Drowning in Self-Esteem: A Pool Story

Hi Readers —  With summer in full gear, let me request you all to teach your children to swim. Free-Range Kids believes in safety and resourcefulness and swimming lessons! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  My family has been spending most of our time at our local swim club.  I’m happy to say it is a Free-Range parent’s dream: five acres of land and multiple pools.  Kids running freely with their friends while parents can have conversations and enjoy the adult swims.

The swim club is still pretty old school but I’ve noticed some changes.  They took out the diving boards two years ago and replaced them with VERY COOL water slides.  Since the slides are in the deep end, kids need to pass the Band Test to ride them.  The Band Test was even made easier this year — just two laps (now it’s the width of the pool, not the length) and tread water for 90 seconds (used to be 3 minutes).  The test is offered every day at 2 pm.  You can take it as many times as you want until you pass.  But… many kids don’t want to take it.  They are too afraid of not passing, so they avoid taking the test and cannot swim in the deep end of the main pool.

Several parents have come up to me with “concerns” because they feel my kids (who all have bands) are excluding their kids when they swim in the deep end without all the kids.  Get your kid to take the Band Test, I tell them.  I cannot believe the conversations I’ve had with parents of older kids (9,10, 11) who think their precious child will be crushed if they fail a Band Test.  I even saw a mom arguing with a lifeguard because she felt her daughter should have passed (she grabbed the wall 10 seconds too soon) because the guard started her stopwatch late.  I don’t know about you, but I’d want to know if my child had the basic survival skills to pass this test. If they didn’t, I’d work with them until they did.

When did the fear of failure take over fear of drowning? – Wilma

Teach your kids to swim…even on land.

124 Responses

  1. Failure is an integral part of success. I remember being pretty disappointed when I failed my driving test at 19. Fortunately, my parents let me get a lot of practice failing, so I didn’t give up. I just took it again, and passed.

    Maybe some parents are putting too much emphasis on the accolades involved in achievement. I was thrilled when I passed my driving test because it let me drive, not because I could tell everyone I passed my test.

  2. Sounds like the kids need to take some swimming lessons. The parents are being irrational – no, your kids are not excluding them, they want to do the age appropriate activities. If the other kids want to join in, they need to prove that they can do the test. That is all.

    As a former life guard and swim instructor, I can tell you skills are important. No matter how many lifeguards there are, they cannot watch every kid, every second. That is why they have the test – that way they know they can scan the area, and that the kids will be able to keep themselves afloat for the most part.

    Personally, sending an unready kid into the deep end, and having them panic and need to be rescued, would be much more embarrassing and esteem sinking than not being able to play with their friends.

  3. But the other parents who swim and the lifeguards are supposed to babysit nonswimmers in the deep end. This seems to be the expectation at our local swimming hole – parent “molts” like a seal on the side with a book and feet in the water, big hat, drink while ignoring children lacking swimming skills going in over their heads. I would take my kids out and have them swim on my back (and their friends, too), and I several times noticed struggling kids and hauled them to the mobilizing lifeguards before they went fully under. Why people can’t play with and watch their kids until they show the SKILLS needed to do more, I don’t know!

  4. The pool at the fitness/lifestyle club my husband works at (and which we can avail ourselves of like actual members even though we can’t possibly afford it – ha!) has a similar thing — an awesome water slide into the deep end that the kids need to pass a band test to use. Last year my older son passed, but the younger one didn’t — by not much. But he didn’t. When they tell me — as kids will do, at their chest-puffing ages — “I’m a great swimmer!” I tell them, kindly, “well, honey, no, you’re not. Not yet.” I impress on them all the time how important it is to learn to swim well, for safety and for fun (like being able to use the slide!). None of us should fear our children experiencing failure! Failure gives kids valuable information: “I can’t do this — yet! — but I will work on it” Then they get the pride of REAL success after failure.

  5. “When did the fear of failure take over fear of drowning? – Wilma”

    Well, it’s not exactly that. The fear of failure is causing the parents to simply opt not to let the kids get beyond the kiddie pool stage. There’s no worry about drowning if they just keep the kids in the shallow end of everything all their lives, and blame the water competent kids for “not playing with them.”

  6. “Failure is always an option.” Adam Savage.

    I just wish more parents would agree with me. Did you know that there’s at least one teacher in Canada that has been suspended(fired?) for refusing to not fail kids? The school district has a No Zeros policy. I think that policy fails kids, cause it means they don’t have to do the work and still pass. Life isn’t like that and they need to learn it while still in a safe environment than in the real life where the fail could mean death.

  7. Your pool has a “deep end?!” I haven’t seen a public pool deeper than 3 or 4 feet in a very long time. And too bad, because I grew up swimming in a pool 9 feet deep. And I swam in the deep end before I could even tread water (its called holding your breath and swimming underwater – eventually you get to the edge of the pool). I did ultimately learn to swim above the water very well, but it certainly shapes my view on fear of drowning. Teach children to hold their breath and there really should be no way they could possibly drown. A pool is not the ocean, no one is ever more than six feet or so from the edge.

  8. Wow, great story!! I love parents who blame their own kids’ disappointments on other kids! They should be telling their kids, if you want to swim in the deep end with your friends, practice every day on your own until you can do it. Period. End of story. Let’s not make things more difficult or angst-ridden than they are. Kids need to take responsibility for improving themselves and achieving their own goals.

    Reminds me of when my husband coaches baseball and parents complain about their kid not playing/starting enough, or not playing their favorite position. The free-range response should be: “Get out there and practice some more on your own if you want to earn a starting spot.” Or, alternatively, “Not everyone is cut out to be a starting player. Get out there and have fun and enjoy playing the game.”

    STAY OUT OF IT PARENTS!! This is almost always the best solution to any problem.

  9. Like Monica Jones above, I was brought up to believe that failure is an important part of success. I failed the road exam part of my driving test after acing the written part. But that motivated me to try harder next time. The same thing happened when I took the test for my American Sign Language interpreting certification. I barely missed a passing score. Did my self-esteem plummet because I didn’t get my certification the first time I took the exam? No, I worked hard over the next three months listening to tapes and signing what was being said and watching videos of deaf people signing and voicing what they were signing in English. The next time the certification exam was offered, I passed it. In both cases I was excited about being able to drive and work as an interpreter.

    Back when I was a kid, you had to meet a certain standard to make a team. If you didn’t meet the standard, you weren’t on the team. Kids who really wanted to make a team spent their spare time working hard before the next round of tryouts. Others decided to move on and do something else. With the Band Test, the kids either have to pass it or find something else to do. The Band Test sounds like a common sense safety issue and not something that’s supposed to destroy a child’s self-esteem.

    What people now fail to realize is that self-esteem doesn’t come from an external reward like a trophy or certificate or always being told that you’re wonderful and special. It comes from mastering something and from within the person.

  10. A few years ago, my son got kicked out of the deep end of the pool (and away from the cool water slide). He was an okay swimmer, so I had let him go there. But after a while, he was tired and a lifeguard noticed him struggling. He had to take the swim test then and there and failed.

    He was devastated, embarrassed and wanted to go home and never come back. We talked until he was at least calm. Because I also had a toddler in tow and couldn’t focus on him, we left–and came right back that evening with Dad, who got him back and playing in the mid-part of the pool.

    So, when I suggested we go back to swim lessons, my son quickly agreed. A month later, he asked to go back to the original pool and first thing, walked up to a lifeguard and asked to take the swim test. He was determined to show them that he could do it.

    Forward to today (four years later) and he and his sister swim like fish and he is on the competitive springboard diving club team.

    Yes, he was embarrassed at failing. But how we, as parents, handled it was important. We agreed that it was disappointing, agreed that he needed to swim better, and gave him the tools to do so. I think learning how to overcome the obstacle was motivating to him and taught him an important life lesson.

  11. I manage a pool and am head lifeguard. I do not allow non swimmers to venture into the deep end without a parent with them. We also do not allow water wings! Those are the worst thing for young swimmers.

    Put your Kids in swim lessons!! Then let them venture deep. I have one swimmer who since the beginning of the summer he stayed in shallow practicing and practicing. (he does have some physical disabilities) but yesterday he tried the deep end and was swimming like a fish. He then wanted to try the boards, I helped him up the ladders as many time as he wanted.

  12. Sheesh. So many parents want their kid to feel good and be happy based on nothing rather than feel good and happy based on, you know, MASTERY of something. The thing is, kids know the difference. I’d be more concerned about my ten year old being relegated to the kiddie section of the pool and feeling bad about THAT than feeling bad about failing a test that he or she had multiple chances to retake. Bizarre. And now this mom is supposed to make her kids swim in the shallow end so no one feels left out? Sorry, but a ten year old should be able to pass what seems like a simple swimming test. My kids are seven and I think they could do it no problem. But if they didn’t, like she said, we would work with them until they could. THEN they would REALLY feel good about themselves.

