The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

How to Alleviate Anxiety in Your Infant & Toddler Swimming Lessons

Steve Graves, Executive Director of the World Aquatic Babies and Children’s Network, asked me if there was a “tough teaching task” and “remedy” that came to mind to share with WABC Members in their newsletter.  The first one that came to mind to me was the difficult task of alleviating anxiety and fears in young children, especially one and two-year old toddlers enrolled in Parent & Me classes.

Here are five remedies that we have found extremely effective for alleviating anxiety in toddlers at Swim Lessons University:

1.  Especially on the first few classes, have parents hold their toddlers in a “hug hold” when entering the water.   The children feel much more secure.  I have seen parents holding children every which way, and this is certainly a critical element of getting started on the right foot.

2.  Allow the parent and child to spend the first few minutes with “just each other.”   One-on-one time so to speak, so the child can get acclimated to the environment.  For years I debated on starting the class off with a song, but determined it was best to incorporate the group acclimation songs AFTER the initial warm up to the pool, new people, etc.

3.  Gently introduce yourself to each child.  Talk softly, smile a lot, and be very sensitive to the child’s readiness to accept you.  Take your time.

4.  When teaching skills, stay child-focused and introduce skills based on the child’s readiness–not yours.

5.  You are the expert.  You do it!   When it’s time to teach skills such as breath control, surface swimming, or safety skills, you be the one to assist the child in practicing the technique.  You have done it hundreds of times.  Parents have not.   Parents are anxious.  You are not.  The child senses this anxiousness.  Most importantly, you can lead the child to the parent when practicing skills.  So the child is going TO THE PARENT, which is more comforting than the parent sending them away and toward you.  Keep in mind when you take the child from the parent to start the skill, don’t hesitate a second to begin.  You want to start immediately using a start command such as 1, 2, 3.   This is especially important until the child gets to know you.   If the child sees right away he/she is going to mom or dad, most of the anxiety is alleviated within seconds.

Hope these tips help you and your staff!   Just FYI, we will be sharing video footage of many of these in our brand new Parent & Me video that will be released LATE FALL, 2012.   Sign up for our newsletter so you know when it is ready!  We will also be sharing some sneak preview footage from the new Parent & Me video in the Infant Toddler Swimming Presentation at our annual Swim Instructors Conference in Las Vegas on September 7, 2012  Enroll Today and get the Early Bird rate of just $85.00!

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June 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm Comments (0)

Infant Swimming Goals, Expectations, & Reality

A Parent writes after having taken 8 lessons (4 hours of instruction with her 15 month old):

My 15 month old son and I just took the parent and me class with Coach M.   Each day was a repeat of the same thing we had done each day prior. I guess my point is to ask you, what were we supposed to be doing in class, and what is the most you can get out of the parent and me class? My son is extremely active, strong, and very comfortable with water.  Is familiarity with water the only thing we were supposed to achieve, or was there more? Again I am not trying to complain, I really just wanted an answer if you have the time. I appreciate it.

Thank you,

C.P.

Dear C.P.,

It is hard to give a true assessment without seeing your class… But here are my thoughts:

Yes, the routine shouldn’t change. Children need that consistency in approach to make progress because not only of their age, but also because the improvement depends on practicing that particular skill.  For example:   It’s like deciding you’re going to be a runner, but then instead of running to get in shape for the marathon you start playing tennis.   Do you see what I mean?  Like running, in order to learn the skill of swimming, you need to run, run, and run some more, and you won’t be ready for that marathon in 4 hours.  You can think of many other examples.   Here’s one more:  You want your child to learn to play your favorite song on the piano.   If he’s going to learn to play that song, not only will he need to practice that song often and regularly, he will need to repeat a variety of exercises to help him achieve that goal.  And yes, it will take longer than 4 hours of instruction.  Learning to swim is no different.

Now let’s talk about the skills we are teaching in Parent & Me.   There are progressions for every skill, but as teachers we have to make a judgment on whether or not the child is ready for the next step in the progression. At 15 months, it may take several weeks before we determine the child is ready to take that next step and you CAN’T force it.  IF we do,  we take the chance of going backwards and turning the child off to the lesson all together.

