Whether a parent is on a master’s swim team, sails the ocean every summer, or is not going to get their hair wet on a trip to the river, having their own children around water can be terrifying and dangerous. Most public pools, YMCAs, camps, and other youth organizations have swim lessons for children, and around February each year, parents start signing their kids up. Not as many pools offer parent-child swim lessons, but it can be very important for an adult and their child to get a chance to gain skills in the water together. After all, before parenthood, many adults don’t even think about how to strap an infant into a personal flotation device (PFD) or how to introduce a child to water for the first time! It is sometimes the job of the children’s programming expert (swim instructor) to help them learn.
What are the benefits of running a session of Parent-Child Swim Lessons?
1 – Parents become more aware of what to watch out for.
An infant or toddler may not really know that that the sparkly coins at the bottom of a fountain are in a substance that could be dangerous. They won’t understand that the bucket full of water that was left in the yard is not to be used to help them stand up. They won’t understand that the puddle in the driveway is also a pothole which they could fall into. In swim lessons, parents are reminded that they have to be vigilant of their children around water–in the bathtub, at the fountain in the park, and at the pool. Parents are given the opportunity to help their children learn how to approach water carefully, how to get in safely, and how to trust that with an adult nearby, they are going to be okay.
This also means that parents in your community will be more likely to assist in supporting pool rules so that lifeguards can spend less time telling children to walk or to stay off of the ladder and more time watching the less confident or overly-daring swimmers. Who doesn’t want their lifeguards to have to yell a little less?
2 – Children get a fully sensory experience early in life, which helps wire their brains for childhood.
According to neurological studies done in the late ’90s, the foundations of gross motor development are established in early childhood, or before the age of 5 or 6. With the increase of screen-time for even our littlest program attendees, structured activities that encourage full-body movement are becoming even more crucial to appropriate development.
Active For Life discusses the “four walls” of child development: social, emotional, physical, and cognitive. (also see our infographic from a few weeks ago) Swim lessons with a child’s parent and with other babies, toddlers, and their parents, supports all of these four walls at once!
- Socially, they get to engage with other children, but also have direct, skin-to-skin contact with their parent (which is amazing for a sense of well-being).
- A good parent-child lesson will validate a child’s emotions, allowing them to develop healthy ways of expressing their feelings and coping strategies for working through discomfort.
- Cognitively, a child could be learning to sing songs, think about their body parts, and develop their capacity for language.
- Physically, a child gets to experience all 7 senses at once–they can taste, smell, see, and feel the water, they can hear all of the things going on in the pool area, and their vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (self-awareness) senses are much more free in the buoyancy of water.
Basically, you’ll be promoting health, fitness, and whole-child well-being starting at the youngest age!
3 – Lessons build community
Let’s face it–the more people we have on the earth, and the more connected we are to our mobile devices, the less in-person community we have. While most people are not entirely community-deprived, it is remarkable how important community is to the well-being of an adult, not to mention a child.
Many new parents find it stressful to be parents simply because their former social circles are less inviting now that they have a child to care for. They may feel isolated, whether the parent works outside the home or in, because there just aren’t as many close friends experiencing the same life-stage as they are (unless all of their friends had babies at the same time they did). Meeting other parents of young children before those children are even in day care or preschool can be a relief for parents. As mentioned above, children get to start socializing with peers at such a young age that sometimes they are startled the first class because someone else in their vicinity is the same size as they are!
Staff at your pool are probably people in your community already, and are likely young adults, with recent ties to fun things for families to do. The parents can bond with one another and with their child’s instructor, making the world just that much smaller and creating a culture of care at your waterfront.
So now I have convinced you that you need to start a Parent-Child Swim Class today!
How young should you start? That is probably best left up to your insurance company, but the YMCA recommends 6 months. Babies by then should be able to sit up on their own at the edge of the pool, or at least to be able to hold their own heads up. It’s also not great to have a baby exposed to the chemicals in a swimming pool before they are 6 months old–tiny people skin is so sensitive! Again, double check with your insurance company and your pool’s policies before you set something up–you don’t want to be held liable for anything for which you will not be backed by your organization or the law.
To help you support your new parent-child swim class idea in the next board meeting, check out these seriously awesome statistics and links to their supporting scientific studies on SOSSwim.com’s Scientific Proof of the Benefits of Baby Swimming.
We’d love to hear from you about what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and especially any great stories you have about working with parents and children in the water! Parents, if you want to weigh in, please do–your perspective is so valuable to developing good programming for your children.