Learning to Love and Respect the Water in Early Childhood: The Many Benefits of a Parent and Me Class


Author Karen Cox teaching a Parent and Me class
Parents often enroll in a Parent and Me class desiring to start their child off with an early appreciation of the water.  Some parents are looking to gain strategies for working with their child in the water, while others know they have never mastered feeling comfortable in the water themselves and specifically don’t want to pass their discomfort along to their children.  As a Parent and Me swim coach, I believe all of these goals can be met!  
The Parent and Me classes at UVAC are for children 6 months to 3 years accompanied by a parent or care giver as their primary teacher in the water.  The first half of each class is designed to be welcoming and fun.  Through ball play and songs, children are learning to engage in a group lesson, to share and to learn from others.  Embedded in the songs are body movements that will aid in the child’s swimming progress.  The songs provide a developmentally appropriate structure for the children, which in turn helps them to relax and actively participate in the lesson.  This predictable structure helps the child feel secure and successful in the midst of the splashy unknown randomness of the water environment.  Most importantly, the child and parent are learning to have a trusting relationship in the water together.  This bonding is essential for the child’s progress.  The child is taking their cues from the parent!  The parent is looking for opportunities to challenge the child, progressing them in their journey of learning to swim.  
During the second half of each class we work on developing a skill set together.  I think of this as a bag of tricks for each parent.  Incidentally, these are the same skill sets I would use while teaching an older child to swim.  The difference is found in the amount of physical support a child needs.  The joy in the Parent and Me class is that we get to start these little ones early!  Learning to back float (essential safety skill), to put one’s face in the water, air exchange (take a breath, exhaling in the water), to kick (building muscle memory for proper technique) and to glide from the wall and learning to return to the wall for safety… All these skills go into the parent’s bag of tricks.  
The key is to understand each child is on their own continuum.  The job of the parent is to develop their own understanding of each skill and then to read their child in such a way, that through lots of practice, they can encourage and coach their child to take that next challenge.  An example of this would be to start a back float with a child’s head resting on your shoulder, then switching the support to their head resting on your hand, then progressing to a hand supporting their back…you get the idea!
Does this happen over night?  No!  But if you provide plenty of positive exposure to swimming, your child will learn to swim!  Keep in mind each parent/child partnership has their own personality and learning style.  Some children are by personality greater risk takers, others are more reserved.  The same holds true for parents.  Start where you feel comfortable and little by little try to push the envelope.  Keep it fun!  Sense your child’s tolerance level. Stay engaged and enthusiastic. The beauty of the group lesson is that children do pick up on what other children are trying and then they try too!  Many parent/child couples come to 3,4 or 5 sessions, some even more!  The songs stay the same but the child progresses!  
Join me in the pool!  
Swimmingly! ~ Coach Karen   
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