  13. This is so silly. Most of the children in my country learn to swim from the age of 5 or 6, with a test at the end, which includes swimming with your clothes on! Without having past the test no deep end. Very simple indeed.
    My cousin – living on the waterside – learned to swim even earlier, she was 4, I was late at 7 passing the test.
    Some people may think this is quite young to start but we have to. Lots of water here, so it is a life necessity.

  14. Wow…just wow….my son is 3, and we’re slowly starting to get him swimming without us. Just teaching him to grab the side, what to do if he goes under, stuff like that. I’ve been trying to sign him up for local swim lessons, but I think because it’s summer, there’s absolutely nothing available at our local pool. He loves going on the waterslide with us though, and can’t go alone until he’s at least 6 (pool rules), but I still want him to know what to do.

  15. My kids thought they were really hot stuff in the water. “We knooowww how to swim, Moooom!” I knew they had a long way to go. So I told them to go take the deep water test at camp. They both got bumped right back down to ‘nonswimmer’. Hmm, said I. Do you want to try swimming lessons again and actually listen and pay attention? Amazingly enough, after a little humiliation, they finally got it through their overinflated heads that they still had a lot to learn. And the next summer, they passed.

  16. My 5 year old would kill for a band test to go on the big slide @ the gym she is like 1/2 inch to short. I don’t know if she could pass the test you described today but she is close it would be a great goal to work for. My 3.5 year old would go nuts trying to do it too and would probably hurt some of the 7 year olds feelings by doing better than them.

  17. I think the comment “When did the fear of failure take over fear of drowning? – Wilma”
    Is in reference to the mom (and other parents like her) who argued that her child should have passed the swim test even though she didn’t. A child who can’t truly pass the band test and probably some that barely pass it shouldn’t be in the deep end of the pool and parents who want to argue that they should be allowed anyway are certainly putting fear of failure and fear of the feeling of inferiority above the fear of drowning which is really foolish.

  18. So now we have children who are less afraid of death than of failing a test or being abducted. As a parent, I find that scarier than any Nancy Grace “news” report.

  19. Failure is not only survivable, it’s actually necessary for kids to gain competence (or adults too, lest we forget). Here’s a link to a multi-part blog entry that goes into it in a bit of detail: http://natureofnurturing.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/ten-things-our-grandparents-got-right-3-they-allowed-us-to-fail-4/

    The fear of failure is just the fear of testing our limits, and finding out who we are. We are TERRIFIED of self-knowledge in this empty culture sometimes!

  20. Our local pool has band tests as well. Red band means you must be within a certain amount of feet from the parent. My 5 year old took the swim test 3 times yesterday and failed each time. I’m proud of him every time he tries regardless of whether he fails or passes. I want to know he’s going to be safe above all else and I like that he seems to understand that it’s important to have good swimming skills. Failure is a natural part (or should be) of growing up. My son is learning that he doesn’t have to be embarrassed for trying. I definitely can’t wait ’til he passes that test though!

  21. I work in Scouting, and I actually was an Acquatics director for two years. The BSA has a very specific swim test. When I ran a lake waterfront, taking a swim check was just what you did. There were even areas for play if you didn’t pass the full test. We had plenty of kids that didn’t pass the first time (it’s a cold lake) but they kept trying and there were plenty of success stories! On that note, at camp, many come to camp with swim checks already done. As director, it was my duty to retest anyone I didn’t think could handle it–there’s a difference between a warm swimming pool and a cold lake.

    If you don’t pass the test, practice a bit more and try again!

  22. Suzanne — point taken. I read that comment as the conclusion of the whole letter, when it was probably just meant to refer to the last-described incident.

  23. One of the overprotective moms on Lenore’s show had a hard time when Lenore had the three boys have swimming lessons. “What if someonething happens?” Well, that was the point, if something happened there’d be a qualified instructor there to help them. Teaching them how to swim offers them a useful life skill that not only leads to hours of fun in pools, but also helps them stay safe near rivers, lakes and the sea.

    A kid that is 6-8 years old should have had swimming lessons and at least be able to stay afloat without panicking.

  24. What I see as a running theme through many of these issues is laziness on the parents’ part. They are too lazy to work with their kids and teach them, but they still want them to have the same perks as all the other kids.

  25. Ok… so those kids will never get driver’s licenses because they will be to scared to fail the test? They’re just going to take the bus the rest of their lives? Or maybe mom and dad will argue with the tester. (Where I live they would just bribe him. Sigh.) I can’t believe some parents, honestly, the rules and the tests are there TO PROTECT YOUR CHILD.

  26. All of my 3 kids are on the swim team now. The oldest two failed the band test the first time they took it years ago. The failed test just made them work harder. Treading water is an important survival skill that ANY person should know, not just children.

    I see drownings in the news almost daily among children and young adults. At the New Jersey shore, there have been over 4 drownings in the past few weekends (rip currents). I wonder how many of these kids knew how to tread water. They rarely mention the names of the kids that drowned. Maybe it’s because it happens so often?

    This is the new breed of parenting here: the Snowplow Parent. The one who removes any obstacles from her precious snowflake’s path, creating the path of least resistance. Instead of addressing why her kid CAN’T swim, she blames the kids that CAN and manipulates the situation in her child’s favor. I’d stay far away!

  27. I’m especially interested here in the larger issue of how kids who do age-appropriate activities can be perceived to be “excluding” their friends who cannot (or who are not allowed to) do the same. I’ve had a few experiences where one of my kids has invited friends to do something, and most could participate, but a small handful could not because their helicopter parents were worried. Even a few of the most level-headed people I talked to about these episodes thought it might not okay to leave out 1-2 kids whose parents wouldn’t let them participate, and that the activity should have been “dumbed down” to permit closer parental supervision (or whatever circumstances would have made the helicopters more comfortable). (Sorry to be obscure, I am trying not to be too specific so I don’t re-alienate the people I’m talking about!)

    I certainly know where I stand on this, but I wondered what others thought. I do feel for the 1-2 kids whose parents won’t let them out of their sight, as it’s not their fault, but I’m not inclined to change the very nature of the activities my kids organize just to soothe other parents’ irrational anxieties.

  28. When I was in elementary school, we had swimming lessons offered through the school, at the local recreation centre. It was just for ten weeks of the year, and they weren’t the greatest quality, but it was at least something, and although they weren’t free, I suspect they were heavily subsidized. Do the schools still do that? Also, we had similar swim tests at the summer camp where I went from age 10 to 16, known as “Go for Green.” Shortly after arriving, we’d all change into bathing suits, and have to swim from the swimming area to the boating area–about 75 metres. There was no time limit, and we could swim any stroke(s) we wanted, even dog paddle if push came to shove. If you passed with no problems, you got “green,” if you struggled, you got “yellow,” and if you couldn’t make it, you got “red.” Most people got green, so the only people who had to wear any kind of special wristband were people who got red or yellow, and sometimes the counsellors would wear a matching wristband, to boost their camper’s morale, because it was understood that of course all the counsellors would have gotten their green level, because they were counsellors.

    Anyway, the first summer I did the test, I was ten, and in the “Maroon” swimming level (remember when Red Cross levels were colours?) so it was a bit challenging then, but I got my green level that summer, and every subsequent summer as well. By the Senior and Leadership years (Seniors was age 13-14, and Leadership was 15-16, and I got my Bronze Medallion at 13, and my Bronze Cross at 14), it was more just a cute camp ritual than anything. In fact, during those years, I didn’t so much as worry about not passing the test, as being “indisposed” on the day of the test. In that case, I think my counsellors just let me take it later, because they knew I could do it anyway. But, we had a few people here and there who didn’t pass, and they were allowed to try again any time they wanted. When someone passed their Go for Green mid-session, they’d get to move a green peg down one space on a big thermometer in the dining hall during dinner, to signify that there was now one fewer person at camp who didn’t have their Go for Green, and we’d all cheer for them. I think that’s an example of true self-esteem.

  29. You have to learn to fail first, before you learn to succeed. Failing just makes it that much sweeter when you succeed. And really, the Band Test went from 3 min treading water, to 90 SECONDS. How much easier do parents want to make it for their kids. Geeeez. “My kids will be crushed”? I enjoy seeing my kid fail at things he tries for the first time, or the second. Sure it’s a little disheartening for him, but we always give him support (that’s support, NOT doing things for him or making things easier). And the best part, is that he’s learned to have determination, and strength of character. That when he finally does succeed, it’s like us winning the lottery. You can never have that satisfaction and pride for you child, when you don’t let them learn and experience on their own. Any parent that believes they are doing right by their child when they spoil and coddle them, is only doing their child disservice. And makes themselves look inadequate among the smarter and more secure parents. 😉

  30. The quote at the end is for real. I’m trying to get over my tendency toward nervousness and overprotectivness (which I why I visit here) and I was absolutely insistent that my son learned to swim, which is why he can swim at 2 years old. Drowning is a real danger, and knowing how to swim is a real solution. Plus, kids love to swim!

