Learning to Swim

Totes is getting ready for his swim lessons at Swim Guru while Apple likes to copy anything he does, including wearing his swim goggles around the house. 

Last Summer, I took the kids to my mom's house in Southern Utah for a week.  It was a nice, relaxing time spent with family and playing in her large pool during the 90+ degree days.  Totes would happily swim laps with his puddle jumper life preserver on and Apple would hang in a Swimways floatie hammock while I floated around next to her.  The pool is a large rectangle, about 50 feet long.  At one end of the pool is a large, shallow ledge of about 18 inches deep of water. A steep drop off changes the depth to about 4 feet with a gradual slope moving down to 15 feet or so in the deepest end. 

One afternoon while we were playing in the pool, Totes insisted on getting in the SwimWays hammock to float around.  Due to space constraints, I had to take off his life preserver to get him to fit in it.  Since that left Apple to her own devices, I kept a close distance to her as she waded around on the shallow ledge.  Through the natural chaos and distractions that comes from trying to keep track of two toddler aged kids at once, I didn't fully comprehend that Totes had climbed out of the floatie and had walked over near me to jump from the shallow ledge into the deeper portion of the pool like he had been doing on repeat for days.  I believe it also didn't occur to him that he didn't have his life preserver on, or that he needed it on to be in the deeper water.

I was so intent on keeping my eye on Apple that it took me a moment, two seconds maybe, to realize that Totes had jumped in and was grabbing at my swimsuit bottoms where I stood in the deep portion of the pool next to the ledge.  When I finally glanced over in his direction, I saw him just inches below the water level, wide eyes staring back up at me with his arms outstretched.  I grabbed him as quickly as I could and held him tight as he coughed up a bunch of water.  

It may have only been a few seconds, but it was enough to terrify both of us. 

At the beginning of fall, I signed Totes up for a program here in Seattle called Swim Guru.  I had been making note of swim programs available in our area for well over a year. After our summer scare, I started digging deeper into our options and talked to many other parents that had already gone down this path.  There were several available that would be easily accessible to me in our location, but I had a few needs that had to be met.  First, a program that was one-on-one without me needing to get in the pool.  I wasn't sure if I would have childcare arranged for Apple during our lessons so I could guarantee I would always be available for that.  Second, I need a program that would really get down to business and make it work.  

I know my child, and I knew that if given the choice, he would never agree to put his face in the water willingly. Washing his hair at bath-time had become a huge battle and he would cry and beg for a towel to wipe his face if one drop touched his eye, no exaggeration. Tears and all.  He also has a big aversion right now to learning anything new and gets easily frustrated when he can't do something I'm trying to teach him. 

My mom instinct knew I should wait and give him time to mature and grow into his confidence, that he would figure it out eventually.  But the reality is, we spend a lot of time around the water here in Seattle.  During the summer, we practically live on our boat in the Puget Sound and surround areas. Several of the marinas we've visited during our boating trips have a swimming pool too.  While we are always very diligent about making sure he has a life jacket on when he's on the outside of the boat or walking the docks, there's bound to be mistakes as I've experienced and seen, first-hand, kids easily fall in the water without them on and the panic that ensues is terrible.  

It was a risk we weren't willing to take.  

So my needs went beyond the desire to teach him to swim so that he would have fun during pool time play.  This was a life-saving skill and so my choice of program was clear: Swim Guru.  They had the best reputation for teaching swimming in a life-saving capacity.  I didn't come across one parent that said that at the end of their package of lessons, their kid still couldn't swim.  No, they all learned.  Wether they were happy about it along the way or not was a different story. 

I saw two types of kids at my time watching Totes's swim lessons:  The eager ones that took to water like a fish, jumping in head first and the ones that fought it the whole way.  I had the latter. 

When Totes was just a baby, at six months old, I signed us up for the group swim lessons at the community center.  I made the comment I hear so many other parents make: He's like a fish! He loves the water!  We had a blast and he did love the water.  The next year, we did the same at a different location.  And although he still loved playing in the water in my arms, the water and air temp in this location was a bit cooler.  Totes has always been the skinniest kid around and with zero body fat to keep him warm, half way through the lesson he was shivering with blue lips.  We skipped out on the last few lessons for this reason.  The next year when the program came around again, I was pregnant with Apple and just couldn't summon up the energy to participate with him, which I regret looking back. 

Around the age of two is when the water-on-his-face-phobia started.  He still loved swimming and would play in the pool with a lifejacket on just fine.  However, the cold aspect lead him to gravitate to the hot tubs when they were available.  

Totes and Apple
Totes Swim
Totes and Apple

Lessons at Swim Guru

I initially purchased a starter package of sixteen lessons at the end of the summer. As they recommend, I scheduled our fifteen minute lessons twice a week

On a side note about the lesson length, I'll mention that when I first considered programs that offered fifteen minutes vs. thirty, I wanted go the thirty route.  Seemed like a lot of work to get there and back with changing out of wet clothes for only fifteen minutes of pool time.  However, they talk about the short attention span most kids have at this age and I can absolutely attest to that.  Any longer would have been too much so I found fifteen minutes to be manageable for Totes with still enough time to progress in developing these new skills. 

