Which comes first? The chicken (swimming) or the egg (safety)?
I get asked this question more times than any other so I thought I’d address it straight away in 2018. “Lisa, I know you use a developmental method but do you just teach them to swim or do you also teach them safety skills?”
Of course, to my mind, they are one and the same but I can see how a concerned parent would separate the two and see them as completely autonomous.
Here in fact is exactly how the developmental approach creates a truly water safe child:
- There is no such thing as 100% water safety for any individual which is why all people are encouraged to swim with a lifeguard or friend present (no matter the age).
- Panic is the enemy of water safety. Repeated practice, exposure, time and summers of lessons, diminish and hopefully eliminate panic. This is a process that takes several years.
- Intensive swim lessons do not teach breathing, they encourage children to hold their breath because it’s faster and easier to teach a child to swim and hold their breath vs regulate their breathing.
- Holding one’s breath while swimming greatly increases the sense of urgency and panic.
- It is highly detrimental to teach a child to swim and not teach them how to breathe in the water. It is also very very difficult to unlearn and carries into adulthood.
- Water safety is equivalent to reading comprehension. First, you learn to identify letters, sounds and words. Then you are able to read short and long sentences. Finally, you reach the stage of comprehension. Swimming is the same. Skills first, safety second. Safety is the comprehension stage of learning to swim.
- Safety is the parent’s focus and goal but it should not be the child’s focus. The child’s focus should be familiarity, comfort, ease, skill accomplishment and strength and conditioning development. Safety skills, drills, and language are introduced by degrees appropriate to the child’s age and stage and are incorporated into the curriculum.
We do not take water safety lightly and it is our underlying goal for every child. It is built into every lesson plan. That said the most successful swim programs are the ones in which a child’s interest and enthusiasm sustains over time. It is essential that a child experiences delight, joy and a sense of accomplishment each and every time in order to remain invested in the process.
So to answer that age old question – the chicken definitely came first!