Our Technical Director and Head of Teaching, Ali Beckman and her team of Super Teachers have spent the last 2 years redeveloping our Baby & Pre-school programme and here she is to tell you exactly why what we do and the way we do it is truly groundbreaking and a first in our industry. Over to you Ali!
I’ve often been asked to define our unique approach to baby swimming and it’s actually easy; child-led. It’s what we’ve always done. Our babies and children have always been at the centre of everything we do but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it better.
All our teaching is consistent with research developments in infant physiology and infant psychology and with technical advances in swimming. This not only keeps us ahead of the game, it means we have to be prepared to change when new developments are brought into the mix. The Birthlight Charity pioneered baby-led/child-led swimming in the UK and we were thrilled to be able to work with them when developing the STA Level 3 Diploma in Aquatic Teaching – Baby and Pre-School. We then built on the work they had started to enable progression through the Puddle Ducks programme and after years of research and trials, we developed activities to align with our Puddle Ducks way of teaching, leading to beautiful surface swims, progressing to child-led rolling to breathe and then into beautiful stroke development in our Swim Academy programme; a true child-led swimming progression with amazing results.
Getting babies and children to be comfortable and confident under the surface of the water is a key part of this progressive swimming journey. For a few years now, we have worked closely with Birthlight and the STA on the best and safest way to submerge children so that they feel empowered and never forced. The answer is simple; the child decides. This was a wonderful moment, to have all the respected baby and child swimming bodies aligned with the same thinking.
So, how does all of this impact our lessons? What difference will you notice in the water?
Where do I start?! I have been personally teaching our new Baby & Pre-school programme now for 2 years and I’m not embarrassed to say the results have often brought me to tears (of joy!). I’d like to outline the technical principles of our improved programme and supplement this with testimonials from some of the customers who have been my very willing guinea pigs.
- Children love to mimic their parents; our little ones love to copy us. They initiate the activity when they are ready and it’s no surprise that this leads to independent swimming sooner than adult-led activities. We see babies as young as 8 weeks of age copy their parents by putting their mouths and faces in the water – the first step in swimming head down.
- Surface swims are lots of fun and they lead to independent swimming – our little ones glide through the water, gently supported by their parents. There is no pushing or pulling and the child decides whether they want to submerge themselves – which they often do!
- We have never forced our children under water – we have always used a signal, listened and looked for any negative reaction and stopped if necessary. We still use this very important method so you might ask yourself what has changed? Well, our new holistic approach includes creating more opportunities for elective submersions, throughout the entire lesson. Our new lesson plans are far more fluid and whilst submersions are no longer an official activity within the lesson plans, they are encouraged at every possible opportunity; here’s an example: We run an activity called aeroplanes or motor boats where the child’s arms are placed over their adult’s arm and the adult glides them through the water in a circular motion. We always used to request that the adult kept their child’s head above water but now we encourage them to put their chin/mouth/face in the water, if that is what they choose to do.
I could go on, but I will let one of the parents who has experienced the new approach with both of her children speak for the programme:
“Both my children started swimming with Puddle Ducks as new-borns. However, they have both been taught using different styles of swimming. With my second I have noticed a big difference in the way she has taken to the water. She has been given the choice to put her head/face in the water and she does very happily and she is so relaxed through the whole lesson. Since my eldest has been taught in this style his attitude in the water has completely changed. He never has his face out of the water, loves going under the water and enjoys his lessons whereas before he always seemed a bit unsure and would protest slightly, whereas I feel with the baby-led lesson he has really come on in his swimming.
I strongly believe that Daisy is more confident/willing in the water than Daniel was at this stage because of the new style of teaching.”
Hannah, Mum to Daniel (23 months) and Daisy (4 months)
How does a baby ‘choose’ to be submerged?
Good question. Previously, our teachers were trained to look for all the signals (positive and negative; e.g. tense bodies, crying, fists vs smiling and relaxed) at the point of submersion but our teachers are now trained to also look for pre-swim cues – the teacher spends the whole lesson observing each child and making judgements about the general mood of the child, whether they appear to be 'in the zone' that day, whether they seem relaxed. The teacher then gently guides the parent to help them understand these cues. The end result is that the baby is relaxed, never put in a position where they feel uncomfortable or shocked and chooses to place their face in the water as and when they are ready. The really exciting outcome from this new approach is that babies are putting their faces in the water, under their own steam, much sooner than they were previously.
Once our little ones can talk, communicate with us and tell us exactly what they want, we start to introduce surface-dives, but they are still entirely child-led.
The changes in our programme may seem subtle but they are revolutionary in terms of the speed at which our children are progressing.
Here’s another lovely testimonial from one of our Mum’s who loves the confidence that Puddle Ducks has given not just her children but her as well ♥
“Isla started swimming with Puddle Ducks at just 8 weeks old, following in the footsteps of her older brother, Oliver, who is now 4.
I personally am not confident in water so it was important to me that my children were. Oliver has always swam with Daddy due to me being so afraid of the water. Every week I sat and watched and loved to see how much they were enjoying this special time together... When Isla was born it was important to me that she started swimming too, but due to Daddy’s work commitments this wasn’t going to be possible unless I swam with her. I won’t lie, I was terrified and once the lesson started I also realised it wasn't the same programme of teaching Oliver had gone through, making me a little nervous of the unknown, however there was no need. I know you should never compare children but Isla seems to have excelled due to the change in teaching style . Isla screamed for the whole of her first lesson but we were never made to feel uncomfortable; our teacher simply adapted the activities to Isla’s needs. Over the coming weeks we managed to reduce the time Isla was crying and we could see how she was starting to enjoy her time in the pool, also making it easier for me to relax. At 15 weeks old Isla is starting to become a bit of a show off within our group and is now completing tasks before being asked and last week during our blowing bubbles exercise Isla decided to electively submerge herself! The progress Isla has made has been amazing and also the confidence I now have is thanks to the "simple but effective" activities within the Puddle Ducks lessons. Oliver has today completed his last "Dippers" lesson. We as a family are excited to see what September brings for Oliver in Swim Academy and Isla as she progresses through the Puddle Ducks classes. Thank you Puddle Ducks for the lasting memories and most importantly the life-saving skills you have taught Oliver and that Isla will learn as she gets older.”
Kayleigh, Mum to Oliver (4 years) and Isla (15 weeks)
A good example of embracing change, for the good of the children we teach, is our decision not to run underwater photoshoots any more. They had always sat uncomfortably with me, however, as I had control over how we did them and I had a team of submerging tutors who trained these teachers, I was prepared to work with our franchisees to deliver photoshoots to a number of our customers who really wanted this memento. I knew we were asking the right questions of our parents, we offered advice from the teacher about whether a particular child was ready and we didn’t offer them to a certain age range of child as we knew they were susceptible to taking a huge step backwards in their swimming journey if they were submerged in the way that the traditional underwater photoshoot requires them to be submerged. So, we did what we had to do, we stopped the photoshoots, despite the fact that they were profitable and despite the fact that some of our parents were disappointed that they wouldn’t get their own underwater photograph. Although when we explained our reasoning, any disappointment was replaced with relief and pride that they had chosen the only national swim school that put their principles ahead of their profits.
It's almost here!
We can’t wait to roll this out nationally from the 1st September; our 300+ teachers are spending the summer training and preparing.
We will continue to learn, continue to develop and continue to make sure our lessons are of the very highest standard, because our mission is simple: we want every child to love and respect the water and learn to swim beautifully.