For instance, if the Coach M. tries to do three dolphin dips even though the toddler’s body language, facial expressions, etc. are saying “no” then she could cause the child to regress instead of progress, and potentially create a negative experience. If the child appears ready for the third dip, then Coach M. should do it.  I can’t say either way without seeing it, but Coach M. knows her job and she has taught hundreds of toddlers to swim.

The same goes with the back kicking, surface swim with the  face in the water, and the safety skills. They are repeated every lesson. They have to be if the child is going to improve on it, but within each skill, there is a progression that the instructor has to determine whether or not to go the the next step of the progression, based on the child’s readiness–NOT the instructor’s or parent’s desire to advance them.  At 15 months, it is a great time to start developing all these skills, and the skills and activities MUST be repeated in order for the child to improve them.  Children are limited to what they can do by their age, experience, and motor development. Here is a blog I wrote that may help in determining what skills toddlers are “capable” of mastering, but each child is unique, and each child needs to be treated as an individual.  There are so many factors in addition to age that go into the process of whether or not a child is ready to move on in a skill progression.  And that is what our instructors are trained to do.

I do think Coach M. is a great teacher.  I can’t say with certainty whether or not your son should have accomplished more or not.   It may or may not be a case of high expectations or it may be a case where Coach M. took a more conservative approach based on what she felt was best for your son.   I do know Coach M. would do just that.   I look forward to talking to you more.

SwimmingSafercerely,

Coach Jim

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June 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm Comments (0)

Back Floating Babies

First off, we NEVER float babies against their will. It’s simply not worth turning them off to the water, which is most often the result when you take the enjoyment out of the learn-to-swim experience. If you do stay child-focused, most infant and toddlers will take to it.  Children can learn other potentially lifesaving skills too, like getting back to the side of the pool if they fell in the water, which doesn’t require them to be on their back.   We think it is so important that swimming instructors are not overly aggressive or insistent that a child masters a particular skill.   At this young age, children should be closely supervised at all times no matter what, and there should be numerous layers of protection when it comes to water safety.  If parents can make sure their toddlers stay off a busy street, they can also ensure they don’t end up in a swimming pool without supervision.

At Swim Lessons University, our Certified Swimming Instructors introduce back floating and kicking using a “cheek-to-cheek” support with the child’s head on the parent’s shoulder.  In this first video, I want you to notice how I use the “cheek to cheek” hold and put my student Rex in a nice horizontal body position.  On the other hand,  my other student Kamryn is not very horizontal nor is she feeling her body’s buoyancy.  Now this is MY RESPONSIBILITY to correct.  I need to a better job teaching Kamryn’s father to get her in a horizontal position like Rex so she too can feel the water floating her.  Take a look:

I always stress that the best hold is the one that gives the student just enough support to be successful.

Within in a few weeks, you can progress to what I am doing in this next video IF the child is ready.  This is Baby Rex’s very first time floating without my support. I think it is critical for the safety of the child that you don’t allow water to continue to get on the face, in the mouth, etc. If that is occurring frequently, not only do you starting taking the fun out of it, but you are also putting the child at risk. Notice how closely I watch Rex’s face and the water, and as soon as it appears he is going to try and sit up or that his body position is going to cause water to get on the face, I resume my support, sit him up, and praise him.

With continued practice and instruction, this skill will naturally improve.  Don’t expect it all at once.  And don’t be surprised if there are days when your student doesn’t want to be on his/her back at all.   Stay child-focused and keep the experience positive.   About two weeks after the above video was shot, Rex kicked on his back all the way around a small lazy river (probably about 35-50 yards) in Myrtle Beach’s Dune’s Village Water Park because HE WANTED TO!   I just walked with him and enjoyed watching him have fun with it.   The next day, however, he didn’t want to be on his back at all (to my surprise), until he saw his 3.5 year old brother kicking on his back!  And BINGO…Rex wanted to do it too!  And he did.

For more information on teaching infants and toddlers, check out our Baby Swimming Videos at Swim Lessons University.

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June 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm Comments (0)

Learn-to-Swim Objective for 12 Month Old

Far too often, parents discontinue swim lessons too soon. On the other hand, other activities such as gymnastics, t-ball, dance, and soccer take their place. While I certainly support “well-rounded” children and encourage all types of healthy physical activity, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that children become competent at the swimming skills they are capable of achieving at different ages.

