Learning to swim is non-negotiable in our house. My dad couldn’t swim, so my mum made sure my brother and I were taken swimming as childrem. Then I had lessons from around age 5. I wasn’t a fan and couldn’t really swim much until we moved house age 7, when I started swimming with primary school. At secondary school we were just told to get in the pool and do x number of lengths of the 4 strokes which I hated.

It wasn’t until I left uni that I started to enjoy swimming for fitness and getting outside in the summer.

It amazes me how many people can’t swim. 1 in 3 children still can’t swim by the time they leave primary school, and 1 in 5 adults can’t swim in the UK.

Until the last couple of years, I’d not met anyone who couldn’t swim at all. I knew people who weren’t keen on swimming (including the OH), and people who didn’t like going underwater, but they could all swim enough if needed.  I’ve heard of so many people recently, who’ve taken lessons as an adult, many of them to show their children that they can do it. And so they don’t miss out on what’s a great part of family holidays – being able to swim with your children and be comfortable around a pool.

With children, it’s so important they learn to swim. Mainly for safety reasons. But also, because there’s so many activities which ask you to be able to swim a certain distance to take part – not being able to swim could mean missing out in later life

Our swimming journey

It’s not been an easy journey with N.  I took him to Water Babies from 4 months old, and we went through a lot of water wobbles, even stopping for a term to see if that helped. Luckily his last term had some improvement, but it was changing to normal children’s swimming lessons and him having to go into the pool without me that made a big difference to his enjoyment of swimming.  He still wasn’t keen on lessons until he realised it was becoming easier and he could do everything being asked of him.  Adding the school lessons from year 2 gave him a real jumpstart to his progression.

When he wasn’t keen on his lessons, I agreed that once he got to a good level 5 he could stop out of school lessons.  Because of his faster progress, it’s going to be sooner than I wanted, but he’ll still have a year of school swimming left, so I’ll honour my promise if he absolutely refuses to move up, probably at the end of year 3 this year. 

I’ll be confident he can swim a good distance, he can float, he’s swum in clothes, and he knows a lot of safety around water.

not teaching kids to swim - Bubbablueandme

Taking responsibility for teaching children to swim

I can’t understand why parents don’t make it their mission to make sure their children can swim.

Why they rely on or hope that school swimming will teach them to swim.  It might.  I certainly learnt with school swimming over 4 years. It’s now curriculum that school make sure children leave primary school able to swim 25 metres. But that’s not that challenging, and really, it’s not the school’s responsibility.  It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children are safe in and around water.

I wouldn’t go so far as this article where it states not teaching your child to swim is child abuse.

Parents teach children to cross the road safely.

Teach them to use a knife safely and how to watch out for hot ovens and pans in the home. 

So surely parents should take ownership for making sure their children can swim?

Why don’t parents teach their children to swim?

1. Cost

It doesn’t cost that much to take children swimming. If you can get children into public swimming lessons, at council run pools, you shouldn’t be paying more than £5 for group lessons.  N swims at a private school pool and his group lessons work out under £5 a week, although you do have to pay for the term up front.  Teaching children to swim yourself will cost more as you have to pay for adult and child, by us that’s about £5.50 for the local pool.

Some councils do reduced rates for people on benefits. Our town’s two pools had a special reduced swim card last year for people who lived in certain areas of the town; it worked out about 80% off for unlimited swimming. So it doesn’t need to be prohibitive.

2. No access to a pool

Pools have closed over the years, and opening hours aren’t always suitable or adequate for family swimming. It can be hard for people to access a pool. There’s not many ways around this, but it’s not just leisure centres where there are pools.  Try local hotels, or local schools. 

We’re near a reasonably sized town, and within 7 miles we have 3 leisure centre pools, a private gym with a pool, local secondary school pool, a lido and 2 private schools with a pool open to the public. Extend that to slightly further, and there’s other private pools which run private lessons.

