Just Keep Swimming : teaching your kids to swim

How did you learn to swim? Or, perhaps, the question should be rephrased, ‘Did you learn to swim?’. Swimming lessons are pretty high up there on the parenting-pressure list; no sooner as you have lovingly pushed your baby out of the correct exit, into a warm birthing pool of water, at home, with no pain relief and whale music playing you may have started thinking about when to sign him up for his first swimming lesson.

Okay, okay…I’m kidding. But – some swimming schools take babies from two days old. Yes, Two days old. I’m not sure if I was up to packing a swimming bag 48 hours after childbirth, but each to their own. I’m pretty certain I was busy googling how to keep a human alive and peeping out of the crack in the curtains wondering if the world would ever be the same again.

But a whole lot of people do start swimming lessons young. Really young. Maybe two days old is a tad more unusual, but it’s certainly common for one of the regular Mum-and-Baby hang outs to be down at the local pool one session a week. At Three months, six months and so on.

Loads of Daddies have donned the ‘swimming lesson responsibility hat’ at crazy-o’clock on a weekend morning, sweating it out poolside while Mummy has a lay in / sips on a Latte / regains a bit of sanity. It’s a lovely opportunity for Dad to experience some one on one bonding which he may miss out on if he is busy at work Monday to Friday while Mum gets to enjoy all the shits and giggles of soft play.

Swimming lessons do not come cheap – between £4 and £10 a lesson, and with a commitment of paying up front for a term at a time. If you have multiple kids, it’s going to sting at the start of that January term. And don’t expect your baby to be able to swim after 6 lessons, it can take years for those little water babies to master the butterfly. In fact, the early days are pretty much focused on splashing around and singing nursery rhymes while getting used to being dunked and wearing a swimming nappy. And, of course witnessing their parents endure the hell that is getting a family dry and changed in a family cubicle, without losing it so all their swimming lesson friends are giggling at their insanity in the cubicle next door.

But, with the knowledge you are teaching your child a valuable life skill, can you really put a price on that?

We decided not to pursue the baby swimming lessons pathway, after much deliberation. Perhaps selfishly, we didn’t like the idea of committing to a weekend morning when our ‘oh so hectic’ life might mean we ended up paying for lessons we couldn’t make.

No, we would teach our daughter to swim the old fashioned way – as and when we fancied it, at the local pool, as a family activity…on our terms.

Then, when our second daughter came along, we had idyllic aspirations that Daddy would take our eldest every weekend so that they could have some special time, leaving the newborn and I to catch up on sleep.

So what really happened?

Four years in, after some very sporadic visits to the leisure centre, our daughter could not swim. She went from being fairly confident splashing around, holding on to us (without arm bands – she was never up for them) to having a fear of the water if it was deeper than her knee.

At Center parcs this January she would only play in the splash pool, but heaven forbid go near a water slide.

Her brazen sister however, seemingly fearless of all things (including water), couldn’t be happier to throw herself into deep water, down the ‘red flume’ or attempt being the youngest person to cross the English channel.

It’s fair to say going swimming at the weekends, to teach the girls to swim hadn’t really panned out how we hoped.

This May half term we signed up Tigs for an intensive week of lessons with Angelas swim school – every day for five days. It was a rollercoaster week of smiles and tears, heartbreak and pride. She made enormous progress (starting with wearing armbands) in the one to one coaching and with the wettest weather half term week in history, it will probably be one of my favourite memories of her childhood; how we snuggled up afterwards with hot chocolates and a blanket. She didn’t find it in herself to let go of the instructor, but she seemed to embrace the techniques.

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Watching the instructor guide her how to kick, hold the float, breathe and float made me realise we weren’t really ever going to teach her how to swim on our pool visits.

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The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as we went on holiday the following week. 7 days of sunshine, and 8 hours solid of splashing around every day was the ideal opportunity to put those skills to good use. By the end of the week, she was swimming alone across a two metre deep pool. Leaping in off the side and sploshing around with her head under water.

Since returning, we have signed up for regular lessons. In just two lessons she can now do the breast-stroke and It’s incredible to see her progress from where she was, and in such a short time.

Maybe we were wrong to shun the idea of swimming lessons. But maybe we all get there in the end, our own way. For us, a little helping hand was worth every penny. We’ll definitely be starting the mouse in lessons in September…watch out Tom Daly.

x MMT

We received no compensation for this article, it is a personal recommendation from one very happy customer. 

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24 thoughts on “Just Keep Swimming : teaching your kids to swim

  1. Mother of Teenagers Reply

    We had two very different experiences with our two. Both were lucky enough to have swimming lessons at school from the age of 4. The eldest took to it like a duck to water. We enrolled him in a local swimming club and he went from strength to strength, representing his school etc and is now this week training as a lifeguard. Our youngest just never got it. Because I gave up work when I had her I did decide to do the baby swim thing and I think in hindsight it was the wrong move. She hated water on her face and screamed non-stop throughout every class. I gave up after one term and waited until school for her to have proper lessons again. She can swim but not well and as a result whenever I have to fill in one of those forms to say whether she can swim 50m unaided I always say no just because I am just not confident in her ability. Her mates are now all going off to swimming pools at the weekend and my stomach always sinks when she asks if she can go. It’s such an important life skill though and I think the earlier you can crack it the better. Hope you get lots of swim time over the summer.