    Teaching a child to swim isn’t just a free-range parenting decision, it is a RESPONSIBLE parenting decision. If that same 10 year old falls into a lake or river, there may be no lifeguard to complain at.

  31. Lollipoplover mentioned people drowning in beach rip tides. Please everyone, remember (or learn) the basics: If you are in a rip tide, DO NOT FIGHT IT. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of it, then come in.

    Rips are typically narrow (30 to 50 feet wide), so getting out of them is easy. Also learn to spot them: Usually discolored water, with no wave action.

  32. My 4 yo nephew can pass that test and if kids 9,10, 11 can’t they need to take basic swim lessons. (I don’t let him take the test at my pool because he is to short for the slide. Next summer he will)

    Agree with Mike – people need to know how to swim to escape a strong current. I had a bit of a discussion with the life guard at my pool. My niece went on the slide, after passing the deep water test,. When she hit the water she swam diagonal to the the current caused by the slide. Once out of the current she swam to the ladder. The lifeguard wanted her to swim straight to the side, which meant struggling against the current.

    When they shut down the slide, I calmly pointed out that niece was doing the correct thing – especially if she had been in open water. (Our family spends a good deal of time both at the the beach, swimming in rivers, tubing, and white water rafting. So our kids are all raised with knowing how to handle open water). I also pointed out that niece actually got to the side faster than the other bigger kids. The lifeguard admitted she had fallen into the mind set of swim directly to side. She apologized to niece. When the slide was reopened later in the day – I noticed the life guards directing the kids to swim on the diagonal then to the side.

  33. I teach Gifted and Talented kids. A trap they fall into is that they won’t try something knew if they can’t do it perfect the first time. Even my 2nd graders struggled with this.

    I posted Neil Gaiman’s New Years message on my door. The kids, parents and staff loved it. In class I made a point of praising risk taking and mistakes more than right answers. Coach cracked up one day when one of my nonathletic kids went to kick a ball hard, missed, and fell on his rear end. The my kids (there was another homeroom in the class) clapped cheered for the boy saying A that was a glorious, amazing mistake – way to take a risk. Instead of bursting out crying, like he would have the year before A jumped up an got back in line. The next time he was up he made solid contact and kicked the ball across the gym.


  34. Both my kids swim competitively. Both are pretty good, but not “good enough”. If the meet is big engouh, there’s always someone faster than they are.

    Getting disqualified is a part of the competition; kids get DQd for all sorts of reasons, and as they age up the refs get stricter. Coming in second (or third, or seventeeth) is the norm.

    Yet I see all sorts of nonsense the parents do when their kid gets disqualified. They complain to the coach, the refs. They tell their kid that it’s not fair that they DQd. Rarely do they tell their kid: It happens, suck it up, work harder, and you’ll get there. It’s like you have to succeed on your first attempt.

    My son went to a target shooting school, expecting to do really well. He did well for 9 year olds, but fell about 120 points (out of 250) short of getting an award. He was so mad and disappointed he tore up all his targets. He then spent the next 3 weeks practicing form, form, form. The next time, only came up 40 points short. He’s still not there, but the road is the important thing. It doesn’t hurt that the instructors don’t listen to any excuses; you persevere, achieve your goal, or you work harder. There is no “try”. There is only “Do” or “Not do”.

  35. Swimming lessons aren’t always available or affordable. A lot of posters are saying everyone should have lessons and that’s just not always possible. At least not professional lessons.

    Of course, a parent could try to teach a child if they know how to swim themselves. We bought our house 10 years ago. It has a lovely inground pool. Not something we were looking for. Our two boys were 5 and 8 at the time, and the 8 year old had had lessons at the community pool when he was 5-7. Only pool members could get lessons (additional fee). We certainly weren’t going to get memberships to the community pool with a beautiful pool in our own yard. We taught the younger son (and his baby brother, born 2 years later) ourselves. The two younger boys can’t really do a crawl, but they can dive (and run across the yard and dive, LOL), tread water, swim under water and do a mean doggie paddle. The middle son passes the BSA test (pretty difficult!) and will be working on the Lifesaving merit badge this year. If someone, anyone works with them, and they practice enough, it can be done.

  36. That’s all well and good, but in this case, if you fail, you could die!

  37. P.S., If I remember correctly, I think the rules went something like this:

    Green: Free use of the entire swim area, including the deep end and jumping tower (feet first for everyone except MAYBE counsellors), and the boats (canoes, kayaks, and sailboats), during free time when lifeguards were on duty. Of course, everyone at camp had to wear lifejackets in the boats.

    Yellow: Had to be watched a bit more closely than green, but hardly anyone got yellow, so it’s hard to remember exactly–I think they might have needed flotation devices in the deep end.

    Red: Had to be watched one-on-one with a counsellor when swimming or boating (if a red-level person wanted to go kayaking, the counsellor would hang onto the end and swim along).

  38. @Lisa: Ask at your local rec center/swim club. Many have a sponsor or fund to help out with costs for kids who want to swim but can’t pay. I know; my daughter does an annual fundraiser for her swim club for exactly that reason. She’s raised enough to pay for 6 kids to swim for a year. (Shameless plug: if anyone wants to be a sponsor, contact me off-list.)

  39. I have my kids in swimming lessons right now. They go every summer, even my oldest who is pretty confident in her swimming skills. It’s worth it, but the end of the first session was a little frustrating because they told my oldest that she couldn’t graduate to the next level because she’s too young. The website doesn’t say anything about age ranges on the next level, so we found that quite frustrating. We talked, and she’s taking the time to just improve her skills more, even though she didn’t get up to the next level.

    I can’t imagine telling any of my kids to skip the deep end test just because they might fail. Failure is such a wonderful motivator.

  40. My very strong suspicion is that it’s the parents who are afraid of how they would be judged if their kids fail at something. Nowadays we hold parents (meaning mothers, for the most part) completely responsible for every aspect of how their kids “turn out” even though research has repeated shown that they have far less control than we think. This leads to perfectionism, which is extremely unhealthy (perfectionism is not at all the same as an orientation toward excellence; practically everything a perfectionist does is actually motivated by fear).

  41. More thoughts… maybe the other parents hate the fact the kids won’t play together. Which is sad. Back to my waterfront days… the BSA buddy system was in full force. If your buddy was a “beginnger” swimmer and you were a full swimmer, you were required to stay with your buddy in the beginner swimming area. Which a lot of kids didn’t like–usually the buddy wound up practicing and retaking the test for “swimmer” level.

    So, yes, it’s nice to be inclusive of others, but it sounds like these parents were stopping the kids from trying to do their best.

    I also recently read the book “Homesick and Happy” (which is very free-range and I whole-heartedly recommend).

    In this book, the author gave the following “can’ts” of parenting:

    “We cannot make our children happy.
    We cannot give our children high self-esteem. We cannot make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships.We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager, and coach.
    We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his or her own growth.
    It is increasingly apparent that we parents cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.
    We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.
    We cannot make our children independent.”

  42. We live in an area with a lot of public pools, but when my older children were younger, we lived in a place with a lot of swamps. And I didn’t really take them swimming, fast forward now, My son who is 9 refuses to go into the deep end alone, and when he is with me he almost drowns me holding on too tight, my daughter who is 7, swims like a fish, and has a blast, but I had to show her how to get out there and that you can float, and it’s okay, and the baby, loves water. Like some of the previous posters, the pools here do not allow floaties, or anything, so sometimes when I am there with the baby, it’s frustrating because I cannot let her go yet, but we still enjoy it, and the deepest part of one of the pools here is 15 feet, which is even too deep for me.

    Regardless, how is one to learn how to succeed without first failing?

  43. Every pool I’ve taken my children to has had some sort of swim test. When they took their first tests, i swam along nearby if they were nervous but did not help. If they failed we went back to the shallow end and practiced until they thought they could try again. After they passed, I would watch them dive or slide while I worked with their younger brother in the shallow end.

  44. My four children have not be taught to swim properly. I get them into the pool when I can to teach them how to float but as I’m on the disability pension, I can’t afford the cost of swim instruction. It’s not cheap. I was impressed at how quickly my son picked up on swimming.