For example, while we don’t expect a twelve month old to swim across the pool yet, a twelve month old can be developing the prerequisite skills in his swimming lessons so he can swim across the pool by age 3. Without developing these skills in swim lessons now, swimming across the pool will only be more difficult to achieve, and certainly delayed. What comes easy to a 1-year old (facial immersion and breath holding for example) is much more difficult for a three or four year old if you wait or stop lessons.

Here is Baby Rex at 12 months of age.
To illustrate what six to seven months of lessons per year (not year-round) can do for your little one, I will continue to post videos of Rex so you can see what can be achieved with a commitment to swimming instruction.

PLEASE NOTE: No objective or benchmark should ever be achieved because we (swim instructor or parent) want the child to achieve it, rather, when the child is developmentally ready to achieve it. Enjoy the journey. Stay child focused. AS a result, your student/child will develop a lifelong love affair with the water, as well as become a safer swimmer. That is what Swim Lessons University is all about.

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May 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm Comments (0)

How to Teach Back Floating to Infants and Toddlers

I am going to combine this blog with some helpful video clips from our YouTube Channel.

In the first video clip on teaching babies to swim on their back, I want the viewer to notice how I use the “cheek to cheek” hold and put my student Rex in a nice horizontal body position relative to my other student Kamryn.  Now it is MY RESPONSIBILITY as the instructor to correct it, but notice how Kamryn’s body position is almost diagnal, and she is not feeling the water floating her. On the other hand, Rex is horizontal and he can feel the buoyancy of the water. In addition, he is also secure. I always stress that the best hold is the one that gives the student just enough support to be successful. I need to help Kamryn’s father do that for her as well.

First off, we never float babies against their will. It’s simply not worth turning them off to the water, which is most often the result when you take the enjoyment out of the learn-to-swim experience. If you do stay child-focused, most infant and toddlers will take to it, and you can do what I am doing here.

The second clip illustrates how the baby back kicking progression is working as you get to see Baby Rex’s four lessons later.  You get to see Baby Rex float for the first time without my support. I think it is critical for the safety of the child that you don’t allow water to continue to get on the face, in the mouth, etc.   If that is occurring frequently, not only do you starting taking the fun out of it, but you are also putting the child at risk.  Notice how closely I watch Rex’s face and the water, and as soon as it appears he is going to try and sit up or that his body position is going to cause water to get on the face, I resume my support, sit him up, and praise him.

I hope these two clips and descriptions help you.   For more on Infant Toddler Swimming, check out the Swim Lessons University  “Parent & Me” and “Teaching Babies Better” videos.

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May 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm Comments (0)

Swim Instructor Mentoring Program

When using the video-based Swim Lessons University Instructor Training and Certification program, we also advise that SLU programs incorporate a mentoring program for new swimming instructors.   In addition to the invaluable opportunity to train by watching the courses actually being taught, we believe nothing ever can truly take the place of real experience.  This is where the mentoring program comes to play.

At the Swim Lessons Company, I require my teachers to shadow either myself and/or several of our senior instructors.   I like to have our swim instructor candidates shadow four different experienced Swim Lessons University instructors on four different days for a total of 12 hours.  That 12 hours of practicum work, of course, is in addition to their 24 hours of classroom video-based training and online swim instructor testing.  This gives the new teacher “hands-on” experience with not only four different instructors teaching from the same lesson plans and curriculum, it also gives them experience working with a variety of children, personalities, levels, and age groups.

Here is an email I send to my Senior SLU Instructors when the mentoring program is about to begin.  This way they know what is expected of them as the new teachers participate in their practicums.

Dear Staff,

Please note that I have begun scheduling new teachers at various locations to do their practicums with many of you.  If for any reason you have to reschedule a class—please remind me if you are mentoring a teacher that night so we can let them know too.

READ INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.  The following is a set of guidelines for how you should help break in our new teachers.  Your influence on developing their teaching skills is an instrumental part of preparing them to represent us well and deliver the superior product that SLC parents in Columbia have come to expect.

