Dispelling the Myths about Survival Swim Lessons

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A survival swim lesson.I distinctly remember scrolling social media back in 2016 while on vacation in South Carolina. My friend had posted her child, a year younger than my son (who was three), independently swimming across their pool. How can a 2-year-old possibly swim like that?!? I remember thinking. So I messaged my friend, and she told me that her daughter had started survival swim lessons a few months back. I got the name of the company and messaged them that day.

While we were scheduling the lessons, my heart skipped a beat when I found out the schedule and the cost.

And I must admit that while it took a little while to rationalize both of these factors, we ultimately decided that it would be worth the expense if our kid could save himself in the water.

I had friends who had their children in traditional swim lessons for years, and they still could not swim, let alone save themselves if they fell in the water. That alone sold survival swim for me.

And although I try to stay away from social media mom groups as much as possible (they aren’t good for my mental health for a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into here), I do find myself commenting on those posts asking about swim lessons.

There are a lot of myths that people have about how survival swim lessons go down and exactly what the tactics are for getting children to be able to float and swim. The more moms I speak to, the more I realize how inaccurate the information is.

So, this post responds to dispelling all of those myths and shedding some light on what goes on in survival swim lessons. (This is not a sponsored post; these are my experiences with survival swim lessons with my three children and the experiences of friends who did the same).

Myth #1: It’s more expensive than traditional swim lessons.

I admit that survival swimming costs are more upfront than traditional swimming lessons (i.e., a small group of students with one teacher and approximately $25/week). The cost overall is either the same or even less. I’ll break this down.

Traditional Swim Lessons: About $25/week, four children in a group, 30 minutes. I reached out to several friends who went this route. None of their children learned how to swim using traditional group swim lessons. Their children all generally learned how to swim, but they were all older. (Disclaimer: This is not to say traditional swim lessons don’t work; this is just the experience of my network of friends who went this route).

Survival Swim Lessons: About $150/week, private lesson, 10-minute lessons every day Monday through Thursday (40 min/week) for six weeks. This is a dramatic price difference. I can say we knew this would be the cost (and ours was double since we had twins), so we saved up for this and got on a waiting list early so we would be able to start when we wanted to. All three of my children could float, turn over, and swim to their instructor within the first three lessons (30 minutes of lesson time). That right there was worth the cost.

Myth #2: It’s traumatic.

When talking about survival swimming to other moms, the most common question I’m asked is how traumatic is it for the child? I can’t stress enough how amazing these instructors are with children. They meet all types; outgoing, shy, cranky, fearful, joyful, and overzealous. My children are shy.

The instructors have unique gifts to help children feel safe and trust that they are doing what is best for them, all while working their magic to teach them how to swim. They do not just throw a child into a pool and hope they float or swim. There’s a specific teaching method in play here, and throwing an unsuspecting child into a body of water with no training is not one of them.

Sitting at the pool with my kids for the last five years (because they all still swim with the same survival swimming company!), I’ve seen many lessons take place. Almost every child I’ve ever seen cries. Crying is what children do to protest doing something new, to express feelings over something being difficult, to not having their parents in the pool with them.

I would argue that we make kids do things that they don’t want to do every day – clean their rooms, brush their teeth, try new foods, and go to school. Many of these children throw tantrums and cry. That doesn’t mean that what we are doing is traumatic for them; we know what is best for them because we are the adults in their lives. It’s the same with the first few swim lessons. Crying doesn’t mean they are being traumatized or hurt. Crying means they are protesting learning a new difficult skill, and that’s ok. I promise they all stop crying eventually (and even when they cry during the lesson, they get out and ask you to go back in because they had fun!).

Myth #3: It takes too much time. What can a child learn in 10 minutes?

Survival swim is based on the principle of muscle memory. The same way we don’t have to re-learn how to ride a bike or drive a car each day is the same principle in place with swimming. The children are taught systematically, building new skills on top of previously-learned skills so that every time they get into a body of water, their muscles take over, and their body knows exactly what to do. This process is amazing to watch. But it takes time. Small increments and daily practice to build these skills are necessary for the muscles and body to learn the skills. When the body does the same thing over and over and over again, the process becomes automatic. The child does not need to think about what to do; their bodies take over. This is why these children are swimming within the first week.

The final 1-2 weeks of lessons (depending on age) systematically take the child through what to do if they fall into the water during any season. They begin with a full set of summer clothes (shorts, t-shirt, diaper if they still wear one) and progress each day up to swimming the first half of their lesson in full snow gear – I’m talking snowsuit, boots, hats, and mittens. The child needs to feel the weight of all of these clothes when in the water, as it dramatically changes how heavy they are. They have progressed to a point where they can continue to swim-float-swim and get out of a pool if they were to fall in. There is no better feeling as a parent – in my opinion – to know that even with a full snowsuit on that, my child could float and wait for help if they were to fall in the water during any season.

Myth #4: It teaches children to be afraid of the water.

I would argue that children should have a healthy dose of respect for the water. In my opinion, teaching a child that swimming is for “fun” first is just dangerous. Young children do not have any sense of safety and what their little bodies can handle. It is up to us, as the adults in their lives, to teach them that first, we learn to save ourselves and get out of a pool if we fall in. Then once we are safe in the water, it can be a great place to have fun when we have proper supervision. Survival swim lessons teach survival first. Then, once the initial six weeks are over, they learn that water and swimming can be fun!

Myth #5: It’s not fun.

On that note, swimming is fun! Playing in the water as a young child is my fondest memory. Once a child can swim and safely get themselves out of the pool, the fun begins. Toys, races, flippers, slides, obstacle courses, and (at my son’s age of nine) training formal swim strokes and techniques are all amazing ways to have fun in the water. We can go on vacation with a pool on the property and feel confident that our children can swim and dive and have fun with their pool noodles because they don’t need them as floatation devices but as another ingredient in their play. 

Water is so much fun, but only when children have the survival skills first.

In the United States, more children ages 1-4 die from drowning than any other cause except for birth defects. Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-14 after motor vehicle crashes. I look at swimming first not as a fun activity but as an essential life skill. Because of this, I was adamant about my children learning to swim at a young age. And once they know how to save themselves in the water, swimming can be really fun.

My children love swimming, and now that I know they are safe and supervised, I can feel confident letting them enjoy the water the same way I did when I was a kid.

Does/Did your child participate in survival swimming lessons? What was your experience like? What questions do you still have?

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Charity is originally from CT, but grew up in New Hampshire. She returned to CT in 2000 for college, and currently resides in Monroe with her husband (married in 2011) and three children (A son born in 2012 and identical twin daughters born in 2017). Charity works part time as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the CT Birth to Three system. She thinks it's the best of both worlds because she gets to work in a job she loves (and needs to pay off those hefty grad school loans!) and be home a few days a week with her children. Charity enjoys theatre, and brings her son often. This past year, she discovered her gifts as an intuitive medium. You can visit her personal website at: www.charityferrisintuitivemedium.mypixieset.com.

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