I’ve always enjoyed being in the water (a stark contrast from Geeky Daddy, who in fairness was born in Iowa and you can’t exactly swim in a corn field). I started swimming lessons at 6 months old, was on the high school swim team and taught swim lessons as my after-school and summer job. Needless to say, when we had a baby, I was pretty excited about the idea of taking him for swim lessons.
But wow, swim lessons have changed from when I taught them (let’s not try to count how long ago high school was please)! One of the main reasons is because of Jenny and Chris McCuiston, founders of Goldfish Swim Schools. I knew Jenny in high school as the fastest swimmer I’d ever seen (darn, just revealed how long ago high school was). She literally left a wake behind her. I’m pretty sure at one point she went to the Olympic trials. We raced one time – the 100yd backstroke. I’m pretty sure that she finished the race before I got off the block.
But as a swimmer who also taught swim lessons as her side gig, she realized that there was room for innovation in the industry, and out came Goldfish Swim School. Here’s where it differs from the good old days.
No More Shivers
When I used to teach lessons, I needed to wear a wet suit because I would freeze teaching for several hours in the water. And if I was freezing, it meant that the kids were shivering away most of class. Kiddie pools barely existed and even if they did, they were maybe heated to 83 or 84 degrees. The bigger kids had to go in the big pool which was made for lap swimmers and maybe lingered around 80 to 81 degrees.
I remember when I took lessons as a kid that I always wanted the instructor to be in the water with me during class. I swore to my 8-year-old self that when I taught lessons I’d always go in the water. Fast forward to high school and college and nope – it was just too cold. When teaching older kids there are certainly advantages to teaching from the pool deck to better see their technique, but it’s possible that we would have been more involved/interactive if we were in the water.
Since Goldfish heats the pools to 90 degrees there are no issues for teachers or students. All instructors wear easy-to-see orange rash guards that can give an extra layer of warmth since they’re in the water for hours, but the temperature doesn’t seem to be a problem for the tiniest babies or the largest instructors (did we mention Grayson’s instructor Mr. Armand is pretty much a non-green, non-angry Hulk?)
Not only is the temperature useful, the pools made specifically for children have additional features that weren’t available to us a few years ago (ok, so like 15, ok, maybe closer to 20). The pools have benches arounds the sides for kids to stand or sit on while waiting to swim in the deeper water. We used to have to use water step aerobics blocks in the pool so that the kid could keep their head above water, or put the kids on the edge of the pool outside the water where they’d freeze. It was hard for them to grasp onto the edge of the pool for the whole lesson and nearly impossible for the under 5 age group.
The other advantage of having kiddie pools dedicated to lessons are that the you don’t have to share the pool with lap swimmers or people there for open swim. It’s hard to play fun games when cranky lap swimmers were upset if you accidentally went into their lane or threw a ball over by mistake.
Parents have always been involved in infant/toddler classes but tend to fade out of the picture at 2.5 or 3 years old. Most parents would either come onto the pool deck or watch through a tiny little window into the pool area. At one of the community centers there was a row of chairs on one side of the pool deck so they could watch lessons.
The main issue here was that if a parent is on the pool deck it’s distracting to the kid. It’s especially bad if the child is a little scared of the water and act up because they see their parent. I’m not teaching swim lessons to Lil’ G because it’s hard to take instruction from mom and dad sometimes. The kids that progressed the least were the ones where the parents wouldn’t let their child flourish on their own.
At Goldfish, the parents sit behind a large fish bowl glass enclosure where they can easily watch their kids. It’s also ideal since they don’t sweat to death inside the humid pool area. They’re called to the pool deck a few minutes before the end of class to talk to the instructor or watch a skill their child learned. They can then give their child a towel and shuffle them out to the…
Locker Rooms (or lack there of)
Gone are the days of having a traditional locker room and trying to wait for a family locker room or debating the cut-off age for having a child of the opposite sex in your locker room. Instead there are co-ed, community showers at the back of the pool deck for a quick shower with your swim suit on (baby shampoo and other products provided!) and then little cabanas for changing. Each small room has a bench and some hooks for quick changing. While Lil’ G is small enough to go into either locker room at a traditional place, it’s way easier having two of us to dry off and dress a wiggly baby.
Swim lessons of days past used to have set sessions that lasted for 8 weeks or so. You’d have to sign up each session (and sometimes not get in if it filled up too quickly) and have a new class and new instructor each time. Each session would also typically repeat the skills from the prior session as opposed to progressing with the kids in the class. Now swim lessons are year-round. Instead of enrolling in a session, you pay a monthly fee, much like you would with a gym membership. By having year-round swim lessons, kids don’t forget the skills that they learned and tend to progress faster than kids who take lessons more haphazardly.
Where Did They Get Those Wonderful Toys?
I don’t recall having very many toys when I taught swim lessons. We didn’t have an amazing kiddie slide, an adorable canoe or cars that can be powered by kicking. We didn’t have Elmo puppets, enough goldfish rubber duckies to fill a bathtub or floating activity mats. We had maybe a ball from time to time and sometimes some rings to dive for at the bottom of the pool. Oh, and a rusty diving block or two, which to be fair was a lot of fun to jump off. But it’s not a slide. Nothing beats the slide (except maybe 90 degree water).
Have you noticed changes in swim lessons over time? Let me know if I missed anything and check out Goldfish Swim School for kids 4 months to 12 years.
This article was written in exchange for the experience of swim lessons at Goldfish Swim School.