  1. Introduce the teacher to your class and tell children that he/she will be helping you today.
  2. The first time you teach any particular level, begin to show them the various supports and manipulating techniques we do and let them try it with your guidance.
  3. Without taking away from your class, comment on the names of the exercise and on the cues we use, BUT for the most part you are demonstrating how we do it AND the teacher-in-training is just “shadowing” you.  Don’t overteach them, let them watch and learn and be a little “hands on.”
  4. LASTLY – THIS IS REALLY HELPFUL:

Once the teacher candidate has settled in, so to speak–take turns with them starting the children.  You always present the new exercise or activity, give the cues/instructions, give the start signal and give feedback AND THEN let the teacher candidate try it for the second practice trial.  REPEAT for each exercise or activity that we do.

* For the Parent & Me swim classes— you teach the class, however, get teacher candidate involved in the holds, passes, safety skills, etc.

*  DO NOT TURN YOUR CLASS INTO TWO PRIVATE LESSONS.  YOU TEACH.  THEY SHADOW.   MANY OF THE TEACHERS IN TRAINING WILL BE DOING THEIR PRACTICUMS before they do their classroom training.

If you have any questions please let me know!  Thanks you!

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February 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm Comments (0)

Back Floating Babies

Dear Swim Professor,

I am teaching a class in my hometown with kids 15 months to 2 years.  I am having some difficulty with the back float.  Lots of squirming and crying.  I did the resting head on shoulder and singing songs.  Do you have any other suggestions, if you do please let me know.  Thanks.

Maddie M.

Dear Maddie,

The most important advice I can offer you to share with your parents is, “Don’t force it.”   It is very common for children at this age not to like being on their backs, and while they are capable and skill ready, the children may not be “mentally ready.”    It is my opinion that learning to swim should be a loving, enjoyable experience, and infants and toddlers should not be forced to do skills against their will.

When I am teaching an infant-toddler swimming class I stress to the parents, if your child is communicating to you that he/she is not happy, respect that.  In this case, sit the child up.   By keeping a child focused approach, your young students will learn to love swimming lessons and develop a life long love of the water.  By forcing back floating or any skill on a happy child, you will only prolong the process of learning the skill, and in many cases, set yourself up for failure.  Why?  Because by forcing a skill on a child, the child will only learn to DISLIKE the process of learning to swim instead of loving it, which is what we should ALL WANT:)

In my Parent & Me 101 DVD, I tell a true story about my son Jeb.   When he was two, he seemed to hate being on his back.    However, my approach in the Swim Lessons University Parent & Me course is to spend a designated amount of time on back floating/kicking every lesson and the back kicking activity is in every lesson plan.   So like it or not, I come back to each skill every lesson BUT I never “make” the child do it against his/her will.  So every time Jeb would fuss, I would simply sit him back up and continue singing and loving and teaching.   So one lesson, still age two, we were on the front kicking exercise with the noodle.  Jeb was now kicking around the pool independently (of course I would follow him around and keep my eyes on his face to make sure he wasn’t taking in water at any time).  At any rate, he is kicking around the pool on his front and then suddenly, out of the blue, without any direction or instruction from me, he flips himself over on his back and starts kicking everywhere on this back!  He’s been kicking happily on his back ever since.  In fact, just last night, he won an 8 & under backstroke race, LOL!

So essentially, he had been “skill-ready” even when he didn’t want to do it, he just wasn’t mentally ready to try the skill until that day.  Parents and teachers should not get caught up in their own goals or be overly task oriented, but rather keep learning fun, and the skills will fall into place with the right environment.  Don’t think you are doing them a favor because back floating is some magical lifesaving skill.   Children should love the water first, and drowning prevention is a layered approach.  In my opinion, no child should ever be in a situation where they have to save themselves.   There should be multiple layers of protection that prevent a child from ever getting into a life threatening situation.

I hope this helps.   If you don’t have the Parent & Me 101 DVD or the Teaching Babies Better DVD you or your hometown swim school / Recreation department may want to consider ordering them for you and your staff.  They are just $35.00 on the Swim Lessons University website.  Parent & Me Swimming Lessons Plans are also available.

I hope this helps, and keep up your enthusiastic work!  You are a special teacher and your students are lucky to have you!

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May 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm Comments (0)

Water Safety for Kids

Today’s blog is to announce a podcast that I just recorded and published with one purpose: To reach as many parents as possible and potentially save the life of a child. The purpose of the podcast is not only to prevent unnecessary drowning and teach water safety, but to prevent and recognize how devastating nonfatal, near drowning can be as well.

