Why I pulled my kids out of swimming lessons

Swimming has always been part of my life. My dad was in the Indian Army so we had easy access to a wide variety of sporting facilities and there was always a swimming pool in the neighbourhood. Even with all that time in the water, I never had formal lessons. No one I knew did. And though I love to swim you’d probably be able to tell from my technique that I wasn’t taught properly.

When we moved to Calgary, my husband and I lived in a condo with a pool in the building. Swimming was a great way to escape the rotten Alberta weather and still get some physical activity.

The last few years living in Toronto with our two young daughters, and without such easy access to a pool, it had stopped being a part of our routine and we had to find other ways to be active.

But I wanted swimming to be a part of my kids’ lives the way it’s always been a part of mine. It was important to me that they learn the skills and the technique that I never did growing up, so I signed them up for swimming lessons.

My older one took to it immediately – she was 8 and already had a strong affinity for water. It was different for my younger one. Though she seemed to love being in the water as a toddler, she became a 4-year-old who refused to dip her toes in the pool.

That’s when I realized that sometimes classes aren’t enough. My little one didn’t like the water anymore because she associated it with something she had to do. A box that had to be checked off on Tuesday evenings.

I knew we had to change this, and fast. My hubby and I found a university club close by that had the facilities we needed, and so we decided that it was time to bring back family swim nights. I have to admit making the time is tough; my hubby works late and most evenings family swim at the pool is at 7 p.m., which is pretty late for the kids on a weeknight.

But my girls love their time in the water and the lifeguards give us tips on technique. I know it’s not the same as a class but I feel they’re still learning. More importantly, we had to take a step back to make it a positive association for my little one. We’ll return to lessons once she’s more comfortable, but when we do, those classes will just be one of many times she gets in the water.

In the meantime, my older one loves swimming laps, competing with her parents, and diving for her favourite torpedo. And my youngest has started to love the water again.

Swimming together as a family is one of the ways I’m upholding my parent promise to my kids, a promise that speaks directly to my soul. And it’s part of how I’m building a culture of movement in our family.

The lesson for me is clear. As parents we need to be role models for our kids, and the best way to encourage them to move their bodies and test their limits is to do it with them.

This may have begun as a way to get my little girl into the pool, but in the process we’re doing something together that makes our entire family happier and healthier. I can’t think of a better way to start a new year.

12 responses to “Why I pulled my kids out of swimming lessons

  1. I agree with the article’s content (I”m a swim instructor and lifeguard), but the headline is very misleading. It suggests that there’s something inherently bad about swim lessons which caused the author to pull her kids out. That’s not the case – in reality or in the article itself. Perhaps this headline was intended to be provocative?

    The situation with the younger child is exactly why I discourage virtually all parents from attempting to bring their kids to more than one lesson per week. I often get parents who, for one reason or another, want me to teach their kids 2 or more times per week. I tell them the kids need time to practice what we’ve worked on and that while most kids seem to really like me they will get sick of me if they are forced to be with me too often. So, I agree with the strategy here. Just not the misleading headline.

  2. Hello Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma ,

    I agree with everything you have said. Great content! When I was a swim instructor everyone I worked with was all about taking it slow and making it fun.

    Thanks For sharing great information with us :)

    1. I don’t believe this to be true sorry Luce. I am a swim instructor and unless her 8 year old wants to be a competitive swimmer, the main goal is to teach the children to be safe in the water. Of course along with that we teach correct techniques which develop over time but this is not going to just happen from a few swim lessons for a 4 year old. I believe what Puneeta has done is perfect. To avoid being scared of the water which leads to panic when accidents happen, family fun night is creating an environment where they can teach their children to be confident in the water whilst being safe. It sounds like the lifeguards at the pool are assisting with this as well. They might not become Olympic swimmers but if they feel comfortable and know what to do when trouble strikes then it’s all good. Swimming lessons have become a necessity only because families aren’t always able to do these activities regularly and therefore the children don’t learn how to be safe without lessons.
      Keep up the great work Puneeta!

      1. Yes, my daughter almost drown in the Aqua-Tots pool even though we tried to remove all of the issues we saw as problems. We picked a class with less than their recommended 4 kids per class, she was older than their recommended 2.5 years old to move up to level 3, and we let them know when a child in her class was having trouble adapting to the water during the lesson. The upset child took up all of their time and energy of the coach and my child was left on the side by herself. The “coach” pulled my child into the water holding the upset child and my child went under water. I would not recommend this program to anyone. It is just a revolving door of getting children in and out and the coaches don’t have any breaks. There shouldn’t be 4 children to a coach ever.

  3. It sounds like you made a great call deciding to go the less structured – but more family time – way for swimming with your kids.

    I find I go back and forth on lessons for my kids – 6 and 3. I’m a former instructor and competitive swimmer, so I love the water and swim with them a lot for fun. But I don’t want to become “the instructor”, because I want to focus on it being fun family time. And so I put them in lessons.

    But I find they hit walls with how fast they learn with lessons, so we take breaks. Example: I’m pretty sure my 3-year-old simply isn’t ready to star float on her back and more swimming lessons aren’t going to “fix” that. She’ll do it when she’s ready. Similarly, my 6-year-old needs more endurance before she moves on – and she can build that pretending to be a mermaid at open swim.

    I’ll put them back into lessons again in a bit for another hit of technique, but the focus right now is definitely to make sure they aren’t scared of the water, learn to play safely, and that they are having fun!

  4. Thanks for your encouragement, Jim. With the kids I feel some of the time the enjoyment comes automatically at classes and then others not so much. That’s when we need to bring the joy in, and hanging out as a family at the swimming pool late on a weeknight is one way to do that, I guess :)

  5. Hi Puneeta,
    I really like how you handled the swimming lessons situation with your kids. With any activity, lessons are great — as long as they aren’t terrifying for the child. Too often, parents and coaches will try to rationalize the situation, “Well, you need to keep going, even if it gives you nightmares when you go to sleep.” With kids, activities need to be fundamentally ENJOYABLE, otherwise we are turning them off activity for the rest of their lives. I’m sure your daughters will learn what they need to learn with tips from lifeguards, etc — my son and my daughters did the same. The key is that they learn to enjoy the water, and that they swim well enough to be safe, and this is definitely the case with my kids.
    – Jim Grove, Active for Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *