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Teaching Swim Lessons for PreSchool Swimmers

Three And Four Year Olds Require Different Approaches - Preschool Swim Lessons

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Pre-school Swimmer Enjoying a Swim Lesson

Enjoying a swim lesson

Jim Reiser
After my first week of teaching swimming lessons to preschool swimmers, I visited a friend who had preschoolers. I watched them play, and I was amazed by how children were so different in terms of they way they played, the way they interacted, and other things they would do. From that day forward, I experimented with a new approach to teaching preschool swimming lessons.

My early teaching experience was that children didn't start swimming lessons until they were five or six years old. From 1982 through 1993, all the swim lessons I taught were to children ages five years old and older. After moving to a new area of the country in 1993, I found a huge demand for teaching younger children, so I began teaching three and four year olds. I didn't know where to start, other than to teach the three and four year olds the way I had always taught the older kids. It didn't take me long to realize that if I was to be successful, I had to come up with a better approach to teaching pre-school swimming lessons.

Key Points for Teaching Swimming Lessons to Pre-School Swimmers

Make Learning like Play, Let the Children Play to Learn
In other words, use activities that teach skills vs. drills. Engage your young learners by getting them to use their imagination. Be excitable and animated. Make your student's laugh and giggle and let them have fun learning.

I will never forget in the summer of 1994, I was teaching Benjamin Fogler. His father, Eddie Fogler, was the Head Men's Basketball Coach at the University of South Carolina. Coach Fogler watched closely as I was teaching Ben to kick using an activity called Let's Rescue the Animals. I had Ben and my other two students wearing red, plastic fireman's hat, pretending they were rescuing floating fish, ducks, and frogs. They made siren sounds as they practiced their kick - kicking out to a float, rescuing it, and bringing it back to safety on the side of the pool.

While each student kicked out and back to rescue multiple aquatic creatures, I moved from child to child, manipulating their legs, praising them, and making learning fun. I will never forget what Coach Fogler said at the end of the class: "Great class, Coach! Did you come up with that? I'd copyright that if I were you." What a complement!

Use Cues and Buzzwords to Teach the General Idea of the Skill vs. the Technical Terms and Details
How many times have you said or heard this swimming-related phrase? "Close your fingers." I don't contend that the fingers should be spread wide apart when swimming, but the point is when you are teaching a preschooler who is also a true beginner, closing the fingers does absolutely nothing to help them learn to swim. What does it matter?

The first way a preschooler is truly going to learn to swim is with his face in the water - once he puts his face in the water. When a preschooler swims at the surface, with his face in the water, there are three things that are important:

  1. The child must be able to hold his breath.
  2. The child must be able to do an air exchange so he can breathe and continue his swim.
  3. The child must be able to propel himself through the water using his kick (the arms are almost irrelevant until he is skill ready to do the freestyle, unless his is doing a dog paddle. If he's doing a dog paddle, then the hands must move quickly in front of the face to help keep the face out of the water so the child can breathe. The paddling skill should only be taught once the child can hold his breath in a horizontal position for 3-5 seconds, then progress to swimming at the surface with the face in the water, using either a pop-up or rollover breath.
Keeping those three points in mind, you would design your cues and buzzwords to teach the general idea of those skills.
  • Breath holding - "Balloon face" or simply "hold your breath."
  • Air Exchange - "Get your air in your mouth, blow out your mouth and your nose" or "Get your air, blow it out."
  • Kicking - "Fast kicks," "Small, fast kicks."
  • Swim and Air Exchange (Combined Skill) - "Breathe and swim."
The bottom line is that when teaching preschoolers it is best to avoid the details. Focus the young learners on what really helps them perform the skill successfully.

Correct Preschoolers with Compliments
Sandwich your corrections with compliments and praise. Young children can get frustrated very easily. Keep the teaching environment full of positive reinforcement. Compliment their effort, their hair, their smile, their big muscles. Compliment, compliment, compliment.

Use Kinesthetic Feedback
Most young children learn best when they feel it (kinesthetic feedback). One of the finest techniques for teaching preschoolers is let them feel the "small, fast kicks" as you maneuver their legs through the movement pattern.

Combining kinesthetic feedback with visual methods is another technique that works. Preschoolers think it is funny when you show them the right way, show them (an exaggerated) wrong way, then show them the right way again. Demonstrate a really good small, fast kick. Then demonstrate a bad one (make it really bad - exaggerate it for laughs). Demonstrate the correct one again to reinforce what you do want him to do. This technique works very well when combined with kinesthetic feedback. Maneuver their legs so the kick is perfect, then maneuver their legs so it's really bad, and then maneuver their legs so it's correct again. This technique works wonders!

These points have made my preschool age swim lessons more enjoyable for both me, the teacher, and for my students. I hope they can do the same for you.
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