Curate teaches Grandson to Swim

It was an assessment session, a very nervous 6 year old Thomas stood with his grandmother ready for his name to be called. When asked he walked down the steps into the shallow pool. The first assessment was washing faces: he washed his face and then put his face in blew bubbles. The children were then told to walk across the pool. Thomas obviously a bit bored with these basics, swam. There is nothing unusual about this story except that his swimming experience had been with his grandmother during the summer holidays. Grandma is a Church of England Curate and admits she cannot swim.
She had read my Pin Men book that I had given her. She had taught him, confidence and how to float. I have had many compliments about the book, from Swimming teachers, Tutors and School teachers, for which I am flattered and very grateful. My projected purchasers never included the layman/woman wanting to teach their children. I never thought that following the practices and points in the book would help Thomas and his unqualified swimming teacher grandma.
He was assessed to start in Level 2 of the ASA National Plan for Teaching. At first he didn’t understand what it meant. He couldn’t understand Grandma’s excitement. When he did understand it was a bit of a boost for his overall confidence.

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Andy Hamilton admission on the One Show

Andy Hamilton has just admitted on the One Show (Monday 2nd September) of being in the bar on holiday knocking back a cocktail, when a disapproving French woman arrived with his son who was dripping from head to toe.  She had found him in the deep end. The child said “The water wouldn’t let him come up.”

The comment by the child was very funny, but he was drowning.  I bet it wasn’t funny for him to be under the water unable to swim, unable to get to the surface to breathe.  You bet the French Woman was disapproving.  I would be too.  That irate woman had just saved his son’s life.  Thus avoiding another statistic, or worse a headline in the tabloids, that would convey that, Andy Hamilton was drinking in a bar when his child drowned unsupervised in a holiday pool.  Andy did add the comment after the laughter on the programme subsided, “Sweet but life threatening.”

When will parents wake up?  Andy is no different than a lot of people who leave their children alone near water.  Water is fun but dangerous.

Swimming teachers make swimming lessons fun, nothing wrong with that, however children leave the lessons happy and confident.  They don’t realise the dangers of an unsupervised entry into a holiday pool.  They don’t understand the depths of the pool, or what the effect is of other swimmers excitedly moving around him.  They don’t realise that there isn’t a swimming teacher or lifeguard to look after him.  Holiday pools abroad are not as well supervised as those in Great Britain.

There was a near drowning at our local beach in Ryde.  The parents were away from the beech on the green at the back.  The child was unsupervised.  He was in a coma for several weeks.  Fortunately he has made a good recovery.  However there has been other drownings during the summer of 2014.

Drowning is not funny!  Grieving parents, grandparents, siblings won’t be laughing at a funeral of a child.  Stop playing the lottery with your children.  Supervise them in and around water – enjoy your holiday and come back with a suntan, happy memories and a complete family.

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Whose Responsibility is it?

51% of all school children do not know how to swim.” Steve Parry reminded me of that fact at a recent conference in Birmingham.  This statistic came to my notice at the same time, as there were reports of children drowning in holiday pools abroad and a near drowning in the South of England.

I would certainly agree that it is very important to get children to learn to swim.  However when they have learnt and achieved the minimum standard of 25m swim and treading water, are they really safe in and around water?  This survey was done for the number of children achieving that basic standard, but I feel we need to do a further survey.  This should take place at holiday pools and on beaches to note the number of children who are playing in and around the water alone, those who are not being supervised or observed by a responsible adult.  How many children are playing  without supervision by a parent or carer.  How close the parents are to their children.  Can the parents see the children?  Can the children hear the parents calling?

Years ago I heard of a terrible case of a child who had his own one to one teacher during school swimming.  This was arranged because this child had been severely traumatised.  He had been put in charge of his younger sibling as they were playing in the sea.  This child could not prevent his brother from drowning.

