The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

How to Alleviate Anxiety in Your Infant & Toddler Swimming Lessons »« Back Floating Babies

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,


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 & Tot.   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 (breath control exercise) 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.


Coach Jim

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

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June 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm
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