Children often come to swim lessons with a wide range of skills. Because we specialize in younger kids, we get the major gross motor skill (large body movements, crawling, running, climbing) growth patterns right at our door. Children from birth until age four have the largest growth in gross motor skills. I was just recently talking to a mom nursing her 2 month old while I sat playing with my 10 month old who is scaling counters, climbing up and down my stairs on his own as well as cruising. I just looked at her and said, can you believe your baby will be doing this is only 8 months. She just shook her head in disbelief. It's amazing what babies, toddlers and preschool age children are capable of and the rate of growth they experience. After age 4, their fine motor skills start to take over the speedy rate of development which coincides with writing skills, coloring in the lines, etc. While your gross motor skills are still developing, they don't improve at the same rate.
This is why any swim teacher will tell you physically it is easier to teacher a younger child/baby to swim. Their gross motor skills are still fluid. I can actually sense and feel how a child is reacting in the water simply by touching them. Are they scared, struggling, tense, relaxed. I have a toddler in my class right now who is an excellent swimmer. He just turned two. He likes to go under water, float, look around and simply float there. His mom gets nervous and picks him up to breath. I am teaching her how to let him experiment, roll around and blow bubbles. He thinks it is hilarious. I tell the mom, "You will know when he is running out of air, his body movements will change and get rigid or he might start kicking and paddling like crazy." This boy doesn't need me to teach him. He is teaching himself through his self exploration and experimenting. It's Mommy I'm teaching to support that kind of play and fun in the water.
We get many kids with physical delays as well as sensory issues. Swimming is used in therapy all over the world but especially with children. Water is 30 times more pressure on the body than air. This can either provide resistance or assistance as well as some pretty awesome feedback. I have a little girl in lessons right now who had some physical as well as verbal delays. She came in at 4 yet walked like she was 2. After 6 weeks in lessons, she noticeably had smoother movements in and out of the water. She was using bi-lateral movements with her arms as well as upper body strength climbing out of the pool and balance of her whole body. I get so much joy and fulfillment from teaching children like this. Seeing their marked improvement is so uplifting and encouraging.
Sensory issues come up often too. Kids who rip off the goggles and can't have anything on their face. Some kids can't wear the fins, let alone shoes their moms say. I get to support the parents in introducing these things to their kids and slowly trying to release or at least get them used to some of the stimuli. When we give out ribbons here at La Petite Baleen, we ring a large bell and cheer. Sometimes some kids are triggered with unexpected and loud sounds and shut down, not even wanting their ribbon. Or here in Half Moon bay, our slide can be so much fun as an end of class activity. Kids with sensory issues often would rather climb to the top themselves, having pressure on their feet than be lifted to the halfway slide and be free feeling in the air. Some kids need that pressure on their feet to feel stable.
I just love bringing swimming to all kids. I have seen it benefit kids with autism, sensory and physical delays. My dad once even taught a girl with no arms and legs to swim. That was special and amazing to watch. But I will never forget it. Any child can swim and benefit from the therapeutic as well as multi sensory, skill building wonderment it is. I just love teaching these babies and children. What a wonderful job this is!