  2. Lucy (@Lucy_at_home) Reply

    My little ones are both happy splashing around in the pool as we go on a semi-regular basis to the pool. But now the older one has started school, thinking we should probably be thinking about proper lessons. To article has helped to confirm that in my mind too so thanks! #coolmumclub

  3. powerporter Reply

    We had grand ideas of our daughter having swimming lessons from a couple of months old and staying in them until she was able to swim. Cue the baby who hated being dunked and parents who realised the cost of classes on maternity pay was not really for us!! She loves to splash about now though so I’m hoping the cheaper alternative council run classes once she is 4 will do the trick! #coolmumclub

  4. Back With A Bump Reply

    We enrolled our daughter in lessons when she was 5 at a local council run baths but the class sizes were big so when we moved we found smaller class sizes at a gym. She can now swim really confidently which is great for holidays without worrying! I think it’s so important to teach kids to swim. #coolmumclub

  5. wendy Reply

    I have a friend who started her boys swimming when they were just 2 weeks old, now her eldest is 2 and a half and he can swim..with no armbands,it’s amazing. I was more like you and didn’t pay for lessons, thinking I could teach my boy on my own. He’s nearly 3 now and freaks out if he’s in water that he can’t stand up in..maybe I’ll follow your example and get him started in swimming lessons xx #coolmumclub

  6. Jordanne Lee Reply

    My little one didn’t take to swimming lessons at all, he really hated them but just taking him swimming is great, he just loves being in the water and splashing about. He always wants to go to the swimming which is great. Great post, I think some babies just take to the lessons and some don’t. #coolmumclub

    Jordanne || Thelifeofaglasgowgirl.co.uk

  7. Mrs Morgan Plus 3 Reply

    My children don’t do any other after school activities but I do make sure they go to their swimming lessons every week! They have both progressed so much and absolutely love going….expensive by well worth it xx #coolmumclub

  8. Coffee & Bubbles Reply

    We did start lessons quite young, I think he was about 8 months old. We are still going now, but have recently decided to pull the pin and try something new. In the past few months, we don’t seem to enjoy the lessons as much, I have persisted in the hope it would go back to the previous enjoyment level, but there’s only so much screaming in a loud, echoey pool one can take. My now 2 year old is perfectly happy to ‘freestyle’, we recently spent the weekend at my parent’s house where he happily jumped in and kicked about and swam a metre or two on his own, but he just seems to hate the actual structured content of the lessons. They have been absolutely amazing though (Water Babies) and I’d recommend to anyone considering lessons. #coolmumclub

  9. Mess and merlot Reply

    This is something we are dealing with at the moment. I hate EVERYTHING about swimming but mainly the fact I have to wear a bathing suit in public so selfishly I refused to take either of my two when they were babies. When Spud was old enough to join the swimming group by himself he did pretty well despite not really enjoying it, he persevered for his first level but the pool was so cold he would come out shivering with blue lips!! (Not having a scrap of fat on him to keep warm didn’t help!) We left it at that as they were building a new leisure centre next door so now that is open we have started him with a private lesson (stupid money) once a week but he has come on very well and to be honest the groups meant the children don’t really get much 1-1 guidance for the short time they are in the pool.
    Himself and I know this is such an important skill to have (I can’t swim) and Spud is now at the age where a lot of his friends can swim and are being invited to pool parties etc so I’d hate for him to be left out. Flump is just going in the pool with daddy to get used to it at the moment but absolutely loves it. I’m thinking of sending her to a week long intensive swim group over the summer but it starts at blimmin 8am – 8AM!!!!! Jeez. #coolmumclub

  10. alisonlonghurst Reply

    It’s really interesting hearing how your attempts at home schooling style swim lessons didn’t work. I think that swimming is such an essential skill that it’s worth the hassle and the expense of paying for lessons. With multiple children it is both those things in huge amounts. I used to grin and bear the hours spent poolside on a Saturday and now the girls are all confident swimmers, I’m so glad I did. I really admire your attempts though with your daughter and your honesty that it didn’t quite work out. Thank you for sharing your experience, I think it will help others. Alison x #coolmumclub

  11. motherhoodtherealdeal Reply

    This is great hon! We have been totally lame and done da nada on the swimming front because my little is like…ALWAYS ill…she does love water and swimming when she gets there so don’t feel to argh! about. Unless she’s still in armbands at 13 in which case I’ll eat my words lol! Sending big #coolmumclub love xxxx

  12. theidentitythieves Reply

    Just finished a block of lessons with my 1 year old. Like you say, lots of nursery rhymes and repetition but i’ve loved those one to one moments with her. Plus she’s fine with water being splashed in her face, which is handy with a 2 year old brother. #coolmumclub

  13. imatwinmama Reply

    Really interesting piece 🙂

    I looked into the cost of Water Babies when I had my twins and it was a literal impossibility on our budget. Which depressed me. I agree that swimming is a vital life skill but on top of the fact that I couldn’t afford it, I also couldn’t take two babies swimming in my own.