I will not comment on the recent incidents, I have not witnessed any of them and do not know the facts but I can write about my own experiences.  A long time ago and on two separate holidays, one in the West Country and one in Majorca, my husband rescued two children in difficulty.  He was able with the first rescue to reach the child who was struggling out of her depth near the side.  I remember clearly my husband, the sleeve of his new sports jacket soaking wet, standing on the side, and the mother coming out of the bar screaming at the child for her disobedience.  She had fallen in fully clothed.  The mother did not acknowledge the fact that my husband had rescued her.  The second incident he was on hand in the pool as he was the goal keeper in an organised game of modified water polo.  He left his goal to rescue a child and put her back on poolside.  The parents were on poolside, sunbathing around the corner, in a position unable to see their child playing in the water.

Why do parents think that their children are safe playing in and around the water?  If a child can’t swim at all, he probably won’t go near the water, especially if the parent warns him to keep away.  If a child can swim 25m, and has received his badge and certificate he probably has more confidence that sense.  Often parents/carers think they are safe and that they can relax, not watch their child, being reassured that his 25m will be enough to keep him safe.  It is not enough.  There are other people in the pool, who will get in his way, or knock into him.  In the sea there are currents, waves as well as other people to bumping into him, paddle boards and other toys to get in the way.

I was also reminded at the conference, of the efficiency of the current lifeguards.  There have been no drownings recently in pools who have run a robust training scheme.  Pools who take “Duty of Care” seriously, and create a professional team of the poolside staff.  Are parents and carers getting too complacent?  Do parents rely on the lifeguard cover that we experience in the UK and relax too much when holidaying abroad, expecting the same standard.  On my last holiday to Teneriffe my experience was that it doesn’t exist.  There was one lifeguard for two pools.  These two pools were separated, one in Apartment Block A and the other in Apartment Block B, he could not watch two pools at once, there was a building in the way!  I was informed that if they had a lifeguard their insurance was less expensive.  The lifeguard cover was sorely lacking.

When Children have learnt to walk, and we see their walking is fluent and efficient, do we then put him by a road and tell them to cross it alone?  We wouldn’t dream of it, and yet we let children play in and around water unsupervised.

I was asked recently advice on finding swimming lessons for two children, aged 6 and 5.  “I want them to safe on holiday.” She said.  “We have hired out a villa in Spain which has a swimming pool.”  It took a while for me to explain that unsupervised 6 and 5 year olds cannot be relied on to be safe in and around water whatever their standard of swimming.

As most pools abroad are ineffectively lifeguarded, it has to be the parent who supervise the fun in the pool.  If the parent has no lifesaving skills at all, they need to keep the children in shallow water where they could effect and wading rescue if necessary.  The children need to be told to stay in the area of shallow water, the parent then needs to cover themselves with sunblock, put on a sunhat, wear sunglasses, sit on the poolside and watch their children having fun.  I did this for years, and I always came home from holiday with brown back and arms and a complete family.  My legs always missed out, as I used to sit with my feet in the water.

Following the incidents I wrote about at the start of this article, three parents have gone home devastated.  There needs to be a campaign to get parent to be more responsible.  Water is fun, but it is also dangerous.  We want our children to enjoy themselves, play safely and return home safe and sound.

