Summertime and Heading to the Pool by Stephanie Wildman (author of Brave in the Water)

SUMMERTIME! And not just any summer, but one where we are emerging (hopefully) from a pandemic. Maybe you are behind in getting kids in the water for swim lessons. My family was.

I recently took my grandson for his first swim lesson. He is almost five and would have started last summer, but pools were closed. When they re-opened, his mother (my daughter) inquired at the swim school where his older brother had learned. The school had COVID protocols in place that included the requirement that an adult be in the water with the child, as teachers would not be in the water; no changing room available; and limited bystanders. The adult in the water would need a plastic facemask, available for purchase.

I arrived early on lesson day, wearing my swimsuit (finding one that fit after this pandemic year is another story). I went to the check-in desk to buy my facemask. A staff member looked up my grandson and said, “He’s in level one; you don’t need to be in the water with him.”

I was confused. “We were told that an adult had to be with him in the water; that’s what he is expecting.”

She shook her head, “It all changed today. Still only two swimmers per lesson, but the teacher will be masked and in the water. You can watch from the bleachers during the lesson, but you need to wait outside until it’s time for his lesson — we cannot have extra spectators.”

I thanked her and returned to my car and called my daughter immediately. I knew she would be on speaker phone in her car and that my grandson would be listening. “Good news,” I started, speaking directly to him. “Your lesson can be just like your brother’s. I won’t be in the pool with you. You can do it all by yourself.”

“What?!” my daughter started to say, but she understood that the positive spin on the change of plans was important for his confidence, and she didn’t say more.

When they arrived, I kept up the excited chatter, even telling him he would have a chance to be “brave in the water,”referring to my recent picture book. He nodded. I could tell he was processing, but unsure.

We explained to the check-in person at the pool entrance that he was attending his first lesson. She pointed out his teacher, conducting a lesson in the corner of the pool by the stairs. The gatekeeper said I could take him in a few minutes early to watch the lesson from poolside. We waved bye to my daughter and that transition went smoothly.

Luckily, the kids in the lesson were smiling and having fun, which I pointed out. When they started to climb out, I took his shirt off, and said, “Your turn to be brave.”

I held my breath. His brother had spent six weeks sitting by the side of the lesson pool the first time we took him to a class. That experience was part of the inspiration for my book. I breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped into the waterand down the stairs. I waved and proudly watched. The teacher greeted the other student (separated by plexiglass from my grandson) and the lesson commenced.

* * *

You know your child. Some children have no hesitation getting into water and putting their face in. Others are more reluctant. Preparation can help the reluctant ones. Spending time in water with them when they are young, before they are old enough for lessons, gets children used to splashing and buoyancy. Reading books together about children becoming enthusiastic in the water is another good tool. To encourage children to enjoy the water, I recommend:

Saturday is Swimming Day by author/illustrator Hyewon Yum

Jabari Jumps by author/illustrator Gaia Cornwall

Brave in the Water (my book), illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar

Please remember basic water safety rules.

* Children can drown in two inches of water, so they should never be alone, even in a bathtub, until they are water safe.

* Make sure a lifeguard or adult is supervising.

* Always jump feet first.

* Wear a life jacket on a boat.

* Teach them never to swim alone.

These tools and tips can make playing in the pool a wonderful experience for your whole family. Most importantly: HAVE FUN!

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