I have dedicated this podcast to Samual Morris. Samual Morris did survive a nonfatal, near drowning, but today he suffers from a hypoxic brain injury causing a lifelong disability. His mother Jo-ann writes, “there is no cure for my child.”

Nonfatal near drowning can occur in seconds causing brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities, including memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning.

The podcast challenges parents, in fact, begs parents to NEVER underestimate how easy it is for a child to find himself in a life or death situation in the water. Please join me in our fight against drowning and share this water safety podcast with as many parents as possible. Together we CAN make a difference and save the life of a child.

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November 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm Comment (1)

Swim Lesson for Babies

Should you start your baby (under the age of 2) in swimming lessons? Swim lessons for infants? Swim lessons for toddlers? In my opinion, that really just depends on two things:
1. It depends on whether or not the experience will be a positive one.
2. It depends on whether or not you have reasonable expectations.

If you can answer yes to those two questions, baby swim lessons can be a wonderful experience for your baby. If your instructor takes a child centered approach, if the water is warm (87-94 degrees), if you are looking develop prerequisite skills to swimming and have realistic baby swimming goals, then you are on your way to having a great time and a beautiful bonding experience with your baby.

Toddlers as young as 19 – 24 months can learn some real swimming skills, even lifesaving skills, but no infant or toddler should ever be expected to save his own life. Parents must use a layered approach to drowning prevention and see to it that their infant or toddler never has to save him/herself from drowning. If they do, the parent has failed the child.

My advice to parents looking for opinions on these so-called infant aquatic survival techniques is quite straightforward: Pick up your baby and run the other direction! Stay far away from instructors and programs who’s one and only goal is survival swimming. Instructors who force skills on babies before they are ready are putting their lives at risk in the lesson itself. Would you like to see what this approach can look like? Check out the video clips on linked up in a fantastic blog by Katrina Ramser Parrish called Infant Aquatic Survival Techniques. Personally, I had to turn the video off because it was so sad. It literally had me in tears. I can’t imagine any parent thinking this is okay. I want to publicly thank Katrina for her excellent work in communicating what this approach can look like.

As a parent of three young boys myself (Rex, 3 months, Nolan, 2 years, and Jeb, now 7 years), I know that what I want for my children. Nothing is more important to me than my boys knowing that I love them. Nothing is more important to me than my boys knowing that I will protect them. Nothing is more important to me than the safety of my children. But you will never in a million years see my children in that environment. Innocent children are being put at risk by their own parents, because they are being led to believe that their baby can be drown-proofed.

At Swim Lessons University, we train instructors to teach infants and toddlers to swim through a child focused approach. Swim lessons for infants and swim lessons for toddlers can be of great value. Infants and toddlers can learn to swim in a setting that is positive and joyful. You can watch video samples of young toddlers (including my own) doing some very amazing things in our classes as well, but as a result of a completely different approach. An approach that puts the child first . . . an approach that makes learning enjoyable . . . an approach that shows our children that we love them.

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November 11, 2010 at 12:08 am Comments (4)

Swim Lesson Songs

As the late and legendary TV host Fred Roger’s from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood wrote, “When you help a child enjoy music, you’re also helping a child develop learning skills, like listening, coordination, imagination, and memory.”

Swimming lessons too, are a great place to help a child enjoy music.  I have always incorporated songs and music into my Parent & Me and Swim 101 classes, which you can get a free sneak preview of on my Parent & Me YouTube Video.   Singing songs the children know can also help alleviate anxiety and redirect a young, potentially fearful child’s focus to something other than what he/she is worrying about.

Here a few of the songs we like and use in our Parent & Me and Swim 101 classes:

  • “If You’re Happy & You Know It”
  • “Rain, Rain Go Away”
  • “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
  • “The Wheels on the Bus” (our version “The Babies in the Pool”)

As I noted, when we sing “The Wheels on the Bus,” we substitute the words “The Babies in the Pool.”  When I sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to my Swim 101 students and I feel I need to encourage them to kick more, I sometimes substitute the actual words of the song with “Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick your feet,  splashing in the swimming pool” so they are getting specific feedback/instructions while singing the melody of the song.

One way or the other, when you teach baby swim lessons, swim lesson for toddlers or preschoolers, you want to make swim lesson songs a part of your daily swim lesson plan.

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September 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm Comments (0)

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