The first time you sign your child up for swim lessons, you may not have a good idea of what skills and activities are involved in each level. Level One is the first swimming level for children ages 6 and over. Titled “Water Exploration”, the goals of the class are basic, giving students a foundation for future swimming.
Here is a basic skills list for Level 1: Water Exploration
– Entering and exiting the water through stairs or a ladder
– Submerge face for 3 seconds
– Blowing bubbles
– Bob five times (do not need to completely submerge whole head)
– Front and Back Floats with support
-Alternating leg action on front and back (flutter kick) with support
-Alternating arm action on front with support
-Simultaneous arm action on back with support (elementary backstroke arms)
-Explore other arm and leg actions on front and back with support (breaststroke arms and legs, scissors kick, etc.)
In the beginning swimming levels, you will see instructors repeat activities, or spend a large amount of time on one skill or set of skills. This is a good thing! The instructor is concentrating on proper foundation for swimming, meaning your child will have more success in later, more complicated levels. There are three areas that are especially important in beginning swimming levels; breath control and submersion, body position, and good flutter kick.
Submersion and Breath Control
Proper breath control is essential to a smooth swimming stroke. The first step is learning to blow bubbles, both with the mouth and through the nose. As an instructor, I encourage students to blow “nose bubbles” instead of pinching their nose. Once they have accomplished this, students work on submersion. It starts with getting the nose, eyes and entire face wet, and progresses to putting the entire head underwater. Submersion is easier if students are already familiar with blowing bubbles, as it helps them feel more in control and keeps them from inhaling water.
Not only do students need to be able to hold their breath and put their faces in the water, they also need to learn rhythmic breathing. Rhythmic breathing is essential for any strokes in which the face is in the water, such as front crawl and breaststroke. At the basic level, students must learn to breath in while the face is above the water, and exhale underwater. This is why “bobs” or “bob-ups” are so important in the lower levels. Bobs teach rhythmic breathing, but focusing only on submersion and breathing rhythms. Sometimes I see students hold their breath, go under 3 or 4 times in quick succession, stop, catch their breath, and do more bobs without exhaling under water. While the student is “doing bobs”, they are not really meeting the objective, which is to learn to control their breathing. I always make sure to teach students to “blow bubbles” underwater and “big breath” when they come up.
Water is a tricky medium. Buoyancy causes balance to become all out of whack, which takes some time to get used to. Students in level one spend a lot of time working on floating. The correct body position can make or break a stroke. Floating is the core basic skill for future body positioning. Most small children will float well if they can relax. The key is to mold their bodies into the proper position, and them make them feel secure so that they can relax their muscles. Students who are still unable to put their faces in the water cannot float independently on their front, as the act of holding their head up will sink the feet and cause the body to go vertical in the water. These students may be more comfortable doing back floats, as their faces will not go underwater when done properly. Students who are comfortable putting their face in the water will likely learn to float on their front very quickly. As a general rule, back floats are harder for students because they need to learn to trust that the water will hold them up. Many children are also uncomfortable with water going in their ears, which it will in a proper back float.
The third basic skill is a good flutter kick. Small children will instinctively do a “frog kick” where the legs move simultaneously up to the butt and back out. Flutter kicks require the feet to move alternatively, in an up and down motion. This is a learned behavior. I often see students who have had no formal swimming instruction do a bicycle kick, in which the legs move alternatively, but in a circular motion, similar to pedaling a bike. This kick may move them forward, but uses a lot more energy than is required. It is inefficient. Proper flutter kick requires that the legs be straight with only a slight bend in the knees. It uses the whole leg from the hip, not just the lower leg from the knee. Feet should be “floppy” with toes pointed. The motion is similar to kicking a soccer ball. The feet should be just underneath the water, creating a small splash. If you see a teacher spending what looks like a disproportionate amount of time on kicking, it is because this is a not only a tricky skill to learn, but also a vital part of future swimming abilities.