Without a doubt, one of the most important life skills is learning to swim. A child needs to be able to swim for safety, and with this in mind, it’s often one of the top priorities of parents. Sitting in the poolside changing rooms at Oakham School, I talked with Andrea Kemp - a swimming instructor, with years of experience, who teaches both at the School and locally. I discussed the importance of introducing swimming at an early age and what to consider when choosing a swim school.
Andrea has been teaching swimming to babies, toddlers, and adults for many years, a competitive swimmer herself, her story brings home the reality that swimming saves lives and remains with you for life.
‘When I was a young, I went fishing with my family friends and I somehow thought I could walk on water. I went under in a canal and I got pulled out to safety. I was in the hospital and it made the front page of the papers where I live. The council at that time contacted my parents and arranged for me to have swimming lessons. I started having swimming lessons, really enjoyed it and it went from there.’
Having learnt lifeguarding skills, and taken her teaching qualifications, Andrea went on to work in the Police force and later came back to teaching swimming. I asked her why children should learn to swim:
‘From my own experience, it’s a life-saving skill. Children can do other activities like horse riding, football, hockey, after-school clubs that are all good for socialising but with swimming, it’s a life skill. I feel if you can’t swim, you miss out on so much such as holiday and family times.’
A child can start swimming at any age, but I wondered if there is an ideal time to start?
‘The earlier the better. To get them used to the environment, you can bring your child when they have had their second lot of injections (so that’s about 3 months onwards). Get them in the water, and if they have siblings, let them sit on the side, so babies can get used to the noise, and the pool.’
In her experience, Andrea has noticed that children whose parents take them regularly for lessons are likely to progress more. From analysing the groups of children she has taught in school, Andrea says you can tell those children who have had swimming tuition outside of school as they are always in the top groups. One of the questions I had, was whether or not you should use armbands and floats in the early stages to help your child swim?
‘Personally, I totally disagree with armbands because they restrict the child’s movement and they keep their body upright rather than horizontal - the latter is the position we want for swimming. Instead, I prefer to use noodles as they keep the body up yet still allow for freedom of movement of their arms and their legs.’
I asked Andrea if she had any tips for parents who are trying to teach their children to swim:
‘I would say bring your child as soon as they have their vaccinations, bring them regularly, so they get used to the pool, even if it’s just to get them in initially for five minutes and then gradually build them up. And most importantly of all, you’ve got to make it fun. Even though it’s fun, it’s educational and a life skill.’
From my personal experience, it is heartwarming when you see your child learning to swim and achieving each different milestones. Feelings that are shared by Andrea, when I asked her what she liked most about teaching swimming to children:
‘I enjoy seeing the child succeed, from when they are tearful to getting in the pool to having a big smile on their face. Only last week in my mother and toddler group, we put a ‘Fin’ float on the back of a child to get them swimming, and even though it’s not my own child, I still get goosebumps and quite tearful when I see them go off. ’
So, what qualities does a swimming instructor need:
‘It should always be fun. An instructor needs to have a good personality and show understanding and patience with the child. They should be able to come up and down to any level. That is they should be able to talk equally well to a baby, to little children and then to an adult. You need to be able to interact with every age group and every ability.’