    So now the girls are two, Hubby and I take them swimming (aka splashing about a bit) on a sporadic basis but it’s very rare.

    I hope to enroll the girls in lessons when they’re older, hoping something changes financially lol!

  14. Louise (Little Hearts, Big Love) Reply

    Our approach to swimming has been similar to yours. Swimming lessons weren’t on the cards for us when Jessica was a baby, mostly due to her going so blue so quickly but now she copes better and is getting more confident. Glad to hear that intensive swimming lessons worked so well for Tigs – that makes me feel quite tempted to try a similar approach with Jessica #coolmumclub

  15. bridiebythesea Reply

    Aww so lovely that you found something to work for you. My daughter has been having swimming lessons since she was about 6 months and it has been a slow process for her to get used to it! She’s no water baby, but I’m so glad we did it and have found a nice gentle class for her! Thanks for hosting #coolmumclub xx

  16. Mumbelievable (Ursula) Reply

    I really love this and can relate to it so much. We gave up on lessons at 1 year because Xav was frightened of the water and found it all a bit stressful. We went down the self-led route and just focused on having fun and building up his confidence in the water, and your post has given me the impetus I need to sort out some one-on-one lessons for him. I’m so glad it’s worked out so well for you and you’ve given me loads of hope!! Hope you have a fab week lovely and thank you as always for hosting the ace #coolmumclub Xxx

  17. anywaytostayathome Reply

    Swim lessons are the bane of my life. Every week for the last 18 months I’ve wrestled with a slippery and reluctant child who likes to splash and play but categorically does not want to swim. I’m wishing I’d done it your way honestly. #coolmumclub

  18. everythingsrosieandgeorge Reply

    I’m so glad she’s making great progress!! We take G once a month (at £25 for an hour we won’t be doing it any more often thanks) and it’s crazy to see how much better he gets every time, and that’s not even that often! Your two will be swimming the channel together before you know it x #coolmumclub

  19. Dr Mummykins Reply

    Hmmmm…this is a very handy post as we are currently deliberating what to do with my 3 year old who is terrified of water.. We were hoping a “fun holiday” would help but no. She remains scared stiff. I think lessons are going to be the way forward. Slow and steady to build her confidence… Keep us updated how you get on but it sounds like it worked out well for you guys. #coolmumclub

  20. absolutely prabulous Reply

    I took my eldest to swimming lessons in the UK when she was a few months old. The effort of getting there and just the whole changing thing afterwards as you describe just killed me. Living in the Med has made me very lazy in this department as, apart from a few swimming lessons a few years ago, I’ve tended to just chuck them in the sea during the crazy hot summer and let that be their learning! But last week we started going 3 times a week to fab lessons by the sea in a superb outdoor swimming pool and the way they’ve already progressed is just amazing. Money well spent. Glad you feel the same too about yours. #CoolMumClub

  21. Mum in Brum Reply

    This was such a useful post for me to read as it seems we are falling into the same trap as you did – kidding ourselves that we can teach Taylor ourselves with the odd trip to the local pool. To be honest we’ve been pretty crap so far at taking her and it really is purely selfish reasons of not really fancying it ourselves – Dad is better than I am, but I’ve been meaning to look into proper lessons for a while now that she’s getting older. On our last visit she just clung to dad for dear life and cried the whole time – so it’s definitely time to get serious about it I think! Thanks for sharing hun xx #Coolmumclub

  22. Silly Mummy Reply

    I can swim. I did have some lessons as a young child & my parents also taught me – so a combination of the two. I have never been a fan of diving or water slides or anything like that. But I’ve always been a very strong and very confident swimmer & I think that is the most important thing. Though I also think it is important never to be overconfident when it comes to water, especially natural water areas (as opposed to pools), as even really strong swimmers can be overpowered. Funnily enough, I was actually told that lessons for babies & young toddlers should be avoided for exactly that reason – apparently they are too young to actually properly retain any learning, & the sense of security it can give could therefore be dangerous, since it is actually unlikely that they really would be safe or able to save themselves. That said, I think there is no harm, as long as you don’t rely on having done lessons to keep them safe – if done for a bit of fun and experience, I think it’s a good thing. I haven’t done it though due to cost (& tbh hatred of dealing with swimming pool changing rooms with babies & toddlers). So will probably do the lessons when kids a bit older & able to take it in, like I did. #coolmumclub

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