    With fear of failing, I find it a barrier with my children because no matter how much we try to get them to push themselves to achieve, to face down the challenges of facing down their fears and doing it(such as climbing to the top of a climbing toy), the barrier holding them back is the school system. It’s as if they are knocking out their spirit to make them drones.

  45. @Yan Seiner- I hear you on the DQ parents. They are like a dog to a bone- I feel so bad for the parent volunteer Stroke and Turn Judges who get chewed out for a scissor kick.

    My son joins the swim team every year knowing it’s his weakest sport. He is actually a great athlete (soccer,baseball, wrestling) but one of the worst swimmers in his age group. Every year I ask if he wants to do it again (he’s in his 5th year- swam on the team since age 6) and he says he’s going to figure it out this year. Such an optimist, yet slow as mollasses.
    Most of the “great” swimmers who win the races swim all year round. He bikes to every practice and never complains. His younger sister has better times than him and I know it makes him try even harder. He says that they cheer just as much for first place as they do for last place. And you know what? He’s right!

  46. Asparagus, Here is what I think of this.

    If we take Janey to the pool, then yes, my kids should stay with Janey as that is their play friend for the day. They agreed that they wanted to play with Janey, and Janey is expecting them to play with them. This is polite.

    If we go to the pool and Janey is there with mom by chance at the same time, then well, Janey can continue to do what she was doing before we came. And maybe my kid will play with her some, but if my kid wants to do the deep end to challenge him/herself, that is fine by me. My kid is under no obligation to play with Janey because we did not arrange this to be “play date” ahead of time, we just happened to be there.

    If mom makes a deal over my kid not playing with Janey, then I may ask the mom if she wants my kid to come and do something at their house that they can do together, where they are more on equal terms. But I don’t expect to hold my kid back from doing what they want when we do a family outing when we only came with family.

  47. Quite aside from “Why don’t your kids take the swim test already?” I have to wonder what is wrong with these fifth and sixth graders that they can’t navigate their own friend issues. If you’re at the pool with your friend, and your friend insists on playing in the deep end where you can’t go, and this really bugs you – talk to your friend! Don’t make your mom do it, and definitely don’t make your mom talk to your friend’s mom. That’d’ve been SO humiliating to me as a child!

  48. @nobody- “in this case, if you fail, you could die”

    Seriously? That’s some worst-first thinking right there. From what I remember of swim tests, they’re the safest, most organized, and most well-supervised thing that kids do in the water. Lifeguards are actively watching the test-takers, and are expecting to help at least a couple out of the water during a relatively short period. If you don’t take the test and sneak into the deep end when you’re not ready, you could die, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll run into serious trouble during the test itself.

  49. Two summers ago, my youngest (then just turned 5) went to visit his grandparents in FL. Despite session after session of group swim lessons, he could not swim. He just made no real progress in these lessons. And as we live in Colorado, swimming is not really a lifestyle here. Public pools are few and far between. Outdoor swimming takes place in June and July only (and usually most of June is not really swimming friendly weather) … so we were generally not too worried over it. Our older children had mastered swimming later but eventually they did it.

    Until he got to Florida and all of his cousins, including some younger than he – could swim. Because in Florida, kids swim. All the time. People have pools in their yards, and memberships to pools, etc…

    His cousins teased him…

    He came home.

    Before he went to Florida again, we enrolled him in private swim lessons. He learned to swim. Now he can do the Butterfly! He was so proud of himself last year when he went back and held his own.

    And today my oldest son passed his driver’s test — on the first try! Way to go, kiddo! But on the drive there we discussed how he would handle it if he failed (sometimes he gets really obnoxious when he loses a wrestling match or otherwise fails something).

  50. Let me provide a slightly different opinion. While I agree with the sentiment of “failure is always an option” and “failure is a great motivator,” I feel like I need to add, “yeah, but FAILING STINKS.” It does. Failing is an awful feeling. It burns to the core. When is the last time you, as an adult, put yourself in a position where failure was a real possibility? When was the last time you failed?

    I remember failing the “deep end test” at the town pool when I was about 7 or 8. It was awful. I lay face down on the grass, burying my head under a towel, for hours (and got a wicked sunburn, to add insult to injury). I wound up passing the test later that week, but man, failing is a terrible feeling.

    Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t let your kids fail. Just that when they do fail, be ready for it. And maybe try and let yourself fail once in a while, too.

  51. I agree that there’s a “social etiquette” aspect to this too, and I think it’d be a good time to teach kids about choosing “compatible” activities to do with certain friends. Just like an adult wouldn’t ask their friend who’s afraid of water (or just not a good swimmer) to enroll in a deep-water aquafit class with them, or their unco-ordinated friend to take Zumba with them, maybe kids could think, “Okay, Janey can’t swim in the deep end, so if I’m going to hang out with her today, maybe we could go to the park instead.” It’s perfectly okay to have different friends for different things–during university, I had my music friends, painting friends, yoga friends, feminist group friends, and so on. Sometimes people belonged to more than one group, but most often not. A lot of kids have this idea that they have to have one or two “best friends, ” or a “core group” of friends who they do EVERYTHING with, and if they don’t have everything in common, then they’re not really friends. I think it’s good to nip this mindset in the bud before it realy has time to form, because it saves a lot of drama later on–I have to say that it was my saving grace in high school, because when my “core group” of music friends became obnoxious, I just spent more time with my student council friends, my theatre friends, and my “been-around-since-grade-nine” friends.

  52. Merrick, I used to teach swim lessons to kids at a preschool/summer camp for school aged kids. I told the parents of preschoolers that they should NOT expect them to be swimming safely on their own by the end of the summer. Swimming takes lots of strength and coordination, and the majority of kids are not going to be able to do it on their own until about age 5 or 6, coincidentally, about the same time that most kids have the muscle coordination to start writing well. (Also, this was a community of non-swimmers – I didn’t want them trusting their kids in places that they could not themselves go and get them.)

    Yes, kids around water will tend to do it sooner. I had a few who did, and I was one. But despite being around water and lots of swimming lessons when they were younger, even my own kids were not actually good/safe swimmers until about 7.

    Determination does play a big part. Wanting to be with the older kids or moving up a level. But that coordination tends to come when the brain is ready. I repeated Intermediate Red Cross swimming lessons about 5 times before I got the breast stroke and side stroke good enough to pass. But boy, I sure could hold my breath a long time to swim underwater, and I knew to turn on my back when tired.

    I don’t want to down play your son’s accomplishment – but he may just not have been developmentally ready that first summer, despite all the classes that he had as a younger child. That he was able to be determined to do it is a great thing!

  53. P.S., Is there any reason why the kids who don’t pass the deep end test can’t just wear lifejackets or PFD’s in the deep end/on the slides? A PFD doesn’t require any swimming ability–if you manage to roll face-down in a PFD, it’ll automaticaly flip you onto your back. Anyway, it seems like a decent compromise, because that way, the weaker swimmers wouldn’t be excluded from using the deep end with their friends, but at the same time, the “stigma” of having to wear a lifejacket or PFD in the pool might be enough of an incentive to get them to work on their swimming skills for the deep end test. Pretty much every public pool I’ve ever been to, except for the free one at the beach in Australia, has had a supply of lifejackets/PFD’s in infant to adult sizes.

  54. @Emily: life jackets are a hazard on a slide. If anything gets caught the kid could get hurt really badly. When you go in the water the life jacket comes up around your face; it’s very claustrophobic (try it sometime.) They also make it almost impossible to swim and move.

    Far better to teach kids how to swim in the first place.

    And there will always be better swimmers than you, so where do you stop? A kid who needs a life jacket can’t really play in the deep end; they’re just bobbing while the other kids are playing.

  55. Oh, okay–you’re right. I guess lifejackets or PFD’s wouldn’t work too well on a “body slide” (as in, one where you just slide on your butt, back, or stomach, as opposed to on a raft or tube). So, fair enough on that point, but they’d still enable kids to be in the deep end with their friends, even if they can’t do everything that they can do there–it’d still enable a group of kids of varying abilities who came to the pool together, to stay together, without having to stay in the shallow end, but it’d be just limiting enough for the kids who have to wear lifejackets to want to improve.

  56. If I were the life guard, I would fail any kid who’s parents spoke to me. At least once for fun but twice if they really cannot pass. Oh ya, and te them the second time that they failed cause their “mommy” had to talk to me. Too harsh or reality check. Can you imagine presenting in front of a client and asking for a do-over? Or better yet- asking your boss to ask your prospect why they weren’t going to buy???? Good god–get a grip parents!

  57. @Emily

    Most Public Pools where I live (California) do not allow PFD’s or Lifejackets unless they are a specific brand and specific rating, and I’ve never seen them approve one. I know a lot of other states with the same rules.

