Rita Goldberg can’t believe some people still teach kids to swim by proverbially throwing them in the water to see if they sink or swim instinctively.
“Many parents and even some traumatic swim programs still use that ancient and ridiculous method of introducing children to swimming by throwing them into the water without any knowledge about swimming whatsoever – and all they are doing is teaching their children how to be terrified of the water,” said Goldberg, a former national swimmer in Great Britain, owner of a swimming school and author of the children’s book I Love to Swim ( www.ilovetoswimthebook.com ). “These advocates claim they are teaching survival, but I believe teaching survival can be – and should be – gentle and fun.”
Goldberg’s lament is that too many children drown needlessly every year, and too many parents are either resistant to teaching their toddlers to swim, or teach them the wrong way.
“No child, and I mean no child, has to ever drown in a swimming pool again if they are taught how to survive in the water the right way and at the earliest possible age,” she added. “Drowning is actually the second leading cause of accidental death in the country. It is leading in Florida and a few other states, and the real tragedy is that most every child who drowns could have been saved by simply being taught to swim correctly. Traumatizing them only teaches them to fear the water, and who among us makes the best choices, or can even process calm thought, when we are afraid? Children are no different. They need to be given the tools to survival and draw their confidence in the water from that knowledge. We want kids to respect the water, not fear it.”
Goldberg’s tips for teaching kids to swim include:
Start Young — New studies show that the best age to teach a child to swim is between the ages of six and twelve months. Just as parents are learning this is a good time to teach children how to read, they are beginning to understand this is a time when children are able to absorb information like sponges. Teaching them to swim at this early age is a great way to make swimming second nature to them.
Float to Survive – As a supplement to safeguarding your kids through extra vigilant supervision and a safety gate around the pool, focus on giving your child the best lifesaving tool you could offer them – the ability to survive in the water. The first gift I give children when I teach them is the ability to float on their backs. This is the most important survival skill of all. This enables all swimmers to rest, breathe and call for help, thus alleviating the “silent” danger of floating face down.
Gentle and Fun – Swimming will come more naturally to children who are taught gently, without trauma, and with a sense of fun. You cannot teach a 2-year-old not to go near the swimming pool. You cannot teach them that the pool is dangerous. Parents see the swimming pool as a potential death trap for their kids, but all kids see is a big, wet playground. You’re not going to change their opinion, so stop trying. Focus on calm, gentle fun, and your kids will take to their lessons like fish to water.
“Parents need to understand that playing in a swimming pool is the same as playing on dry land to children,” she added. “It’s all play to them. While it’s important for them to feel confident in the water, we need to help temper that confidence with a strong sense of safety and good judgment. Adhering to those rules as parents will serve to reinforce those rules, however, the best way to pull it all together is to start them young. Once both swimming and safety are second nature to them, they’ll be safer and your supervision of them in the water will be more fun for everyone.
About Rita Goldberg
Before opening her BritishSwimSchool locations in the USA, Rita Goldberg was a national swimmer in Britain, who went on to become a dedicated teacher. Working in the education system for many years, she left in 1981 to open her own private swim school in the basement of a Victorian house in Manchester, England. It was there she developed the unique teaching methods that have become a recognized trademark of BritishSwimSchool. Goldberg is an active member of the US Swim School Association and served as a board member for two years.