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.
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.
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.
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