A Different Approach to Teaching Kids How to Swim

Two brothers, Luis and Juan, called us and said, "We'd love to learn to swim! Our mentor will send you a check." Luis and Juan are ages 16 and 10.

These two boys are first generation Americans. Their parents can't afford lessons for their kids. But Luis met Jim at his gym and asked if Jim could help him put together a fitness program for himself. The two got to talking. They became friends this past winter.

Jim noticed Juan outside the gym playing in the parking lot waiting for Luis to finish. His philanthropist side kicked into gear.

On June 14, Jim brought Juan and Luis to Lido Pool to learn to swim. "They've never had a lesson. They don't swim." Jim had signed up Juan for Adventure Camp at the Y on June 28 for a week and swimming would be part of camp. Juan wanted to be like the other kids in the pool.

We started from scratch. Juan didn't want to get water in his nose. Who does? He felt fine about putting his face in when he held his nose. That set up the first win. But as I was teaching him how to let his fingers go, he said, "I got kicked in the nose one time and my nose bled and they had to cut the veins in my nose." I said, "Does it feel like your nose is bleeding when you take your hand off your nose?" "—YES!"

We should all be so lucky: the answer on a silver platter!

I said, "I don't see any blood now. Do you? Do you want to check and see if it's water or if it's blood if you take your fingers off your nose?" He was agreeable to that.

Say! No blood. It must have been water. Problem solved in 5 minutes. Teacher meets child where he is. Connection between student and teacher. Teacher's heart melts. Student feels triumphant. Child's mind changes. High fives.

After 8 days of 45-minute lessons, both Juan and Luis can jump into deep water. They can stay afloat as long as they wish. They can propel themselves in any direction. They can get air when they
want it. They're doing handstands, somersaults and back dolphins in the pool. These two can swim.

Can they do freestyle yet? No! Have they been practicing? Yes, because they thought that's what "swimming" meant. But we got that cleared up and now that they can swim, they're ready to learn strokes. 8 days. 8 hours, and that included two extra hours... in the ocean. They'd never been in the Gulf before. With our pool on the beach, we couldn't resist. They were incredulous. And so funny.

"That was the best week ever!!" they said.
Juan went to camp today. "—It was great!"

Next group of children, step on up.

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Comment by Melon Dash on July 1, 2010 at 7:55am
From Sarah in Boston this morning via email:

Early this morning I was watching a little Russian boy crying and refusing his swimming lesson, finally giving in and obeying, mechanically crossing the big pool (left to his own devices he would play happily with the noodle in the zero entry pool). I thought of you, yet another of scores of "if only" moments, seeing that child suffer in the name of strokes. He couldn't be more than 5, the age of the child you've been teaching. Whenever I see his arm swing up, I'm reminded of the wooden arm of a railroad crossing gate lifting and falling. If only, if only your way of teaching was the only way of teaching since it is the only way of learning.

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