Schedule was fairly simple for me as my timing was flexible.  They have a great app that allowed me to manage my appointments and post the last minute openings daily to their Facebook page. I was able to book and reschedule at the last minute and still made my two appointments each week.  One of the biggest gripes I heard from other parents was how fast and far out this program books up but I found lots of last minute openings that we were able to work in to our schedule. 

They have two locations in North Seattle.  We chose the Underwater Sport (UWS) location for our lessons.  Their private parking lot always had space open and was very conveniently located and accessible. The pool is very warm and so is the air temperature in the room, which made it pretty steamy at times as you'll notice in my video below.  There are only two private, one-on-one lessons taking place at once so the environment stays fairly quiet and lacked distractions. A separate room for changing kept the poolside clear as well.  

Upon arrival at our first lesson, Totes was excited.  He had no idea what he was getting himself in to. But I did.  So I brought my swimsuit and got in with him to work side by side with the instructor, Coach Brenda, hoping to make it go easier on him.  She took the time to ask us initially about his experience with the water and my comfort level of teaching him.  To that I simply replied, let's get it done

Submersion happens from day one and literally the first minute. Then it's all about repetition. Totes was so shocked when he came up out of the water the first time that he screamed every moment his head was above water for the remaining 14 minutes. 

Obviously it was really hard on him.  But it was on me too.  I had major mom-guilt for making him go down this path when it was clear he wasn't ready. Should I have waited another year? Would a little more time allowed him to mature and grow physically enough that he would be more interested in learning and possibly enjoy it? I don't know those answers, but I sat back, each lesson, and watched him struggle while second-guessing my choice.

Every day for the next two months, he would ask me in the morning if we were going to swim lessons.  When I would say yes, the tears would start streaming down his face. They would continue in the car and escalate to sobs.  I would walk him in the door of the pool, clinging to me for dear life.  He would beg for me to hold him from the car to the bench inside where we sat and waited our turn with those big, crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks.  His whole body shook like a leaf, which continued through his lesson. I would have to peel him off me when it was his turn and hand him over to the Coaches. 

His first struggle to overcome was getting his face in the water.  After the coaches helped him work through that, the second challenge was teaching him to get his body horizontal in the water versus vertical.  Kids learn to keep themselves vertical while swimming when they have lifejackets on, but that's obviously not how real swimming is done.  

It was lesson four that he stopped screaming the whole time. Around lesson six he didn't need to immediately run to the bathroom when we were done from gulping so much water. By lesson eight he was floating on his back without assistance. On lesson eleven he swam from one side of the pool to the other.  Lesson fifteen was when Coach Kat said he was ready for his final swim test, that he was swimming independently.  We chose not to do the final "clothes-test" for his final, sixteenth lesson because by that time, we were on an upward trend... of enjoyment dare I say? By the last three lessons, Totes actually walked himself from his seat with me on the bench to Coach Kat on his own free will.  His confidence in his new skills was growing. 

I gave Totes the option on whether to continue with more lessons at a less frequent pace or be done.  At this time, he tells me he does not want to do any more and I am respecting that decision.  About a month after our lessons ended, we vacationed in Palm Springs and rented a house with a heated pool.  We played in the pool and hot tub almost every day and Totes actually surprised me by getting in the pool one of the days to show off his swimming skills!  I hope to get him in some more fun situations here soon where we can play in the water with friends and help him get back to a place of enjoyment in the pool. I'm confident that will happen in time.  

Bath time has become much easier as well too.  No more crying when water gets in his eyes.  Actually, he now plays around with Apple and shows her how he can put his face in the water and hold his breath!  Which is great until she tries to copy him! 

I am so proud of him for his hard work and hanging in there through those rough times.  And I'm glad I pushed him because I know if he accidentally fell in the water, he has the skills and tools necessary to float until someone can get to him, or get himself to an edge or object to hold on to. That gives me a huge peace of mind going in to this next summer.  

The coaches at Swim Guru were amazing.  Extremely competent and patient, although firm and consistent.  I'm still hoping I can talk Totes into going back for a few refresher courses but more than likely, I'll just have to wait until Apple's turn to go, although I haven't decided when that should be.  I saw several kids her age (under two) swimming very well with the coaches during our time there, which was so neat to see!

If you are interested in learning more about the Swim Guru program, please visit their website here.  They have several great resources, like their YouTube Channel with informative videos on their techniques.  

The video below was filmed at Swim Guru on Totes's last swim lesson with Coach Kat.  View on YouTube on the Totes and the City vlog or hit the play button below!
Totes swims with Coach Kat's assistance during one of his swim lesson at Swim Guru. 
Totes during one of his swim lessons at Swim Guru with Coach Kat
Totes in the process of a backflip during one of his swim lessons at Swim Guru with Coach Kat
Totes in the process of a backflip during one of his swim lessons at Swim Guru with Coach Kat
Totes floating during one of his swim lessons at Swim Guru with Coach Kat
Totes floats on his back in starfish with the help of Coach Kat at Swim Guru in Seattle, Washington during on of his swim lessons. 
*This is not a sponsored post and I did not receive any compensation in any form for writing this.  The opinions and statements contained above are purely my own that I am sharing to help other parents looking for more detailed information on this subject.