monkey, monkey,’ we call it). All of this is done through word associations, repetitions, songs and fun activities.
I’ll never forget the moment my toddler, about 18 months old, walked (well, ran) across a floating mat in the pool and jumped off the end, full of glee. It was incredible. So much confidence for such a tiny little person.
Not only is Water Babies teaching Laurie a life skill, swimming has become his passion, his thing.
We found a fantastic intensive swimming course for Tom during a week of the summer hols, at the University of Exeter. Going swimming every day, and being in a pool without me or his dad, was a breakthrough for Tom. He can now swim with a woggle. He’s started Saturday lessons (without us in the pool) through ‘Swim with Sally’ and you can see he really enjoys them.
But he still won’t wear goggles – because goggles means he might have to put his face in the water. We’ll get there.
Why we love baby swimming
There’s no doubt about it, baby swimming lessons are an investment. They’re not cheap but, in my view, the benefits make it worth the cost. These are the main reasons we’ve chosen baby swimming as our activity:
- It is such a bonding experience – all that skin to skin contact from the early weeks onwards makes baby swimming very special for parent and child. It’s my favourite activity with Laurie.
- It’s a life-skill
Sadly, drowning is the third-biggest cause of accidental death among children under 5 in the UK.* I am well aware of this as my own dad saved a toddler from drowning.
- It improves co-ordination
I’ve always been impressed by Laurie’s balance and fine motor skills (and despaired as he’s confidently climbed and jumped and balanced – gradually turning me grey). I thought it was just part of who he was (he was mobile from 6 months, which I wasn’t that thrilled about). But it turns out a 2009 study by the Norwegian University of Science & Technology found that babies who swim have better balance and can grasp objects more easily than non-swimmers.**
- It gives them a head start
I want my boys to be able to go to swimming lessons at school, when I’m not around to give them encouragement, without feeling dread and with a spring in their step.
If you have any questions about baby swimming, please don’t hold back. Ask away.
Find out more about baby and children’s swimming in Devon
Contact Water Babies Devon & Somerset to find out about baby and toddler swimming lessons across Devon & Somerset.
Swim with Sally offer lessons up to age 11 in Darlington and Chudleigh.
Lessons at the University of Exeter are excellent value, we paid £25 for a week of lessons. (For ages 3+).
* Taken from the Water Babies website: https://www.waterbabies.co.uk/baby-swimming/benefits-of-learning-early
** H Sigmundsson1 & B. Hopkins, ‘Baby swimming: exploring the effects of early intervention on subsequent motor abilities’ in Child: Care, Health and Development Volume 36, Issue 3, pages 428–430, May 2010.