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Swim Lessons 101

Are your kids ready to take the plunge? Get advice and tips on age, class length and frequency, teachers and more with this handy parent guide.

Summer is heating up. And, like many local families, you too may be hunting around southeast Michigan to find swim lessons to brush up your kids' skills and comfort level in the water – or maybe you've got an absolute beginner on your hands. Never fear! Here's the lowdown on finding the perfect class for your little tadpole.

What age?

"We feel that learning to swim should start as early as possible," says Chris McCuiston, the president of Goldfish Swim School, a growing business with facilities in Birmingham, Farmington Hills and, soon, Ann Arbor (August 2011). "We have classes for children as young as 4 months."

For kids up to age 35 months, parents must attend. These lessons allow "parents to bond with their children in an enjoyable, fun way," McCuiston adds.

For more formal lessons – without mom or dad – the American Academy of Pediatrics says to wait until age 4.

Class frequency and length

Kids lose focus quickly – especially in the pool, says Jeanette Williams, who directs swim instruction at Summit on the Park in Canton.

"Preschoolers' attention spans last about 30 minutes," she says. Since they're learning basics and not moving much, they're likely to get cold and distracted, too.

Older kids, who get more active, can handle longer times. "It varies between facilities, but some offer lessons that are 45 minutes to an hour," Williams says.

If your child takes lessons throughout the year, once-a-week lessons will do. If she's strictly a summer swimmer, Williams suggests at least two per week.

All about teachers

Teachers can make all the difference in whether your child looks forward to class or dreads it. A key question: What's the teacher-to-student ratio?

At the Summit on the Park, a community pool, it's 1 to 5 for preschoolers and 1 to 7 for older kids, says Williams. At Goldfish, every class has a 1 to 4 balance. If your child seems reluctant, you may consider a low-ratio program.

Also, check their credentials. Are they American Red Cross Water Safety instructor-certified? Is ongoing training also required?

Once in the pool

"Kids learn best by doing games," Williams says. Fun activities count for about 15 percent of class. The rest teaches key skills such as breathing, floating and working the arms and legs together to propel through the water.

For young swimmers, safety's the biggest lesson. This means feeling comfortable and confident in the pool so, if they wind up in trouble, they can stay afloat until an adult reaches them. Examples? Doggie paddling to the edge of the pool (and hanging on), treading water in deeper depths, and even rolling over and floating.

This takes time and practice – at least several sessions. Then, swimmers are ready for the four swim strokes, so that they can do laps and more strenuous workouts.

"Swimming, whether it be at a pool, the lake or ocean, is something that everyone can enjoy," Williams says. "My goal is that every child and adult feels comfortable and safe when they are creating their own memories."

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