Meet the Expert- Julia Ham, Director of Hampton Swim School
Just Julia the Shark has been teaching swimming since 1999, when she established Hampton Swim School whilst training and competing for Australia. Her love of child development saw her open a land-based program, TumbleTastics, in early 2011, an early learning movement and activity centre.
When is the ideal age to enrol your children into swimming lessons?
Given Australia’s outdoor and aquatic lifestyle, the likelihood that a child will be exposed to a water environment is extremely high. If you have a pool or live near the beach, you already have a good reason for wanting your children to be confident in the water from a young age. Research shows that the risk of drowning is decreased by 80% in children under 4 years that attend swim lessons as opposed to their non-swimming counterparts.
Each year, more than 20 children under the age of 5 years drown in Australia, with many more near-drowning incidents and accidents occurring around the pool or beach. So it’s easy to see why swim lessons sooner rather than later provide an additional barrier against drowning. Also bear in mind, not knowing how to swim has never stopped a child from drowning!
For an infant aged under 6 months, there is a natural association between immersion in water and the fluid environment of the womb. From the standpoint of a swim instructor, older babies can lose their inherent love of the water and even become fearful, hence why it is better to commence swim lessons from a young age. However, the decision ultimately comes down to personal circumstances and, as a parent, knowing when you and your child are actually ready.
The most important thing to consider when commencing swim lessons for your infant is to locate a swim school that has gentle, age and developmentally-appropriate baby and swim program where skills are gradually introduced as your child is ready.
Aside from ensuring children can stay safe around water, what are the other benefits of learning to swim?
For babies, swimming is a complete physical workout which in turn assists the development of their heart, lungs and muscles. The physical activity that swimming offers stimulates the appetite of baby, which in turn promotes food digestion and boosts the immune system.
Regular swimming also aids in the development of sleep patterns. One reason parents love to have their baby in swim lessons is for the deeper and longer sleep that invariably follow a swim session. Even though the class may be appear gentle and relaxing, the baby very often exerts themselves to an extent that they are exhausted by the end of the half hour!
The myriad of activities, faces, free movement, splashing and noise (laughing/songs) stimulates baby’s brain which in turn assists in sight, hearing, touch, balance and coordination development of baby.
The freedom that water provides allows a baby to exercise more muscles than they could possible expect to use when on land. We know that movement is crucial to development, so the expanded opportunity for movement available in an aquatic environment afford a further opportunity for infant brain development. Additional benefits include the self esteem and sense of independence that are produced when baby learns to move themselves through the water.
Swimming lessons are a wonderfully intimate activity between parent and child that provide a one-on-one bonding opportunity which helps promote the parent-infant relationship. The group class structure of swim lessons provides a chance for interaction with teachers and other children and parents, and enhances a child’s social skills and capacity to follow instructions and respond to directions.
Babies who swim from an early age are more relaxed and confident in the water, and commencing swim lessons at an early age can assist in the avoiding the emotional stress that may accompany commencing lessons at a later age, as well as the many benefits that extend well beyond the swimming pool.
There are plenty of wonderful reasons to teach your child to swim, and being part of that process can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences a parent can have with their child.
Swimming encourages fun and learning, and helps a child develop confidence and a positive self- image.
Research has shown that early swimmers perform better both socially and academically, and that swimming from an early age enhances not only gross motor skill development and coordination, but also the personality development of a child…so swimming contributes to the happiness, health, and development of the “whole” child!
Most importantly, swimming is the only sport that can be potentially lifesaving! So, take the plunge and enjoy the aquatic journey…..it’s never too late to start and the benefits of swimming will stay with you for life!
Do you have any hints or tips for parents who have children who are fearful of water?
No parent likes to see their child’s tears, and a common reaction of parents to tears in a swim lesson is to become panicked or embarrassed over the way the child is behaving, or instead to think “my child just doesn’t like the water”.
Parents need to be aware of the potential reactions of their child in a swim lesson, and they need to understand why such reactions occur and how to apply appropriate solutions that ensure the lesson is both enjoyable and beneficial to their child.
Tears can be eliminated, and may occur because of:
Interference with the sleep or feeding routine of the child. Parents should check for alternative class times or try and adjust their routines accordingly
Being cold in the water or drafts/breeze from outside the pool. Here, a sun-shirt or wetsuit can help, as can simply keeping baby’s shoulders under the water during class
Becoming over stimulated from the new environment, including involvement with other parents and children, the noises generated through laughter, singing and splashing, and the immersion in the water itself, which all add up to a completely different sensory experience. Take small steps if your baby is overwhelmed. Talk to your baby in a calm and positive manner, maintain close skin and eye contact, and focus solely on one activity at a time. Babies should be placed in age-appropriate classes that ensure the activities they complete in a swim lesson are developmentally appropriate, and instructors trained to be able to provide alternative activities to cater for the level of a child. Remember – don’t be afraid to ask for advice!
Genuine fear which is a result of a previous bad experience in water, or through parental fears which the child has learned by association. To help prevent the development of this kind of anxiety around water, parents should try to make the regular bath/shower/pool times as fun, secure, and as relaxing as possible. Avoid pushing too hard in water-related activities, and be playful and patient. Toys are excellent stimulants and provide a wonderful distraction, as does singing or particularly soothing and reassuring talk. Always try to end the lesson on a happy note, so the child remembers their time in the water as a positive experience
Remember, it is normal for a child to occasionally become upset during a swim lesson. Try to temper any frustration you may be feeling and, if your child seems tense or upset during the course of an activity, use common sense and take a step back to a level at which they feel more comfortable. Progress in the water will not always be consistent and will be affected by many factors including the emotional wellbeing and happiness of the child.
Can you suggest any fun pool games that parents can play with their children?
Having fun in the pool is an amazing way for children to get extra exposure to the water, and an opportunity to further strengthen aquatic skills. Add parents into the mix, and it is a wonderful, fun-filled session, including Mum or Dad being able to provide active supervision with no outside distractions.
Traditional games are always entertaining – such as pool volleyball or basketball, Marco Polo, treasure hunts or What’s the time Mr Wolf?
Some games from your swim lessons can even be adapted for a family swim including sinkee relays or races, kickboard races or back floating competitions.
For older children, a variation of pool tag can be when one person is ‘ít” with their eyes closed, and they call out either dolphin (swim ontop of water), froggy (swim in middle) and submarine (swim at bottom of pool). “It”has to try to tag the others, and the winner is the player that makes it to the other end!
Foam pool noodles add a variety of fun to pool games! Use in a horse race, or like medieval gladiators, try to knock one another from their ‘mount’(i.e. inflatable toy) with the pool noodles.
Hampton Swim School was established by Julia Ham, a former Australian Swimming representative, in 1999. In between her gruelling training schedule, Julia found a passion for swimming at the grassroots level as a learn to swim instructor.
At Hampton Swim School we believe that aquatic education can contribute to saving your child’s life. Our certified instructors are passionate about not only providing essential water safety and life-skills, but ensuring positive experiences for your child. Our tailored programs are aimed at developing the ‘whole’ child, and deliver consistent results.