  58. @Ms. Herbert, I teach G&T kids too, would love to chat off-site sometime, as the more ideas the merrier. Your website looks great. Fear of failure is a big thing with my kids too, though I must say they have improved since dissecting sheep organs and then discussing ritual sacrifice, and now all I have to do to motivate them is to describe all the wonderful ways I could do away with them if they don’t at least try, LOL! (I must say, they are pretty tough kids, the kind that can take a joke 🙂 ).

  59. pentamom, said:

    “The fear of failure is causing the parents to simply opt not to let the kids get beyond the kiddie pool stage.”

    Great line!

    She also said: “There’s no worry about drowning if they just keep the kids in the shallow end of everything all their lives, and blame the water competent kids for “not playing with them.”

    Let’s shorten that and change it slightly:

    Some fearful parents just keep their kids in the shallow end of everything all their lives and then make excuses for their failings.

    I just wanted to put a bit more focus on your post. Thanks!

  60. Back to the topic at hand, I haven’t seen these kinds of bands. But a controlled situation like a pool seems a reasonable sort of a place for kids to test their limits waterwise. A couple of times mine and their friends have gotten into water a little deep for them, and they have learned pretty swiftly to dogpaddle, float on their backs etc….and have from then on have been motivated to practice until they can handle that depth. There’s not a lot worse than kids striking deep water for the first time in something like a river or the sea, which are far less forgiving environments. Of course, our local pools aren’t that big, not more than Olympic size, so maybe you are all talking about huge ones that a kid couldn’t move to the side of unaided.

    So, what I mean is, why bother with bands at all? Instead, kids could be to all get in at the shallow end and just make their way to the deep end. If they can do it, they’ll stay and play – if they can’t, they won’t.

  61. @Kimberley–I’ve only ever been to one public pool that didn’t have its own stash of lifejackets/PFD’s, and that was the free pool by the beach in Wollongong, Australia. It consisted of two old-school 50-foot cement pools (one for swimming laps, and one slightly shallower one with a ramp, for general water play) with saltwater instead of chlorine, and no heating system whatsoever. There was also a shaded baby pool, which was constructed the same way as the two main pools. Anyway, what I’m driving at is, this was very much a low-budget, city-run pool complex, where nothing was provided, but that was okay, because it was free. Everywhere else I’ve been had lifejackets, either for teaching water safety during swimming lessons (I remember doing forward rolls into the water with a PFD on, or using them for simulated rescues), for general use during free swims, or both.

  62. We stopped going to the public pool in CA because they wouldn’t allow anything in the pool except kids. No going under for a penny, diving toy or even a hair band. We got in trouble one cold day when the friends and I had six kids, all our own, in the pool and were letting them dive for a hair band.

    No way they would allow a life jacket. Not that I would want my kids using one in a pool. They have their place – on boats. Last weekend a 13 year old drowned when his boat sank. The other 5 on the boat made it to shore, he didn’t. I suspect that he got knocked out, and without a life jacket, if you get knocked out, you don’t stand a chance. The law here states that you have to have the floatation on board, not that you have to have it strapped on. (Granted, there are times, when swimming or if you are water skiing that you need none or need different style.)

  63. In October 2010 the New York Times ran a long article about college. The Times asked for feedback from college students for their views about attending college, what they would change, and what they thought was good. One of the letters that struck me was one written by a freshman at Cornell. The writer complained that weed-out classes foster “unhealthy competition” and that college should be made easier and gentler. I ended up writing a blog post about the second paragraph of that particular letter.
    This is what happens to kids who are always told that they are special, or have their parents smooth the way for them, grow up.

    Apologies for drifting off the topic of swimming, but this is what the whole self-esteem movement leads to.

  64. Oops, I hit the submit button too soon. The last part of the last sentence (after the second comma) should read, “When they grow up.”

  65. totally agree… Failure to swim > Failure to pass….

  66. @ Kimberly,

    “and the deepest part of one of the pools here is 15 feet, which is even too deep for me.”

    When feet no longer touch the ground underwater, how great the depth is mostly no longer relevant.

    There are three relaxation techniques, I learned in 5th grade, used for swimming in the deep:

    (1) Treading water (with an emphasis on maintaining movements as relaxed and languid as possible);

    (2) Swimming & floating on one’s back;

    (3) and drown-proofing — a very **languid and relaxed** form of breaststroke which includes a partial submersion of the face through part of its cycle.

    Master these three relaxation techniques in the deep, and you can swim anywhere whether it be 8 feet or 20 feet (2.6 metres or almost 7 metres) or even 100’s of feet (lotsa, lotsa metres).

    The techniques listed were presented to me as to what I should do if I was bone-tired in the deep water… of a lake for example. In Canada we have a lot of those, and Canadians frequently summer at various lake cottages.

    Knowing how to relax in the deep is about two-thirds of any person’s swimming skill. The rest, (proper kicking of legs, breath-control, and pacing) take up the rest. The various swim-strokes are just commentary and variation of the theme.

    I hope that works for you.

    The Highwayman.

  67. I don’t know if this is the sort of reply that’s totally along the lines of what this post is addressing, but in our case, I like to swim & take our kids swimming almost anywhere but a public pool, & the existence of all of these rules & oversight is the very reason why. We instead swim in the lakes or in hotel pools (or the like) where, typically, there is no oversight at all, it’s totally YOUR call how you handle your kids & yourselves in the pool, and that’s EXACTLY how I like it. Both of us can swim pretty well, me especially, which I do think is important–if you’re going to take your kids into a pool or lake etc other than just a “splash” pool, you the adults ought to be able to swim.

    And we can, and we thus just want to be left alone to handle our business as we see fit.

    And yes, life jackets (or PFDs) is one of those issues as well. We have used those on our 3 & 5 year olds and watched while they have navigated sometimes 100 yards across a natural swimming hole as we watched. They have done just fine & dandy, and yet if we did the same thing at a public pool, they’d have a fit. I don’t need someone telling me how to manage my kids, thank you very much.

    I do realize that drowning is a REAL danger, not a PERCEIVED one (or one that’s been exaggerated in terms of how often it actually happens), but I tend to like to have us 4 swim as we so darn well please, without someone nagging us telling us how to do it. In public city pools, and in some private pools as well (summer camp types of places etc), they really get on my nerves sometimes telling us what we can & can’t do. I’m not saying they should just totally let everything go of course, but I do tend to think that they go too far with it sometimes.
    I like swimming in the deep end, for instance, but typically the deep end is for diving only, & the minute you jump off, they want you to proceed out. They ought to mark off some of the 9-12 ft areas as being swim-friendly, not just for diving.

    I don’t even like it when lakes have buoys fencing you in, restricting how far out you can venture–I want to swim across the entire thing personally, boats & jetskiers be damned. With some lakes, rather than giving swimmers only a relatively small roped-off area & letting the boaters etc have the entire rest of the lake, they would mark off HUGE sections where neither boats nor jet skis were allowed, which I strongly supported. In fact, some lakes banned motorized boats & jet skis outright, which I REALLY liked.

    I will say that I do agree somewhat with those who say PFDs aren’t a total substitute for actually knowing HOW to swim. We have our own private above-ground pool, and it’s actually over their heads, and we have them in short spurts navigate that water without any PFDs, working them up towards being able to actually SWIM un-aided by PFDs. I also intend to have actual lessons given to them as well very soon.


  68. The emphasis on self-esteem does seem to be spiraling out of control; it can be seen everywhere from swimming pools, to education, to the workplace. Grades are even being eliminated from some courses at medical schools because they foster an “unhealthy” degree of competition.

    Learning how to bounce back from failure is a survival skill which builds confidence. Failure is scary, but scarier is raising a generation that doesn’t know what to do when things aren’t handed to them in gift wrap.

    On this topic, see our satire post: 128 Valedictorians Graduate from North Dakota Medical School.

  69. Our local pool has no problem with lifejackets or any non-inflatable PFDs. Water wings and other inflatable devices are not acceptable but lifejackets are provided for anyone who wants them.

    That said, lifejackets would be really dangerous on slides. Further there is nothing wrong with having things that you need to work your way up to – that aren’t just a given. I grew up on a lake. You had pass a swim test to go to the second dock. Not only was it a sense of accomplishment to pass the test, but there was a sense of being a “grown up” once you had passed the test and got to go.

  70. What a shame. And what a contrast. The other day my 13-year-old nephew was driving a power boat in the river. He’s a good driver, but is still learning to navigate the hazards, and hit a rock, breaking a large piece off the propeller. He was, of course, crushed — but was quickly reassured that everyone does something like that while learning: you repair the propeller, get back “on the horse,” and are a better driver for the experience.

    Our kids need more opportunities to experience failure, not fewer. They need to fail when the consequences are minor (failing a swim test) rather than fatal (drowning). Because, eventually, children will grow up, and will be making their own decisions; we need to let them have the experiences that will lead to wise behavior and informed actions.

