Learning to swim: understanding children

Learning to swim is such a vital life skill in my opinion. Swimming lessons are something we have insisted that all the children have. They have been free to choose what other activities they do but we said that learning to swim was not optional.

Fortunately they all love the water so it hasn’t been too hard to instill in them, although there has occasionally been a reluctance to take part in a ‘lesson’. We have found though that as long as the learning is balanced with play time then it all works out well in the end and every swim becomes enjoyable.


Having sat on the pool side watching lessons for seven years already, with many more to come, I can honestly say that the instructor your child has is the most crucial ingredient in learning to swim.

Over the years the children have had a real mixed bag of instructors. Obviously, their skills and knowledge are really important but from what I have seen, the most important thing is actually the way the talk to children and their ability to understand that not all children learn in the same way. The most successful swimming instructors are those that can adapt their approach and communicate effortlessly with children from age three to pre-teens. That is quite a skill in itself.

I’ve seen so many times when an instructor taking a class of three year olds towers above them and bellows to one at a time “what’s your name mate?” – I’ve also seen the difference when an instructor bends down next to the same group of children and says “my name is …., what’s your name?” Things like that make a whole world of difference to how children respond even before they get in the water.

swimming lessons

Those instructors that give children, whatever their age, just one or two things to focus on at a time, rather than half a dozen things, also get better, faster results. Most of the time it’s much less about what they say and much more about how they say it.

High fives when children do well go down a storm, especially with the boys, and I’ve seen a superb instructor turn a whole lesson into a superhero session for older boys.

The enthusiastic instructors who can communicate with children of a range of ages with ease are the ones getting the results without a doubt, and I am really pleased that our children have in the main been taught by instructors like this.

What has your experience of swimming lessons and instructors been?


  1. My 4 year old has had several instructors in the last few months. The inconsistency means she hasn’t progressed at all

  2. My son got out of the pool in the middle of his lesson just before Christmas, turned to the instructor and told her he was never coming back because she kept on shouting at him….he hasn’t gone back. ‘Mum, I can’t kick any harder or swim any faster.’ She took the enjoyment out of it for him ?

    1. It’s such a shame when things like that happen – I really think the instructors need to spend time understanding the children they work with as the results speak for themselves 🙁

  3. Great skill to learn my nephew is just getting used to the water lessons to start in the summer

  4. Our first child swam in a group environment with a young male instructor. She thrived in the group and listened well to him–better than she would have for a female. For our youngest, we chose 1-2-1 instruction with a female as we knew it would suit her better. Both needed different environments and different types of teachers to encourage them to swim. I don’t think either would have done well if they’d been in the opposite environment with their sibling’s swim teacher.

    1. That’s really interesting and proves the point really that one size does not fit all – I’m so glad you have got the right balance for both of them 🙂

  5. We’ve had a real mix through Water Babies but all were good. Some related to the kids better than others, but we had a year of water wobbles and they were brilliant through it. N’s now been with a normal kids swimming teacher for a while now and she is brilliant with them. She keeps them working, enjoying it, encourages, but is strict enough to remind them that they’re old enough to focus and do what she’s saying. The other person who runs the swimming lessons at the school there is pretty abrupt and a bit scary to the parents, but she’s brilliant with the really young children, and all of my nephews and niece have learnt with her through the years – they all respect her and she gets the best swimming out of them,

    You’re right, it does make a difference who the instructor is.

  6. My daughter loved swimming when she was a baby she’s 5 now and utterly terrified of the water. I have no idea what happened 🙁 She never had a bad experience in the water at all!

  7. My 5 yr old has lessons every week and loves it, then a family friend was helping him swim on holiday and he was on his back and went under just for a second but it was enough! He now cries at every lesson that he has to go on his back! it breaks my heart a little taking him every week when I know what it will result in, but I know its only because of his confidence and hopefully this will come back to him.


  8. with 2 lakes and a river here on the farm learning to swim was no option, it was a necessity for my own peace of mind. I taught my kids myself before they were old enough for proper swimming lessons to take over. #SharewithMe

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