published Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Swimming instruction offers opening to lifetime activity, but don't expect too much too soon

Peggy Grall swims at the Warner Park Pool.
Peggy Grall swims at the Warner Park Pool.
Photo by Angela Lewis.


Suggestions by Peggy Grall, aquatic director for the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, on age-appropriate swimming instruction:

6 months-under 3 years: Introduction to the water; playing in the water; focus is on being in a group setting with the parent involved.

18-20 months: Parents work with child on coordinating large muscles of the legs and arms in the water; children learn to associate going to pool with having a good time.

20 months-3 years: Parents help child focus on rolling on the back after a fall in the water.

3-5 years: In a class without parents, child works on social skills, learns about water safety and begins to learn how to swim; safety skills include back floating after the child automatically rolls on the back after a fall and paddling and treading water by keeping the arms and legs moving in order to keep the head above water; child learns basic swim strokes and is able to coordinate arms and leg in advanced dog paddle.

Kindergarten-up: Safety emphasized as child refines paddle stroke and learns freestyle stroke, backstroke, and with more experience, the butterfly and breaststroke.


The Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department is offering beginner and advanced swimming lessons at Warner Park July 10-Aug. 1. Both classes are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with children ages 4-5 scheduled for 5:15 p.m. and ages 6 through adult scheduled for 5:50 p.m. The cost is $34 for eight half-hour lessons.

Skills in beginner lessons include floating and gliding on the front and back independently, flutter kicking, basic components of the front and back crawl, submerging to pick up objects and following basic water safety rules.

Skills in advanced lessons include endurance swimming in the front and back crawl, learning the basics of the breast stroke, the elementary backstroke, treading water and jumping into deep water from the side.

What's better than a cool pool? Almost anything if you can't swim.

So while it may be time for your child to take swimming lessons, don't expect him or her to go from dog-paddler to marlin overnight.

"It takes a while," said Peggy Grall, aquatic coordinator for the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. "They're not going to pick it up in a couple of swim lessons."

However, the payoff for swimming instruction is competency in a lifetime activity, she said.

The ideal situation before starting lessons, according to Grall, is for young children to regularly visit a pool with family members.

"The more exposure they have with people they care about," she said, "the more they're going to enjoy themselves."

If it's consistently done, it becomes reinforced in the child's mind, said Grall, who has been teaching swim lessons for more than 35 years.

Once lessons begin, parents and children need to display a little patience, Grall said. The child may not progress as the parent likes, she said. But the parent should recognize the lessons may be at an unfamiliar site, the instructor may be a stranger and the other children taking lessons also may be new faces.

For that reason, play is incorporated into lessons for younger children, said Grall, who first assisted with swim lessons at age 10 in her native Wisconsin.

"Free play is an inspiration to build skills," she said. "You're playing but learning skills. It's not all structure, structure, structure."

Many times, said Parks and Recreation swimming instructor Janda White, children thrive in a group setting.

"Younger kids may be shy with their parents," she said. "In a group environment, they might be more comfortable and more confident."

On some occasions, Grall said, a child may want to give up, not having become Michael Phelps after two half-hour sessions in the pool.

Consistency is the key, she said. A few lessons one year and a few lessons the next won't get it. Every time a child starts lessons over again, the child has to go back and relearn what is lost from year to year.

As children grow, Grall said, parents need to decide what level of swimming acumen they want them to achieve. Some, she said, may want their children to master the four basic strokes. Others are content to have their children be able to jump off the diving board and paddle to the side.

White said lessons for older children can be as valuable as they are for younger swimmers.

"As they get older and further along," she said, "we can instruct them in more swimming techniques, ways to prevent drowning and [help] build their confidence."

Elizabeth Enge said she and her husband, Chris, enrolled their children, Lucy and Ruby, in swimming lessons through the Parks and Recreation Department for both their safety and as a form of exercise.

"We were really impressed with the quality of instruction they received," she said. "The program is one of the best kept secrets in town. It was a gift we wanted to give to our girls."

More and more adults want to take lessons, too, Grall said.

The reasons vary, she said, from people wanting to rehab an injury or medical condition to be a water walker for exercise to feeling more secure upon taking a cruise.

"[Lessons] give them that confidence to get over the hump," she said.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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