This article is written by Johnny Johnson.
There are many different philosophies concerning how a child can and should be taught to swim. I ascribe to what can be called the developmental approach. In this type of program, each of the child’s developmental characteristics is considered. Two key areas of concern are physical and emotional readiness. Too often only the child’s physical readiness is considered. Physically, a child may be capable of developing the arm and leg movements and balance control necessary to propel them through the water by two years of age. The ability to recover breath by lifting the face forward out of the water or rolling onto the back can also be attained at this age.
However, the key factor in evaluating a child’s ability in the water is emotional readiness. This will determine if a skill is developed under voluntary control or if it is the result of a response based on negative reinforcement. For example, can a child enter the water comfortably, and with voluntary control decide what course of action will be taken? Is the child able to dive under, swim to any area in the pool and take a breath at will? Or, is the act of swimming a response to entering the water, whereupon a child either rolls to her back in an act of self-preservation or scrambles for the side of the pool? It is the level of emotional control, internal trust, and understanding that the child possesses that concerns me.
Unfortunately, in many programs, the ends justify the means. But in many of these cases the child only understands “mean”. Forcing a child to perform a task for which he is not emotionally ready can cause lasting psychological damage. The writings of Dr. T. Barry Brazelton reflect this concern. Dr. Brazelton has written numerous books and articles about early infant/child development. His approach to learning and development incorporates attachment issues, brain development and how environmental stresses influence a child’s ability to feel safe and secure. He concludes that highly traumatic or chronically minor traumatic experiences greatly affect the emotional well being of a child, and can lead to a disruption in the development of self-esteem.
According to the Carnegie Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children (1994):
-Brain development before age one is more rapid and extensive than was previously realized. Although cell formation is virtually complete before birth, brain maturation continues after birth.
-Brain development is much more vulnerable to environmental influence than was suspected. There is considerable evidence showing that infants exposed to good nutrition, toys and playmates had measurably better brain function at twelve years of age than those raised in a less stimulating environment.
-Environment affects not only the number of brain cells and the number of connections among them but also the way these connections are “wired”. The process of eliminating excess neurons and synapses from the dense, immature brain, which continues well into adolescence, is most dramatic in the early years of life, and it is guided to a large extent by the child’s sensory experience of the outside world.
-Early stress can affect brain function, learning and memory adversely and permanently. New research provides a scientific basis for the long-recognized fact that children who experience extreme stress in their earliest years are at greater risk for developing a variety of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties later in life.
I have taught and observed thousands of children learning to swim in a fun, effective and lasting way with laughter and squeals of joy, rather than tears and screams of fear. I strongly advise those of you considering swim lessons for your young child or those that are in a program that is causing you concern to look around and try a little tenderness.
Here at The Swimming Swan, we could not agree more with Johnny's interpretation of the successful ways young children learn and benefit the most. Our swim lesson approach is focused on the individual with mostly one on one private lessons. Our Team of Swimming Instructors and Coaches use a nonaggressive teaching method that is part Red Cross Learn to Swim Rubric and USSSA teaching techniques. Regardless of the private or recreational swim approach that you choose for your child; we condone a positive teaching environment by which the swimmer enjoys going to their class. Fear can be a natural response to new situations and environments, there is a way to get through the fear which includes much patience, a loving environment and positive reinforcements.
If you are interested in learning more about our in home aquatic services please see : parent/child swim lessons, preschool swim lessons, child swim lessons and let us know if you have any questions. We are here to help!
Johnny Johnson is a past president of the United States Swim School Association, President of the Swim for Life Foundation, Creator and co-chairman of the Safer 3 Coalition drowning prevention program, a charter member of the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, and co-owner and operator of Blue Buoy Swim School.