Grab your kiddos, the water wings, a kick board and some goggles (don’t forget the sunscreen) and head to an area pool for private or group lessons. It's the perfect time, with spring now in full gear and summer rapidly approaching.

Even more perfect, your 3- to 5-year-olds are at the perfect age. Actually, the American Red Cross advocates starting children at 6 months if the parents are up to it, according to Jacksonville Community Center aquatic manager, Diane Novotny, who has 35 years experience in teaching children to swim.

Timing Is Everything.

“Parents should never push their child to swim because the child will swim when they are ready,” said Quincey Johnson, a swim lesson instructor at the Little Rock Racquet Club. “The ultimate goal is for them to be safe, be able to swim, and actually enjoy swimming.”

Johnson’s colleague and fellow swim lesson coordinator Emily Cobb agrees that starting children too early or late can cause fears that are counterproductive to the parent’s goal. “When children are young, the depth of the pool is a frightening place (especially when you can’t touch).” But typically, she said, “the parents have more anxiety than the child.”

Make It Fun

While water safety is very serious, swim lessons don’t need to be. They should be fun, while being equally educational. “The first thing we teach in the water is fun,” Novotny said. “In a group setting, children may do things that they would normally not do because they see another child having fun doing it.” Fun speeds them along their way to braving the water and learning to swim. “Encouragement, positive reinforcement and patience are the skills we use to alleviate fears, and if that does not work, give candy. Kids will do anything for candy.” Novotny said.

Trust The Professionals

It’s not a question of your abilities, parents, but it’s often more beneficial, faster, easier — take your pick — to let professionals teach your children how to swim properly. Cobb said parents often are too lenient and pool time becomes playtime, therefore nothing is learned. “Don’t get me wrong, we play a lot of games and activities, but as a professional, we see what needs to be done and find ways to achieve it.”

Safety First

“Our number one goal is safety,” Cobb said. “On the first day of every swim lesson session, we talk about pool safety. We make sure that children are able to get in and out of the pool, even when a ladder is not around. Swim lessons are important for the introduction of water then excelling onto stroke technique.”

Emphasize Technique

“Swimming is a set of skills that are built on each other,” Novotny said. “In every level there are four elements that are developed: breath control, body position, legs and arms. Getting wet, bubble blowing, cuing, how to sit and wait your turn, the safe way to get in and out of the water, submerging face in the water, opening their eyes to retrieve objects under water, body position, how to kick, floating on the back, front floats, the use of arms, the use of legs…each level builds upon these skills.”

Be on Your Best Behavior, Parents

Ask most swim instructors and they’re going to say they do not want parents interfering during the swim lesson, as hard as that might be for some moms and dads to hear. “The instructor needs to be the boss, and if the parent is interfering the lessons may not be successful,” Johnson said. “Cheering on the side is great, but if the student is having a hard time the parent needs to step back and rejoin at the end of the lesson.”

Cobb added that, after the lesson, parents should be sure to praise their child. “It means so much to have Mom and Dad’s approval. And don’t forget to work on the skills taught at the lesson back at home.”

Where To Take Swimming Lessons

Little Rock Athletic Club
(501) 225-3601, ext. 310

Little Rock Racquet Club
(501) 225-5711

Jacksonville Community Center
(501) 982-4171

Jim Dailey Fitness & Aquatic Center
(501) 664-6976

Bill Harmon Recreation Center
(501) 835-6893