3. Own fear of water / inability

I know someone who hated the water, but who could just about swim. She was determined her daughter would learn to swim and have no fear so she took her to baby swim classes. The girl progressed really well, and the mum found it helped her fear slightly because she had a purpose and reason to be in the pool.

It doesn’t have to be parents that take children swimming either. Maybe another adult relative could take them, or an older sibling.

4. Child is too scared

The child might be scared because the parent is scared of swimming, or their fear might be due to a bad experience. This happened with my brother who age 2 was over confident and nearly swimming, but went off away from our mum, and went under. The water was too shallow for her to swim to him. He was fine after a lot of coughing and spluttering but it took a long time for him to learn to swim because of it, and he’s not great at swimming any distance.  Being scared means it’s so much more important for a swim teacher to be able to support them and get through it.

5. Apathy

Some parents, teaching their children to swim isn’t on their agenda. It just doesn’t occur to them, or they can’t be bothered. If they never go on holiday, or never want to swim themselves, then why would their children need to.  But probably those are some of the children who would benefit the most from learning safety if they’re not used to being around a pool (or stream or river).

6. Reliance on school

Schools nowadays get dumped with having to teach so much to children that really parents should do. Sex education, swimming, relationships, social skills, appropriate behaviour.  It’s easy just to assume that children will learn to swim at school. 

They might, if they’re lucky like our school, where they have nearly 3 full years of weekly swimming lessons.  There’s a good chance that children should be able to swim in that amount of time. But if the child has a real fear, or doesn’t follow what they’re told, or if the school only provides 1 term of weekly swimming lessons a year.  It might not work.  When schools are having to report the % of children able to hit the recommended level in year 6, it feels wrong that it’s all down to schools.

There’s so many advantages to teaching children to swim.

Benefits of learning to swim

  • Safety
  • Fun – not only just going to splash sessions and hanging out with friends in the pool when older, but children can miss out on sailing and other water sports, inflatable courses, swimming parties, scuba diving on holiday and more.
  • Potential jobs in future – e.g lifeguards during student years,
  • Confidence about a child in the pool on holiday
  • Achievement – children like to get certificates and badges, and it gives them belief in what they’ve learnt.
  • Not being the only child at school swimming still in armbands, or having to keep swimming once their year group has stopped.

I’m pleased that N is so confident with swimming. He might not be the fastest to progress, but I know that should he fall into a pond he would be able to cope. And that he can confidently swim and play in the deep end of the pool while knowing the dangers and his limitations. To me, that’s what all children should be able to do, and it’s not much to ask by the age of 11.

If N wasn’t able to swim by the time he left primary school, as a parent I’d be embarrassed that I’d not managed to teach him a life skill. Or at least attempted to make sure he’d had the chance to learn even if it was taking longer than planned.  It’s not fair for schools to be relied on and then blamed if all children can’t leave able to swim. And in my view, it’s not really the government’s responsibility to ensure all children can swim.

Ensuring children have the right safety and life skills should be for parents to take ownership of.

What are your thoughts?  Do your children swim?

extracurricular activities
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2 Comments

  1. I think this is a bit overgeneralising things. What if you have more than 2 children and your husband can’t come because if their job? It wouldn’t be safe for me to take all 3 of mine and I love swimming. It’s just not as easy as some people think

    • Yes it’s generalising – I’m not saying parents need to teach them themselves. Farming is a bit different because often the men don’t do the family life bit, my OH has never seen N swim and N rarely gets the chance to swim on holiday as we don’t do hot foreign hotel holidays (apart from once in Jersey). If I’m away, he doesn’t get taken swimming unless Granny or my brother can take him because the OH won’t. But swimming lessons? There’s one family at our lessons who have 6 kids. 3 sets of twins. The 4 older boys have all been at lessons since they were 3 or 4. I don’t know if the toddlers have started yet. The dad brings them now they’ve had the 3rd set and the mum stays home with those (we have saturday lessons). So it might not be possible for everyone, but I’m sure there’s a lot of people who could do it but just don’t even think it’s their job to do it.

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