    This sure makes me miss the days when my daughter was three years old and happily throwing herself off the three-meter board at our public pool. She had the blessing of the life guards because she had more than proven her ability to handle herself in the deep end. Today the pool has no diving board at all, for anyone, of any age. 😦

  71. I started and then didnt post about swimming and floatation devices (a hot topic eith me)….

    I guess the real question is – does good self esteem come from real accomplishments, or from not ever failing? And what about competency?

  72. By the age of nine, a kid should be able to swim and tread water easily.
    This is the link to the highest level of children’s swimming lessons for the Royal Lifesaving association in Australia.They provide lessons for children from 3 months to 14 years of age.
    A child who has earned the highest level of achievement must pass this test:
    To achieve this award you must be able to:

    1. Demonstrate an entry technique selected by the examiner.

    2. Demonstrate an efficient eggbeater kick without use of arms.

    3. Swim 300 metres continuously using correct techniques:
    a. 100 metres freestyle
    b. 50 metres backstroke
    c. 50 metres breaststroke
    d. 50 metres sidestroke and
    e. 50 metres survival backstroke.

    4. Dressed in swimwear, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, jumper, shoes and socks, perform the following continuous sequence:
    a. Dive and swim a distance underwater to simulate an escape from a sinking boat surrounded by oil
    b. Swim a further 40 metres freestyle as if escaping from a dangerous situation
    c. Remove shoes while treading water and then swim slowly 50 metres breaststroke
    d. Float, survival scull or tread water for 5 minutes and wave one arm occasionally as if signalling for help; reassure any nearby candidates by talking to them
    e. Swim slowly for 200 metres using survival strokes, changing strokes every 50 metres
    f. Remove clothing in deep water.

    5. Fit a PFD correctly while treading water, swim 100 metres using survival strokes, demonstrate HELP technique and climb out of the water whilst wearing the PFD.

    6. Perform a throw rescue using a weighted rope over a distance of 10 metres within a time limit of 1 minute.

    7. Wade to a partner and pull them to safety using a towel or item of clothing as an aid.

    8. Answer questions on water safety and personal survival techniques indicating a thorough knowledge of basic concepts.

    Swim butterfly for 25 metres using an efficient stroke and correct breathing technique.


    #19 Safe Boating: Always wear a lifejacket when boating and be well prepared before heading out.

    #20 Be Cool: Be cool but not a fool around water. Accidents happen when people ignore rules.

  73. PS
    I can’t even do all that stuff. 😦

  74. I was going to ask before, is there a cut-off age, at which point you don’t need to take a swim test to use the deep end and the slides? It doesn’t happen often, but some kids swim better than some adults–for example, I’ve been a better swimmer than my dad since I was probably eleven or so, and definitely by the time I was twelve. Now, of course, my dad knows he’s not good at swimming, and this doesn’t damage his self-esteem, because he’s very good at golf (which I have no interest in, or aptitude for), and he’s a lawyer, but he’s an adult, so that’s different. If the cut-off age for the swim test is, say, high school age, then that could be a problem, because a lot of teenagers, especially boys, have overinflated egos, and think they’re invincible, and may overestimate their swimming ability and put themselves in danger in the deep end of the pool.

  75. gap.runner, you do know that Cornell has one of the highest suicide rates of students, right? I suspect that the student addressed the issue that way because about once a year or more a student will jump off the bridge at the gorge. This has been going on for years, if not decades.

  76. For the people who had to try out for Little League and other kids’ sports activities in their youth, what do you think about the two-tiered model that a lot of places have now? As in, there’s a recreational or house league that anyone can play in, and then there’s a more elite “rep league” that kids have to try out for, and requires a certain skill level. Also, in the past ten years, my city has started offering a non-contact hockey league for kids of all ages, so they can choose whether they want to play hockey with body-checking, or without. That’s not necessarily a “self-esteem” issue either, because with the body-checking age set at twelve, some boys are practically man-sized by then, while others haven’t yet hit their growth spurts, so it can be a safety issue–in fact, that’s part of the reason why my brother quit hockey after the final year of non-contact, because he fell into the latter category, and there was no non-contact league at the time. Apparently, a lot of kids do the same. So, what do people think about the idea of having different options for kids, so there’s the “play for fun and to improve your skills” option, and then there’s the “competitive” option? Also, the non-contact hockey league here has house-league, A, AA, and AAA levels, so it’s not a “dumbed-down” option, it’s just a slightly different game of hockey, that requires entirely on skating, passing, stick-handling, and shooting skills, to make up for the absence of physical contact.

  77. I kept waiting for the punch line…

    The idea that parents would approach another mother whose children had passed and accuse the kids of making her kids feel left out is just shocking.

  78. I think I’d just answer “tell your kids to practice up for the test. My kids would love your kids to join them!”

    As if that mom would keep her own kids from the water slide once they are qualified to use it? Oh, sure.

    Where my kids swim, there is a 48″ height minimum for the water slide. Presumably because of the depth of the water – that way they don’t need to test to see if the kids can swim. My kids can swim, but they aren’t big enough; my eldest will probably be 7 or 8 before she’s tall enough. Her younger sister will be tall enough sooner, and then it will seem mean for one to use it (much) when the other can’t. I’d rather have a swim test than a height test.

  79. @ Emily – I’m sure there is a cut off age for the swim test but we are talking about a very simple swim test. My 6 year old could probably pass that (depending on how pretty they want the swim) and she is not some fabulous swimmer. A high schooler who can’t tread water for 90 seconds and do 2 laps the narrow way would be a rarity and is highly unlikely to be a member of a family who joins a SWIM CLUB.

    As for the different level of sports, I’m all for it. Some kids enjoy playing but are not great players. Some kids enjoy playing but not the competition. I enjoy playing tennis but don’t want to play matches or join a tennis team. I can do that since I just need one other person to play, but sadly the days of pickup games in the park are over so it would be impossible for a kid who just wants to play ball to find 17 others who do too. As long as parents are not forcing their kids to stay on the non-competitive league so that they don’t have their little egos bruised if they don’t make the competitive team, I don’t see a problem.

  80. SKL – Why exactly is it mean to let a kid who has met the height requirement go on the slide because it hurt’s the feelings of those who are short but the idea of holding a child off the slides who qualifies for the deep end to avoid hurting someone’s feelings scoffed at? You either qualify or you don’t. Refusing to allow any child who qualifies – regardless of the qualifications – in order to avoid hurting the others’ feelings seems fairly equal to me. (Personally, I scoff at both so I am not supporting the idiot parents who want the writer’s kid to stay off the slide).

  81. My closest friend experienced the death of her youngest child, a toddler, through drowning. The child drowned in a very shallow body of water, no swimming would have avoided the true and utter disaster.
    She made d**n sure the rest of the children knew how to swim and know all proper life-saving techniques. Her now youngest child was enrolled in the local swimming-pools swimming lessons when it met its age criteria.
    It’s really not just a matter of swimming and playing. it’s knowing how you react if you get into trouble. One of the last tests the children do before graduating is to plunge into the deep side of the pool while fully clothed to know exactly what to do. By then they can swim 1000 metres without issues. While going along they get a token for their accomplishments. Practice is what provides you the experience IN CASE something happens. In case does not imply that something will but if it does, the child comes with the best preparation. Experience.

    Now, THIS is NOT an attempt for parents to see drowning everywhere. The family has a pool and although later circumstances has my friend avoiding open water, she and her husband has in every way encouraged the children to swim and invariably have fun.

    I think its great that the swimmingpool has such a policy, and I’d encourage the parent here not to yield to other parents that say that her children swimming leaves other children feeling left behind. The test is there every day, free of charge. You practice until you get it. When you do, then you’ll have the fun. Delayed gratification if nothing else.

  82. Should be added that all swimming lessons are overseen by life-guards.

  83. @SKL–I agree that a swim test (or basic swimming ability requirement) makes more sense than a minimum height requirement for the water slide. I forgot to mention that my dad, who can barely swim, is 6’4″. He’d probably avoid the water slide in a situation like that because he knows he can’t really swim, but again, adults sometimes have more sense than kids.

  84. Oh, I forgot to mention, at most of the public swimming pools I visited in my youth, there was a rule that all toys had to stay in the shallow end. Lifejackets didn’t count as “toys,” and were therefore permitted throughout the pool, but all balls, mats, tubes, pool noodles, floating basketball nets/water polo goals, and those huge plastic bowls called “womblers” were strictly forbidden in the deep end, and redirected if they drifted in there accidentally. Flutterboards and aquafit belts were allowed in the deep end, but only during length swim or aquafit classes, which weren’t intended for kids anyway. This was purportedly done in the interest of keeping diving boards, slides, and Tarzan ropes unobstructed, but it had the side effect of giving the shallow end a point in its favour, so kids would want to play there sometimes, even if they could swim well enough for the deep end.

