Participating in swim lessons can save your child’s life. According to a May 2011 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day two children younger than 14 drown. The report states that drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14.
The good news is, according to the same report, participation in a formal swimming lesson program can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children age 1 to 4.
There are a number of resources in Bellevue to help you find a program that is a good fit for your child.
How to Shop For the Right Swim Lesson Program for Your Child
There are an abundance of swim lesson resources on the Eastside, including classes and one-on-one instruction in a variety of facilities from health clubs to private homes. Michael Dilley is the Washington Territory Aquatics Specialist with the American Red Cross. He has been teaching Red Cross programs for swimming, lifeguarding and First Aid CPR/AED basic and instructor classes for more than 40 years.
He suggests that parents who are shopping for swim lessons take a look at the pool and the instructors.
“See how the water looks, watch how well the staff supervises the swimmers, and ask other parents how they like the staff and the facility," he said. "Also ask if the instructors are trained in a nationally recognized program such as the American Red Cross.”
Mel Roberts is the Coaches Education Chairman, All American Clearinghouse and the President Elect of the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association (NISCA).
Roberts says some of the key things to look for when shopping for swim lessons is a low student-to-teacher ratio.
“One instructor can effectively teach about six or seven students. For younger children, ages 3 to 5, the ratio needs to be closer to three or four students per instructor,” Roberts said.
Roberts said also to examine the conditions of the pool.
“The environment can greatly affect the learning process. Is the facility clean and inviting as you enter? Is it well-maintained and taken care of, are there other activities going on at the same time as the lessons that could be a distraction, and what is the temperature of the water?"
Even something like the water temperature can be a distraction, Roberts said.
"If the water is too cold, the child will only be thinking about when they get to get out instead of learning how to swim," Roberts said.
Roberts said to also note if the instructors are professional and mature, start and end lessons on time, devote their attention to their students in their class, keep the children actively involved in learning activities during the entire class, have learning plans and objectives for their classes, and are willing to spend a little time after class to help students having a difficult time.
Vera Garibaldi is the Director of the Waterbabies Aquatic Program based in Bellevue. She encourages parents to observe a class and ask lots of questions before choosing a swim program.
“Take a look at the program and the teacher your child will be paired with. What reputation does the program have in the community? Do they adhere to a code of ethics and practices spelled out by a national aquatic organization? Does the program invest in continuing education for staff? What is the experience and what are the qualifications of the teacher you and your child may have? You might observe—without ‘suiting up’—a class taught by one or more teachers that you or your child might have.”
Getting Ready at Home for Lessons
Since 1997 Waterbabies has offered a unique swim lesson program that starts at birth and is done in partnership with parents.
“Our goal for our parent-tot classes is to empower parents by teaching them the skills to teach their child to swim," Garibaldi said.
In the Waterbabies program, parents handle most of their child's instruction, and instructors are there to "coach" parents on the techniques, she said.
"Instructors and parents model what we are asking the child to do. Rather than doing it to them we are doing it with them. We are teaching the basic swimming skills—backfloating, submersion, propulsion and water safety using songs and games," Garibaldi said.
She shares her tips to help parents encourage kids to get “swim lesson ready.”
“Get some sinkable toys, sponges, watering cans and stacking cups for bath and pool play, shower and bath in the family bath with your child, swim year round when possible with a child under age 5 or they won’t retain their skills otherwise, visit rivers, beaches and pools as much as possible, get some small balls for playing in the bath which are great for hand eye coordination.”
How to Encourage a Reluctant Swimmer
Mel Roberts acknowledges that not every kid starts out a strong swimmer and parents need to look for the right program and be patient if their children are afraid of the lessons.
“Lessons have to be a pleasant experience for effective learning to take place. Usually his or her fear is based on a bad experience, by either themselves or someone close to them. They may have a difficult time trusting strangers," Roberts said.
Roberts suggested having children watch swimming lessons before they take a lesson themselves.
"Having them watch swimming lessons will allow them to see that children in the classes are having fun while they are learning and the instructor is there to help them and insure their safety. Having the children meet the instructor before starting the lessons will help them feel more comfortable during the lessons," Roberts said.
"Be patient; remember children all develop at different rates. They need to realize that there are rewards for being a strong swimmer. Many of the fun activities in and around the water require a certain level of swimming skill in order to participate, such as using the diving boards," Robert said.
Consider A Program that Offers Year Round Swim Lessons
So many parents think of summer as “swim lesson time” but Vera Garibaldi says if you want your child to become a strong, confident and safe swimmer, look for a program that offers year round swim lessons.
“Our lessons are offered year round and we encourage everyone in our program to swim year round and to practice outside of class. Children under three have no long term memory retention, so no matter how good they are, if parents don’t continue to practice the skills, they can lose them."
Swim Lesson Resources in Bellevue
in Bellevue has a highly respected swim lesson program that takes kids from parent tot classes all the way to swim team or water polo if they choose. Stephanie Segovia, Samena’s Aquatics Director says “we follow the American Red Cross Learn to Swim program and we offer classes for ages six months to adult.” Classes are offered at many times, year round, and are offered to non-members as well as members of the club. The club also offers small class sizes, scheduling classes around the students' availability, and offers private lessons as well.