Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Swim Level should I put my child in?

My good friend called me the other day to ask which swim level she should put her kids in. I was a lifeguard and swim instructor for over 5 years and on the high school swim team all 3 years.  So I thought I would share what I know with everyone.

The classes I taught were the American Red Cross WSI (Water Safety Instructor) "Learn to Swim" material.  Here is a summary of the breakdown on each level:

At my local pool they have "Preschool" levels.  These classes cover the same requirements as the regular levels.  In my opinion the reason for the "Preschool" title is due to age and height of the kids and where they are placed in the pool.  If you have a preschool age child that needs to be in a level 2 class, realize that some of the children in the regular level 2 class might be as old as 10.  Your preschooler might not be able to touch (or be comfortable) in the area of the pool where they would place a regular level 2 class.

Level 1- Water Intro.  By the end of the level, children will be able to Enter water to waist deep, putting face in water and blow bubbles.  This is a very much an INTRO to water.  If your child can keep his balance in chest deep water and is comfortable in the water, head to level 2.

Level 2- Child should be able to (within the first few lessons at least) go fully underwater and come back up. (a bob is the term for this)  They will also practice picking up items from the bottom of the pool (about 3 feet under) and work on front and back crawl arms. By the end of level 2 your child will be able to float for a few seconds unassisted. Passing Level 2 is a NECESSITY to continuing on to the next level.  Your child MUST be able to float in order to go to level 3.  It is NOT uncommon to have children repeat level 2, or even repeat level 2 a few times.  Work with your child on your own so you don't have to pay to re-take the level more then twice.

Level 3- Level 3 is very important.  This is where your child will learn "whip kick" used for breast stroke, breast stroke arms, work on swimming front and back crawl pool length and treading water.  They will also start to learn diving in from the side of the pool (if your pool is over 6 feet deep).  Dolphin kick (for Butterfly stroke) may also be introduced in level 3 but is focused on in level 4.

Level 4 and up, in my opinion, are optional.  Level 4 focuses on Butterfly stroke and introduces more technique for swimming competitively, like flip turns, starts and aerodynamics.  Level 5 is a more intense level 4.  Same things are taught, but the instructors are more of a "coach" at this level.  Some of the time the lessons do not require the instructor to even get in the pool, but rather critique from the deck.  Diving board approach and dives are also covered if you have a diving board in your pool.  The higher levels may also introduce a few lifesaving tactics in this level like stride jumps, surface dives and life ring tosses.

We are a "water family" and my boys are very comfortable in any body of water at any depth.  My boys all take up to level 3, then I stop.   I can teach them the rest of the levels on my own if that is something that they want to learn.

If you or your child want a "swim team" type experience you could continue to levels above level 4.  The classes are great if that is what you are looking for.  If you just want your child "to be able to swim" a strong finish in a level 3 class will accomplish that. You could continue to level 4 to build up confidence.

I think it is VERY important for children to learn water safety and at least know how to get to either shallow water or the edge of a pool if they fall in.
You can talk to your local pool and find out the requirements for the different levels and see which one your child needs to be in.  They will have a print out of all the requirements.  If the front desk says they do not, ask to talk with an instructor.  In my experience most lifeguards are instructors, so they should be able to find one on break for you.

Click HERE to contact your local Red Cross chapter to find the closest aquatic facility teaching Red Cross Learn to Swim programs.
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