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What I Learned from Swim Lessons

Two babies floating on their back during swimming lessons.
Two babies floating on their back during swimming lessons.

I always find it funny to do regular things from the lens of a teacher. Of course, I’m a mom, but I was a teacher first and I always have this sort of teacher lens on where I watch other people teach and watch how kids learn. I love learning new tips and tricks to implement with my own daughter or with my preschoolers. Long story short, I might have learned more from swim lessons than my daughter did!

This was our first time ever doing swim lessons and a lot of swimming in general which is kind of crazy since my daughter is just about to turn three. The first year or two of my daughter’s life was during covid so I don’t think we even went to a pool until she was over two years old. That means before she even went to swim lessons, she had only been to our local pool about 4 times. Today was her first time going to Splash Montana here in Missoula!

Admittedly I was a little nervous for her to start swimming lessons since we had never done it. We signed up for the “parent tot” class since she was still under 3 at the time. She was one of the oldest kids in the class, so I was worried that it was going to be too easy for her or too centered on babies. I was so wrong! I learned that this class was just as much about teaching the parents and family members as it was teaching the kids!

The instructors started the class with songs and movement games that had swimming concepts snuck in, genius! Just like we would do with our preschoolers. My daughter loved the songs and still sings them. It was the fun of it all that encouraged her to start blowing bubbles and putting the sides of her face in to “listen to the fish”. This was a great reminder before back-to-school time, a reminder to keep things light and fun and the learning will fall into place.

The next great thing the swim instructors did was having breaks for the children. We would do a lesson, such as back floats and kicks, and then do another fun song or switch to jumping in. I thought swimming lessons were going to be intensive and all about the techniques, but I learned that I could keep my daughter engaged and having fun while also giving her just a couple of minutes of learning time. This technique worked better than drilling her and forcing her to float on her back for long periods of time.

My biggest lesson came when I realized that my daughter is very capable, and I need to learn to let go just a little bit. It’s important to check our own reactions and energy when we’re doing things with our kids. The instructor gave us this amazing tip about our reactions when your child goes under the water, on purpose or accidentally. She told us to act like everything is a “win” or an accomplishment for them, even if they come up coughing and hacking and a little scared. Comfort them and help them but tell them how amazing they did and how they accomplished their goal of going all the way under!

Finally, I learned that fun practice and skill building is much better than pushing skills at children with no fun involved. Again, this can relate so much to what we do in the classroom, and I see it as a direct correlation to play based learning! I taught my daughter to look at going to swim lessons as a fun adventure for our summer days. Then, when we actually went back to the pool for fun, I imitated what we did at the swim lessons in between playing games and just splashing around for fun. Today at the pool, she willingly did a whole bunch of back floats completely unpromoted!

Five kids sitting along a table with their hands in the air and smiling.
Five kids sitting along a table with their hands in the air and smiling.

So, in summary, when we are struggling to teach children how to wait at the door for the teacher or to start learning their names, remember to throw fun and silliness or play in there for them! Sing songs at the door, play “I Spy”, or better yet, help them recognize names and wait at the door at the SAME TIME by singing “Willabee Wallaby Wick, an elephant sat on Nick!” and point to Nick’s name on his cubby or on a sign in sheet. Remember my daughter and myself at swimming this summer when you’re teaching and then watch how quickly a smiling kid learns a new skill rather than a child who is frustrated and uncomfortable with learning a new skill and I think you’ll both see improvement!


Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a rambunctious toddler and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.

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