Tips for Learning to Swim

We wanted the lowdown on how and when to teach our kids to swim. Who better to consult than a total expert? With over 12 years’ experience in Aquatics, Amy Whitsell  currently holds a YMCA Lifeguard Instructor certification and has held lifeguarding certifications from the Red Cross as well. She also holds a YMCA Swimming Lessons Trainer certification and has a Certified Pool Operator’s license from the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

What is a good age to start to begin swimming lessons?

The YMCA swimming lessons program encourages children as young as 6 months old to enroll in our parent-child water orientation program. We work on building trust between parents and their children while laying the foundation for beginning swimming. We also have group classes and individual lessons just for kids for ages 3 up to adults. It is never too early or too late to learn to swim!

What sorts of pools should Brooklyn kids be learning in?

Children should be learning to swim in environments that meet NYC safety standards. This means the pools are licensed by the city comply with Department of Health requirements. In addition, these pools must have a certified lifeguard on duty, actively scanning the pool at all times. In the event a child is learning to swim at a private home pool, they should never be left without adult supervision.

What qualifications should instructors have?

Great swim instructors have certifications, experience, and a passion for the water that they want to share with others. YMCA instructors have a Y-USA nationally accredited swim instructor certification (YMCA Swim Lesson Instructor). Other reputable certifying agencies include the American Red Cross, United States Masters Swimming, and Starfish Aquatics Swimming Program.

How long does it typically take kids to learn to be proficient swimmers, taking into consideration that all kids are different?

Swimming is a lifelong activity and one can always improve on technique or endurance. Some children may be stronger or more proficient in one stroke than other strokes. With consistent exposure to the water, an older child may learn to swim in one season. It may take a little longer for preschool age children as their muscles and strength are still developing. Children who have recreational swimming time outside of class will usually progress at a faster rate.

How many times a week should kids be taking classes?

Children who are learning to swim may want to attend classes more than once a week, especially if a summer schedule allows for more frequent instruction. Swimmers who are refining their technique or adding more strokes to their repertoire will be fine taking classes once a week. Recreational swim or practice time outside of class is strongly encouraged.

What sort of vests should we be having our kids wear, and until when should they be wearing them?

When boating on an open body of water, participants of all ages should always were a Coast Guard Approved Lifejacket. There are a couple of different styles, to fit for height and weight of the child or adult. Lifejackets are not essential for learning to swim, but the use of lifejackets is part of the “Boating Safety” portion of the YMCA swimming lessons curriculum.

Are arm floaties sufficient?

Children may use foam back floats, noodles, and lifejackets in designated areas during our recreational swim times. Inflatable arms floats provide a false sense of security and hinder the body’s natural swimming position in the water. Any children who cannot swim without the assistance of “floaties” should always be within arm’s reach of an adult and remain in the shallow end of pools.

A few other major safety tips include the following:

No matter your age or skill level, never swim alone.

Never leave children unattended when they have access to a body of water.

Be sure to secure any private pools with a self-latching gate so children, especially small children, cannot gain access without an adult present.

Go over beach safety tips with your children and make sure they know how to ask another adult or lifeguard for assistance if they see someone in distress or become lost. Have a landmark or meeting point for families in the event children become lost or separated.

Amy Whitsell is the Aquatics Director at the Prospect Park YMCA. She grew up in Iowa and worked for the YMCA of Greater Omaha during high school and college. She moved to New York City in 2014 and is thrilled to continue her career in Aquatics with the YMCA. She has a passion for teaching swimming and promoting safety around the water. The only thing she loves more than swimming is sharing that love with others.

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