The following was originaaly published in 2012 by Pam Smith. 

I have been a swimmer all my life. I know now, after 7 years of working with the RDI® Program that the developmental progression of swimming is a perfect complement to the guide-apprentice work done in RDI. Nowhere but the water is it more apparent when one person knows what they are doing and the other does not.

I want to share with you my ideas for how to get the most out of your apprentice swimmer this summer.

So often, parents come to me and say, “He loves the water!” or “She is so comfortable in the pool.” This is a great start, but it is not the end of your swimmer’s career in the pool. Only when they have the skills to really enjoy the pool in a variety of ways, with a variety of purposes, and with a lifelong focus should we feel like we have exhausted the potential in a swimmer.

Keep in Mind: Competence is key here just like in other areas of your child’s life. You want to find the edge of your child’s competence and build from there. Building competence with swimming is almost always about letting the child know they can move themselves in the water in order to get from A to B. At first this could simply be by walking, but eventually it means helping your child move through the water without touching anything. Once they have this sense of independence and competence, there will be no stopping them in the water.

Move It, Move It – help the child to move their arms in scooping/stroke movements and their legs in straight kicks behind their body. Try to help their knees stay straight and use primarily the hips to move the feet up and down

Verbal Patterns- adding in a very simple chant can help to organize your action in the pool (remind you what you are doing) and also inform any adult partner of what you are thinking. Long term, it builds in the child a framework for independence since you will be pairing the action (moving feet and legs up and down) with the words (“Kick, Kick, Kick your feet”). **This is only a good idea as long as the verbal piece does not become a static obstacle or distraction.

Equipment can help – kickboards, noodles, or other flotation devices that are not inflatable (they can deflate) are useful for fostering independence. Lifejackets and other attached flotation are good for “free time” in the pool but do not foster apprenticeship therefore they are not recommended for guiding time with your child. Reserve these for time when the child can be more independent in the water.

The Basics

* Prone position on the front

* Prone position on the back

* Simple arm movements front (alternating arm action)

* Simple arm movements back (parallel arm action)

* Flutter kick (action comes from the hip and J’s knees and feet are relaxed behind him)

* Hold on and don’t let go (to the noodle, the side of the pool)

* Blowing bubbles- start with just getting mouth, face, ears wet. Build toward face in and mouth blowing. This will take the longest so should be practiced each time he is in the water (this includes the tub) but the practice can be very brief. Think of it more as exposure than practice.

* Move along the side of the pool

* Climb out from different parts of the pool

* Jumping in!

Every swimmer should be able independently…

* hold onto the edge of the pool and not have their head go under

* climb out by the ladder

* climb out by the edge of the pool in shallow water

* hold onto a flotation device and not let go

* get water in their eyes, hair, face, ears without major upset that leads to them stopping moving around

Parents attitude makes a BIG difference Even if you are a bit nervous after your child goes under the water, if you brush it off as ‘no big deal’ your child will learn to borrow that attitude and will learn their own boundaries of when to breathe and when to hold their breath. If you act nervous and make a big deal of it, it will become a big deal to them too. Stay calm. Everyone swallowed a little water as they were learning how to swim.

Enjoy! The whole point is to have a fun time and competent experience as a family. Remember that may mean pushing the boundary of competence slightly to keep it from getting static. Or it may mean relaxing and letting everyone have a quiet day in the water. Just decide what is necessary for you guys on that day =)


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