  85. Donna, first, I never said anything about forbidding. It would be mean to eat a huge ice cream in front of a hungry child who could not afford an ice cream. That’s just basic consideration.

    I’m talking about my two daughters who are almost the same age. When we go to the pool, there are usually few other kids there, usually none whom my kids know. My kids normally play with each other most of the time that they are there. If my youngest (the taller) decides to abandon her sister the minute she’s tall enough for the waterslide, then yeah, that would be mean, because the short kid can’t do anything about it. So I will discourage my youngest from being inconsiderate. I don’t mind her going down the slide a few times but then she needs to be considerate of her sister.

    I think that’s very different from the situation that Lenore posted, because in that case, it sounds like kids of any size can work to qualify for the water slide. Improving one’s swimming skills is in the child’s power; growing several inches is not.

  86. Emily, I think having a play league and a competition league is a great idea. It means those kids who want to play but aren’t athletically gifted still can play even if they can’t find kids on their block to play informally.

  87. Re the “non competitive” sports league – I have my kids signed up for “recreational” stuff only at this point. Even though one of them probably could compete, I have no desire to push it. If she asks to compete at some point, I’ll consider it. Right now, because of the climate we live in, they are signed up so they will have indoor physical activity during the school year, and for no other reason.

    The other day I was at a park where little league was playing some games. Some kid apparently made a mistake (we’re talking maybe 9 years old) and the dads were so pissed, one of them was cursing. Lighten up, people! Your retirement doesn’t depend on this game! I have no appetite for that kind of environment for myself or my kids.

  88. Yes, I like the competitive vs. non-competitive leagues. I come from a long line of non-athletes — well, actually, my kids are great runners but absolutely stink at coordination-oriented and team-based sports. (I was never good at anything so I probably wouldn’t have done either as a kid.) With such options, they can have fun, and the kids who are good at it can have a different kind of fun. That’s far better than the previous trend of making everything non-competitive so the kids who were good at things could take no joy in their abilities, and the kids who weren’t good at it still got the fisheye from the ones who secretly kept score and still wanted to “win.”

  89. I think there’s both going on. On the one hand, there’s a push towards the “everyone’s a winner” mentality (Exhibit One: A huge, spinning rack of “award ribbons” at No Frills, that say things like “I Tried My Best,” or “I Know My ABC’s,” or “I Brushed my Teeth.” Yes, really). However, on the other hand, I found that, when I was (often unwillingly) dragged along to my brother’s various house-league athletic events, the soccer and hockey parents would nag and pester their kids until it was really no fun for anyone involved–players or spectators. They’d say ridiculous things, like “Get in the GAAAAAAME, Shawn!!!!”; or “Go after him, he’ll give it to you!!!” The parents also liked to brag about their material wealth, in not-so-subtle ways; for example, one other soccer mom who told my mom that her son had “left his cleats in the pool house,” and had to wear his running shoes to that day’s game. She said this knowing full well that my brother didn’t own soccer cleats, and that we had neither a pool, nor a pool house. It wasn’t for lack of money either, it’s just that my parents didn’t see the need to buy soccer cleats for a seven-year-old kid who’d wear them for one summer and then outgrow them, and they also didn’t see the point of getting an outdoor pool in Canada, where it’d be completely useless for at least nine months of the year; not to mention the fact that we also lived three blocks away from the beach. But anyway, my brother gave up soccer after that one summer, and I don’t think it’s because he didn’t like soccer itself, because he’d still play informal games of soccer on the playground at recess and whatnot–it was the culture of hyper-competition within a league where the focus was supposed to be on fun and skill building.

  90. @Crazy Cat Lady, I went to a university that also had a high suicide rate. At least once a year a student jumped off one of the taller buildings on campus. It was usually a pre-med or engineering student and we would hear through the (not necessarily accurate) grapevine that it was the first time in the dead student’s life that he got a C in a class. Most of the suicides were male. But back in the days when I was in college, suicides were known but not necessarily publicized. There were also no formal suicide prevention programs in place like there are now.

    I like the idea of a two-tiered sports league. In Germany the standards for staying on the team, at least for football (soccer) and skiing, get higher as the kids get older. There is a high washout rate. Most sports clubs have the goal of grooming their best players to make the national team or to make a pro team. For example, about half of the skiers on the German national team come from the two ski clubs in my city. While the football clubs only have high-level competitive teams, the ski clubs have both competitive and recreational levels. My son skied with a recreational-level group with the local ski club for 3 years and enjoyed it. The ski club even had one or two races where the recreational skiers could participate. My son got beaten handily by the kids in the racing groups, but he was thrilled that he didn’t place last. Last season he decided that he would rather ski with his friends than with the ski club.

    In Germany the kids play a lot of pickup games of football at either the local park or in someone’s yard. They form teams and make the rules based on the number of kids. Even though football normally has 11 players on a side, the kids find a way to play a game with only three.

  91. Two tiered sports…I think we do this. We are in a family and volunteer run group called Family Friendly Soccer. It meets once a week, on Saturday, all ages at the same park which is divided into different fields. Practice is the first half, scrimmage the 2nd.

    My oldest is not very competitive, but she will work for the team, and somewhat enjoys it but has no ambition to do more. My second is not athletic, but he enjoys playing with other kids. He would not make any team with try outs. My youngest is competitive and talented. At some point he may want to go on to a higher level. But, he is very young still, and I don’t see the point in a 7 year old training like an Olympic athlete, like the competitive leagues do.

    I like this as it gives the kids a chance to learn some skills that I can’t teach, and still have lots of fun. We don’t live in town, so pick up games are a rare thing for us, and this takes the place of them.

  92. @highwayman – Great Advice! I swam in High-school Varsity, what I meant by too deep for me is that my ears start to hurt around then and I dislike being that deep now, however I phrased that poorly!

    When I was younger I used to swim shore to shore at one of my favorite lakes, wish I was in the condition to do that now.

    Regardless that is what we’re trying to teach my children, just relax in the water, figure out how to float,

  93. @James: I’m a college professor. At least once a week I make a major error in front of a live audience. I make stupid math errors when it’s 8:30 am. I forget to write down what a variable is in my notes. I don’t know the answer for a student’s question, or I give the wrong answer and have to take it back later. I fail all. the. time. I also sing in church choir. Sometimes I come in too early, and my voice is the lone off note in front of a hundred people. Or I lose my voice mid-solo. Or I space out and forget to cue the pianist. I have multiple opportunities to make a complete fool of myself every week. This doesn’t cause me to curl up in a ball with embarrassment. It’s an opportunity to blush, then say, oh well, then continue on. I tell my kids and my students this constantly: failure and mistakes are not the end of the world, everyone makes them. They’re called learning opportunties.

  94. I usually tell my students the following quote: “Thomas Edison failed 483 times at inventing the light bulb. The 484th time he achieved success.” (the numbers may be slightly incorrect) We try to celebrate our failures because from our failures we learn how to succeed. When my son went to take his first swim test (at age 6) he was worried about failing. I told him if he did fail that we would ask the lifeguard what he needed to do so he could pass next time. I called it getting the secret of success. He love the idea and it gave him some extra confidence and he passed. My daughter was 4 at the time and decided to swim along with him (didn’t pass) so now instead of taking the test every time we’re swimming, she swims along with the kids doing their test so she can measure how close she is to passing. She loves pretending to do the swim test and is learning what she needs to do in order to succeed.

    As for water slides, it was explained to me that some slides have a height regulation because it actually needs a particular weight so you don’t get thrown around (and injured). It’s the same with some roller coasters. Instead of having a scale (and the embarrassment of being weighed in public), they use height and weight percentiles and use the height where 95% of the population should be at the required weight. At our pool, during swimming lessons, children under the height can go on but they must be either at level 4 or are close to the height. They then have swim instructors near the bottom of the slide, ready to catch those who need it. There is also the usual guards at the top and one in a chair near the slide to watch. During public swim, you must pass the swim test or be taller than 48 inches. Great incentive to get my little one to eat their veggies and practice for that swim test!

  95. I’m a big fan of splitting and having rec and competitive leagues right now. After four years in another sport, my 11 year old decided he wants to try baseball. I was very worried about this, because so many kids at his age have been playing competitively for years. I’m not worried about him failing (I know he’s going to since he’s never played before.) I worried that he had missed his opportunity to learn the sport — how would he learn? How would he get a chance to play and practice?

    Turns out our local league had competitive and rec options and the director says he will be just fine in rec and welcomes him wholeheartedly. He starts in September — and we’ll see how it goes!