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Wasting Time

The teacher stood, one eye on the pupils, the other on the fixing of goggles. The pupils swam their warm up, without any instructions and the pupil without his goggles stood and waited. The small plastic catch flew off on to the floor and the swim teacher’s and pupil’s attention was turn to the finding of the said object. The pupils swam on and then finished their warm up. “Do another circuit” said the teacher to the pupils, who was still involved in searching for the white plastic catch. Eventually the teacher put a knot in the elastic head strap, the goggles fitted on the pupil and he got in. What a waste of time. It is not the responsibility of the teacher to fix goggles. He can and should advise pupils on how to put them on safely at some stage. However once the children have learnt how to do it, then it is their responsibility to put the goggles on themselves. Furthermore, importantly, the pupils should arrive at the swimming lesson with the goggles fit for purpose.
The teacher’s attention at the beginning of the lesson should be on all the pupils, not on one pupil with his goggles. Should he have been wearing goggles at this stage in his learning? I do not wish to go into the rights and wrongs of wearing goggles for learn to swim lessons. However I find it amazing watching a “learn to swim” beginner lesson with tiny children turning up wearing arm bands and goggles. The parents insisting that “I must protect my child from the Chlorine.” I remind them that they do not wear goggles in the bath at home, and the water in the pool is as clean and if not cleaner, safer than the water from the tap.
It is the waste of valuable teaching time that I want to draw your attention. Swimming lessons vary in price however they are not that expensive nowadays. Does it really matter that those pupils swam unobserved throughout their warm up? Yes it does, the warm up is a reminder of the pupils ability, and what about safety. We must not let down our guard when teaching. Accidents do happen. We should always expect the unexpected and be prepared. All the children in a lesson are important, all children have paid for that lessons, all children should have equal amount of attention given to them.
This made me think of other “time wasting” observed during lessons. Handing out equipment is time consuming. A piece of equipment is there to aid the process of teaching. It will not magically get the child to swim. It is the teacher who does that. Therefore how many pieces of equipment are needed? I often see a cluttered poolside with floats, woggles, arm bands hoops etc. – the clutter is a safety hazard in itself, but was all that equipment really needed? How much time is wasted exchanging one piece of equipment for another? Is it necessary to go from floats to a woggle, or woggles to floats? I have been teaching for many years, before woggles were “invented”. It is a super piece of equipment, but if you have woggles, do you need floats as well in the same lesson? If you have two floats for the beginner, does he need to exchange that for woggles? There are many ways to hold a woggle. They are super for support, the woggle tucked under the arms, however it you move the woggle away from the body so there is a space enough to put the face in the water, you have a different objective. This same objective and balance can be achieved with the two floats held knuckles facing each other, moving them apart for the face to go in the water. The objective is the same, do you need both pieces of equipment?
Pushes and glides can be started by holding a float with fingers gripping the end nearest the swimmer, there is a space for the face to go down in the water. The same objective can be achieved by holding the woggle in the middle with two hands side by side. There is a little more resistance to the glide, so with more practices in floating in the glide position, the woggles or float can be dispensed with.
Do swimming teacher waste time using equipment in the first place? Have we really assessed the pupils’ ability before dishing out the equipment? If you are lucky enough to have a pool in which the pupils can stand, surely the teacher should find out how much the pupil can do before bundling them up with equipment.
There is one piece of equipment readily available that does not have to be handed out, and that is the wall or bar at the side of the pool. This can be used to swim to, to hold on to with one or both hands when learning to put their faces in, eventually learning how to float.
Using a variety of equipment, I am told, helps to counteract boredom. I disagree with this statement, it is the way that the teacher delivers the lessons that keeps the pupils occupied and active, not the bright yellow woggle or float that he is holding.
My last and major waste of time that I have observed is the lack of detail when giving instruction. Firstly the teacher must insist that all the pupils are listening, and paying attention before the speaking and demonstrating. There is no point in delivering the demonstration until they are. Those children who have not listened, will swim off without any purpose. You will have then to repeat the same point again and again until they have got it, thus wasting time. Demonstrations and instructions should be accurate, as near as possible to the actual action. If there is a swimmer who can demonstrate the skill in the water, then the children should be in a position where they can see clearly. It is a waste of time, asking them to watch while they are in the water, they can’t see properly, if they go underwater to watch they can’t hear the teaching points. Pupils need to be out of the water to hear clearly, and to look down on the demonstrator. This is a case when the time used to get the pupils out of the pool is not wasted. The pupil will see a correct demonstration and in a place but suited to hear the teaching points.

Jo Cooper

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Julia writes

Great post Jo. I pride myself on the fact that I give my pupils 100% of my attention 100% of the time. I think this makes for a great teacher, don’t you think? Cheers, Julia

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Watch this space…..Pin Man book in the Swimming Times

I have been busy talking to swimming times and am happy to announce that the Pin Men book is in the January 2014 edition (released on 17th Dec 2013).

Exciting stuff!!!

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Ramona writes

I am very please with it, comprehensive, common sense, easy to follow, imaginative, I could go on! Essential literature for new teachers and very helpful poolside.

Sandra Scott writes

Just brought this book It is FANTASTIC to have someone willing to share their practise this is worth every penny am excited to add some of the practices to my teaching plans for the coming half term. Thank you Jo

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