Last fall, I wrote a glowing, hopeful post about how I was going to sign up my then 7-year-old for swim lessons. He already knew how to swim well, but I wanted someone to perfect and refine his skills to that of a decidedly advanced level, for him to have a fun group experience, and maybe by the time he graduated from the available lessons for him to be at the point of joining an athletic swim team.
Well, they really didn’t go as well as planned.
Last fall I found a facility near where we were staying at the time that was offering swim lessons.
The lady in charge of sign-ups told me that there would be no swim test to determine what level to start him at. All I had to do was look at the provided chart and pick the level I thought he was at.
No pressure, she assured me. If I ended up picking the wrong level, the swim instructor could easily move him up or down to a level more appropriate to his skill.
Ok, sounds simple enough, right?
- This particular program had 7 different levels
- The levels went from “beginner” (afraid of water, no experience) to “advanced“
- The program was meant for 6-12 year olds (in my mind, I am picturing advanced 12-year-old swimmers who are at the highest level of this program)
So, based on that information, and reading the (extremely brief) descriptions,
- I put Hunter in the level that was labeled “intermediate“
- It was level 4 out of 7
- According to the description, by the time children were ready for this level, they were supposed to already know how to swim the crawl stroke, the back stroke, the elementary back stroke, the side stroke, the breast stroke, rhythmic breathing, and somersaults at a rudimentary level (he could do all of those things with pretty good skill, but could use some refinement)
So far, it seemed pretty good.
The lessons turned out to be not the right level, at all.
Half of the kids in the class couldn’t even swim by themselves yet (I later found out that it was a mixed class, and half the kids were only at level 3). The other kids (who were supposed to be level 4) mostly dog-paddled (apparently, being able to do all of those five strokes at a “rudimentary” level means something a lot different than what I thought it did).
I mean, he is not a swimming superstar by any means. But the kid has been swimming by himself underwater (for several feet) since he was three. He has been able to swim independently across the pool (coming up for air) since he just turned five. At a few months shy of eight, he was swimming all of the five strokes with pretty decent skill, multiple lengths of the pool.
He did not need to use a noodle.
When I tried to change his level (he needed to move up at least to level 6, based on my observations of the level 6 class that was going on at the same time as his), it wasn’t as simple as they said it would be, and in the end (after weeks of unreturned phone calls and talking to several different people), the swim instructor decided not to move him up to a different level (and apparently, the instructor is the only person who can make that decision).
Why she refused, I don’t know. He’s not a swimming prodigy or anything, but he at least needs to be in a level with other kids who can actually swim and do the five basic strokes with more form than a dog paddle. The worst part was, she made this decision after not even ever seeing him swim, as after three weeks in the program, they still had not even been asked to swim without a noodle or kick board!
I didn’t make a big scene about it, and tried reasoning and talking (I’m not the confrontational type), but for some reason she just decided, after never even seeing him swim, that he was indeed in the “right” level and he should just stay in the class.
Week four, she finally got to the point of asking Hunter and the other children in level 4 to swim without noodles. She would tell them, “Ok, do the back stroke to the other end!” and then as they were off swimming, she would turn around and help the other kids who couldn’t swim yet.
She did not even watch them, much less help them improve their technique or, you know, teach them. Why was I paying for this again?
Exasperated, with the class already halfway over, I just decided to switch him to a class at that same level but on a different day. At least that way, he could get a different instructor who might actually teach him something.
They gladly switched him to a class on a different day. Ironic how easy is was. His new instructor was quite a bit more attentive: she would actually walk or swim next to him while he swam, and give him tips about improving his technique, and show him how to do things better, and so on. The other kids in that class could actually swim. But the level was still way too simple for him. They were not even working on all five strokes at all, mostly just two strokes, and a lot of time was spent teaching the other kids simple stuff like back floating and diving for rings in four feet deep water.
He didn’t really learn anything new in the entire seven week class, besides getting to dive off a diving board for the first time. The other kids were still mostly jumping (not diving) just to overcome fears, and some of them still needed noodles, but the instructor did actually let him dive off of the board, and he did really well (his body was actually straight rather than the L-shape that is more common).
To say the least, we did not sign him up for the next session.
While I thought lessons would have been a great experience and a new chapter in our lives (I suppose they could have been, with a different instructor) I realized in all of this that I actually do know a lot more about swimming than I give myself credit for. I know all of the strokes quite well, I know how to do racing turns, I know first aid and water rescue, I know the basics of diving. We can look up YouTube videos together and watch the real pros if we want to tweak our techniques. And we have been doing lessons again, with his skill improving a lot just with me.
I think that the next time we do outsourced “lessons”, it will be to join a swim team. I’m not going to bet my money on hoping to get a good instructor in the YMCA’s apparently not-so-rigorous program.
Do you have any experience with swim lessons? Were they great or did you feel like it was something you could do at home?
Hunter, at the time, was 7 years, 8 months old