I have a recurring problem when I am teaching children to swim. I know that to learn to swim they have to first learn to feel completely comfortable and confident in the water. They have to not mind if their faces are totally submerged and they have to understand and enjoy the sensation of floating in the water. This can take quite some time, especially if for whatever reason, they are a bit frightened to begin with. This is fine, but the parents, who are paying for the lessons, often want the children to learn ‘proper’ swimming strokes as soon as possible. I believe that the strokes themselves don’t matter to begin with, and in fact the more you try to teach the children the proper strokes the more you interrupt the natural learning process. This means that I have to make it look like I am teaching them to kick their legs or whatever, when in fact I am letting them discover for themselves the sensation of moving through the water.
I have two children in one of my classes, a brother and sister, aged about 3 and 4, who are doing really well. They can swim under the water, jump in, float etc etc. Luckily I have not had to teach them any formal strokes yet and their mother seems to accept my methods. The other day the little boy was floating on his back, totally relaxed, just lying there for ages, pretending to be an astronaut. After some time he allowed his body to tip over very gently until he rolled over in the water like a little puppy falling out of it’s basket. He was completely out of his depth but he trusted me to pick him up if he needed help. In fact he gently steered himself towards the side of the pool that was about a metre away. He was totally at ease with himself and his body and in the water. I know that as long as no one disturbs the process he will be a swimmer all his life.