How to Choose the Right Swim Program for Your Kid

Wondering how to pick the right swim lessons for kids or swim school in your area? Here's what to consider.

Just about everywhere there is a pool there is a swim program or swim lessons – from rec centers and community pools to health clubs and even dedicated swim schools. Pictures of smiling faces and happy swimming kids grace websites and brochure covers – making just about every program look appealing.

So how does a parent find the right swim program? The most authentic answers come from other parents, says Orna Spencer, formerly the manager of the Goldfish Swim School in Macomb. Once parents get a few recommendations, they should visit and take a trial class if possible.

“Determine your goals and expectations and ask yourself if the school fits your needs,” says Spencer. “If, for example, cost is an issue, think about what you are willing to pay but also be mindful of the fact that if a program is less expensive, student-to-instructor ratios may be higher or there may be other factors involved where it could take longer to reach those goals and ultimately cost as much or more.”

In addition to recommendations from fellow moms and dads, parents should also consider what experts from the United States Swim School Association and the American Red Cross have to say.

Sue Mackie, formerly the executive director of the United States Swim School Association, offers the following advice for parents looking for the right swim program:

  • Sit in on a lesson to see how the facility is run and how they interact with kids. If you have a 4-year-old child, make sure the lesson you observe is a 4-year-old class, not an infant class. Pay attention to how the students seem after a lesson. If there is a crying child, watch how the instructors handle him.
  • For babies and toddlers, find a warm water pool – typically between 87 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When a child is cold, she is not going to have a positive experience.
  • Be certain you can find out how your child is doing. How does the swim program provide you with feedback? For example, do you talk directly to the teacher? Do you get a written report?
  • You may find the right program but ask yourself if that program is conducive to your schedule. For example, you don’t want to put your toddler in a class that’s too close to his naptime.
  • It may sound like a no brainer but make sure the teachers are CPR certified and trained as swimming instructors. There are instructors that receive as much as 40-80 hours of training.
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There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lessons. While some kids thrive in a group lesson, others may not be comfortable learning a new skill around other kids. Make sure the program fits the individual needs of your child. Parents can find a list of local swim classes here to start their search.

The American Red Cross offers a number of guidelines to consider when selecting a swim program, according to Amanda Huszti of the Michigan region of the American Red Cross.

Make sure the program is nationally recognized. Parents can search for local swim programs on the organizations website.

Other things to remember:

  • Class size should not be more than six students per instructor for beginners. As kids gain skills and independence, that ratio increases to 10 students.
  • A lifeguard should always be on duty in addition to the class instructor.
  • Find a teaching style that encourages students instead of pressuring them.
  • Each class should consist of students at the same skill level.

Shari Strauss, a former manager and swim instructor at Aqua Tots Swim School in Canton, adds that an established program with a set curriculum is the best place for a child to learn to swim.

“Consistent and growing businesses are usually proof of a solid foundation in water safety and customer service,” she says. “Finding a school that has a set curriculum is one of the easiest ways to get your child comfortable in the water because your child will come to expect the routine of the curriculum during their class while still being pushed to advance.”

This post was originally published in 2015 is updated regularly.

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