When something is fun, children want to keep doing it. Of course we already know that. When children enjoy their swim lessons they want to keep taking them. One of the greatest compliments I have had over the years comes from the child via the parent when they say ‘Jonah hasn’t stopped talking about you all week! The toys, the games! He couldn’t wait for his next lesson!’
Toys are incorporated into our lessons on many levels. For very young, fearful children it helps to distract them, engage them in an activity, allows them to do something fun without having to focus fully on ‘swimming’ as often these games can be played on the steps and without the instructor even having to take the child out into the pool (which can be very intimidating to a young child who is apprehensive to begin with). As children progress, the toys are used as incentives for blowing bubbles, putting their face in, diving down deeper and as ‘rewards’ for executing skills.
In addition to toys and structured games however, I recommend on occasion, incorporating 3-5 minutes of unstructured ‘free play’ time and here’s why. When children are not in their swim lesson they rarely get into a pool and just swim laps or practice their swim skills. All they want to do is play. Play is their objective. As an instructor when I’ve had the opportunity to observe my students in a free play mode, I can see how they think, how they operate, how they problem solve and maneuver themselves in and around the pool.
Safety is not simply what to do if you fall in, safety is how to be safe once you’re in. Many children get into difficult or potential drowning situations while they’re already in and swimming. It’s so important to incorporate real-life anecdotes into the lessons in order to educate children about what to do in case…
While safety drills are crucial for water safety education, I would say learning how to play safely is even MORE important because that’s ALL that children ever want to do in a pool. We have to acknowledge what real-life experiences they’ll have and give them tools to be safe in all aspects of water, not just one scenario.
One last thing to note is that for very young children, safety should not be their objective. It is for the parent and the teacher but for the child, the focus needs to be about developing skills and confidence. Children need to remain relaxed, calm and happy which will do more for their mindset and safety than executing a safety drill over and over. A relaxed child is much safer than an anxious child.