August 15, 2005

Swimming Lessons (and a Rumplestiltskin-like fit at the end)

The kids have just started their second week of swimming lessons yesterday at the local college pool. They'd been looking forward all year to being in the pool again, and are quite the little fish. Most families around here sign up the kids for just one week, but I tend to think that one week for the whole summer is kind of chintzy. Three weeks at the pool on the audience side of the Plexiglas, however, sends Mom around the bend. I know this because back in 2003, after we had returned from our seven-month stay in the West Indies (where my parents have a house and where we spent most of this past February, too) and after living with a pool in the backyard, I signed them all up for three weeks of swimming lessons. I must have been nuts, and if I wasn't to start with, I sure was by the end.

The kids did wonderfully well last week. They always seem to be the youngest and smallest in their respective levels, and I wasn't sure if they would pass at the end of last week; Laura was the best bet, and sure enough, she did it. Pretty proud mama, and proud girl too for meeting all of the requirements, especially the 25-meter endurance swim.

Daniel was defeated by the 15-meter endurance swim, which I tried to explain to him was a very, very long distance for such a young boy. He said he's going to work on keeping his head down and not stopping. That's my boy. Davy was barely able to keep his nose above water in his class last week, which took place in the not-quite-shallow-enough end of the pool (he was the only preschooler in the class), though he didn't get any extra points for spending most of the hour-long class treading water. Of course, he would have passed had he bothered to float on his back and his front for more than five seconds at a time. But then Davy has spent most of the past four years hurrying to catch up to his big brother and his big sister. Going slowly is not something he does naturally; but I'd just as soon have him repeat the level one more time. And a different, more "sympatisch" teacher this week has them in shallower water (bless you, Twyla). By the time he gets to Level 4 next summer, maybe he'll have added a few inches. I hope.

Only we found out on the way out that there probably won't be a Level 4 after this month. I was handed a flyer today announcing the new Red Cross Swim program starting next month. Originally, it seemed to be mostly a change in name, from "AquaQuest" to "Red Cross Swim Kids." According to the Canadian Red Cross website, "The cornerstone of the Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety programs is AquaQuest, designed for youth aged 3 to 14 years. The 12 levels of AquaQuest ensure that swimmers progress gradually as their maturity, physical strength and abilities develop. Each level provides the student with swimming (strokes) improvement and water safety knowledge, for a well-rounded water experience."

According to the flyer, "Red Cross Swim Kids for children six years and older [uh oh -- if they are strict about age rather than ability, Davy will be sidelined for at least year in the Preschool program, which seems to involve "engaging animal themes" rather than actual swimming instruction] will replace AquaQuest with a fresh approach to swimming and water safety education [I always worry about this "fresh approach" business, especially when it comes to something as basic as learning to swim. How fresh can you get, really?]."

A lightbulb went off a few sentences later. Rather than teaching mainly swimming and water safety, the new program includes a big fitness component; the Red Cross has jumped on the overweight/obese children bandwagon. Sure enough, a quick trip around the website led to a press release from last month, "Obesity Rates Rise, but Red Cross Fights Back." While I agree that exercise for kids is vital, I don't know if swimming lessons are the right place to include this extra material. Maybe in addition to swimming lessons, but not in place of them, which is what this looks like. Of course, if you teach kids to swim and make the lessons enjoyable, they'll probably want to continue swimming for fun. Or is that just too easy? This rather reminds me of how the local public schools have elbowed out basic instruction in the three R's for trendy nutrition, anti-bullying, and anti-drug whatchamacallits. Oh yeah, initiatives (you know, the things families used to teach their kids).

Bells, not lightbulbs, started going off on the second page: "Recognizing Your Child's Achievement...We acknowledge that children's physical abilities develop at different rates, and the program will focus on participant's successes rather than areas for improvement."

Go away now if you don't want another Rumplestiltskin-type fit. And don't say I didn't warn you, because "self-esteem" sets me off.

Excuse me, Red Crossers, but how are my kids supposed to improve their swimming skills if you intend to focus only on their previous successes and not on the areas that need work? "Johnny, we're not going to work on teaching you to tread water longer [possibly useful if little Johnny goes on an unsuccessful summer boating trip at the lake]. Instead, I'd like to congratulate you for a fine job of getting your face wet, and beautiful rhythmic breathing, last week." I thought I was signing them up for swimming lessons, but it sounds as if the Red Cross is more interested in bucking up their self-esteem. No-one at the Red Cross (and no one at our provincial Ministry of Education -- you can see where my peeve started, and was then encouraged to grow by reading Charles Sykes) seems to have noticed that children derive oodles of self-confidence -- which comes from within, rather than self-esteem which is imposed from without -- from making marked improvement in any area. On their own! Without gold stars or stickers at every turn! Shocking!

I've already noticed that even under the current AquaQuest system, the instructors don't seem to spend any time helping the kids improve or refine their strokes or dives once they've learned the basics.

Private lessons at the college pool may be the way to go, if I can help call the shots, and I've heard they're not that much more expensive than the group lessons. Of course, she asked sarcastically and rhetorically, at this rate, why don't I just homeschool swimming lessons? And then someone will have the nerve to ask why my kids don't socialize with others at the college's swimming lessons....

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