  96. Yep,,, he didn’t endanger anyone by leaving his post, nothing ACTUALLY happened other than the fact that he attempted to rescue another human was drowning. Fear of liability is what got him fired. Imagine it being in his “employement manual” that he was NOT to save anyone outside of his appointed zone. Suspect that’s not in there… Post hoc fear. We spend our lives dancing for lawyers now.

  97. @DJ: Wish I lived in your town. Once the kids get past age 9 or 10 in our town, there are no options for kids who want to dabble in sports. You have either drunk the kool-aid and are willing to devote yourself body and soul to the sport 4-5 days a week, or you are out of luck. My kids have dabbled in sports, but never wanted to stick with any one sport long enough to really get good at it. Martial arts has been our salvation. You can start that any time, and go anywhere from once or twice a week to five times a week, depending on your interest level. My kids occasionally say they want to try sports again, but I know that there is no way they are going to want to practice twice a week and have two games a week that go on for hours. Plus, a lot of the games are on Sunday mornings, and I’m sorry, we are not skipping church for baseball or soccer. Not happening. Sports is not actually a religion, despite some people’s attitudes. I’m ok with my kids not doing sports (I pretty much could do without sports myself), but I do wish there were more casual outlets for their energy.

  98. Does everything have to be organized to be an outlet for energy? Why can’t they go out and run? That’s a great outlet.
    Climb rocks? Hike? Just play catch between two people… Why does every kids activity have to be some organized event? Isn’t that the whole idea behind free range? To be or become independent? Do something that does not involve parents 24/7?

  99. “That’s all well and good, but in this case, if you fail, you could die!”

    I grew up on an island. Everyone I knew in my youth owned a boat. I took my first boat ride at 3 months old. Most of my summers were spent on a boat or on the docks near boats. I started racing sailboats at 10. In my middle school one of the few required classes was shop, not because the administration thought we needed to know how to make bird houses, but because at age 13 they expected we would all be driving power boats on a fairly regular basis and needed to take the state boating safety test. Every child I knew had swimming lessons starting at three or earlier, not so they could get into the deep end, but because it was the only safe option for a boating culture.

    My husband, meanwhile, never had much in the way of structured swimming lessons. He can dog paddle, but I wouldn’t trust him to be able to do much else. A few years back we ended up doing something mildly stupid that ended up with us having to repel into very cold water where we could not see the bottom. In what was probably the most terrible decision my husband ever had to make in his life, he agreed with me that he would go first, because if it was too deep for him to stand, he knew he could not tread water long enough to help me to get down. I told him to check the depth and, if he couldn’t touch, to make for the other side of the water obstacle as quickly as possible. I’d righted enough sailboats in my time to know I could tread the water, retrieve the rope, coil it, and swim for the shore (the repelling without belay I wasn’t too sure of). Luckily, it was just shallow enough for him to touch on tip-toe and we were able to get out of that mess together.

    If you “fail” in a swimming lesson, there are professionals there to help you. You can fail and try again, and eventually succeed. It’s 100 times better then failing later on when no one’s around to hear you scream.

  100. Padrooga, some people like a chance to be taught skills that are hard to pick up when playing on your own. Having a rec league with a coach can accomplish that.

    Others find that there are few children who want to play the games they want to play in their neighborhood. Having a bigger pool of kids in an organized setting can help with this.

    Just because it’s good for kids to have unorganized play it does not follow that it’s bad to have organized play!

  101. LRH — their place, their rules. You don’t go into any establishment, whether private or commercial, and expect to be able to call all the shots. You don’t go to someone’s house and let the kids go take a nap on the host’s bed without permission, and you don’t go to a restaurant and let the kids take over unoccupied tables. Why should this be any different, and why should following the fairly reasonable guidelines of an establishment you choose to patronize put your back up? You want to run everything your own way, get your own pool and stay home.

  102. Right on, Uly. Some kids just don’t have the opportunity, for a whole host of reasons, to play pick up baseball or soccer. Not enough other kids around, no convenient free play space, no other kids interested in that particular activity, whatever. Does this mean they should never play those games? That would be unfortunate, if it’s something they wanted to do. Does it mean they’ll have a miserable childhood if they don’t? Of course not. But what’s wrong with creating an opportunity to do it?

  103. Failure is a big step towards success, for anyone. More parents need to remember that sometimes you need to fail in order to learn to work towards imortant things. If everyone gets a free pass at doing things just so nobody feels bad about not being able to do it well the first time, then nobody has learned how to work for something and feel good about accomplishing things. That is not a lesson that kids should skip and have to face the consequences of in the adult world.

    As a child I spent the summer with my grandparents. I went to the public pool every single day. I had to pass a swim test in order to be in the deep end or use the diving boards. I had taken swim lesson (lots of them) but I still lacked endurance. I was ten and had not passed that test but a lot of friends had and it was a bit upsetting but not traumatizing. It was four laps across the width of the pool without stopping. I failed it several times that summer but when I finally passed (after a lot of practice), I was over the moon proud and happy. That was one of many failures I faced as a child but it helped me and I wouldn’t trade them for a free pass in order to avoid being upset that others got to do what I wasn’t able to just yet.

    Our pools and water parks have no swim tests for anything. I wish they did. They have an age rule. Under eight with an adult, arms reach, at all times, assuming those under eight are non-swimmers. Eight an older are free to do anything in any area, no swimming ability needed or checked, assuming eight and older are swimmers. So many flaws in those assumptions.

    The reality is the kids (and parents too) start to think they don’t actually have to know how to swim just, turn eight and know how to float for a few seconds. Beiing rescued by a lifeguard when they can’t get to the pool edge or can’t keep themselves a float for more than 10 seconds is plan A in their minds. Quite ridiculous and dangerous but hey nobodys feeling are hurt………………..

  104. @padrooga: I am all about the unorganized, unscripted by adults activities. But what do you do when a kid wants to play a game of baseball and there is literally no one else to play with besides his brother? Everyone else is in camp, or in an organized sport. You would think some days that they were the only kids in the neigborhood because no one else is at home. If I send them to the park, the fields are all taken up by organized sports, so even if they wanted to put together a game with friends, they would have no place to play a game of baseball. There are no empty lots like when I grew up. My kids do run around in the woods, climb rocks, build God knows what in the back yard (I find I am less stressed the less I know about their building activities). But that simple, wistful request: “I want to play a game of baseball.” is impossible to fulfill. It shouldn’t be, and it sucks.

  105. We know longer have neighborhoods. Just little isolated cul de sac subdivisions off the main roads…It is sad.

  106. Maybe I should have added about the two tiered sports, that for my kids this also counts as part of their PE. As homeschoolers, it can be hard to play “traditional” games with only 3. We also have a limited number of kids around us our here in the county, a couple of whom may also be vampires as I never see them in daylight (other than to get in the car to go the 200 yards to the busstop), so games like soccer mean going to town.

    But most of the time, my kids are out doing their own thing. Two hours a week spring and fall, they do something organized. Kids in PE at school do more hours a year of organized not so competitive than my kids. We do some of the same things as PE, and due to liability, maybe more. We still have a rope to climb, attached to the tree that they can also climb.

  107. I don’t feel guilty for putting my kids in some organized stuff at the possible expense of some free range play. One of my kids’ idea of “free range” is to sit and read, sit and play DS, sit and watch movies, sit and play piano . . . you get the idea. And she is not naturally thin. If I left it up to her “free spirit” she would be a chronic health statistic, and as she discovered what the “world” thinks of such people, she would become unhappy. The structured (read: imposed) physical activity keeps her in shape to do physically challenging stuff. So when she does decide to join with a group of kids who are playing, or scale a hill while exploring, or prove herself at a physical test, she isn’t left in the dust. She still finds plenty of time for her princess castle fantasies etc.

    As for my other kid, she thrives on the “activities.” They are the high point of her day. She has never really been one to come up with elaborately inventive play ideas, and while she doesn’t mind aimlessly running around, she prefers to be learning something, likes the group structure, and likes performing. Myself, I was the opposite – a very active free spirit who shunned structure and abhored the spotlight – so this isn’t about me trying to live through my kids. It’s what I’ve decided is best for them at the present time. As they say, “your mileage may vary.”

  108. @SKL–Have you thought about getting your “free spirit” daughter involved in some non-traditional physical activities, like yoga, swimming, or possibly martial arts? I was a lot like her when I was younger, and I thought I didn’t like physical activity, because I didn’t like public-school gym classes, which consisted almost entirely of team sports, and involved a lot of public humiliation at the hands of classmates who teased me for my lack of athletic ability, and teachers who either turned a blind eye to the teasing, or actively encouraged and participated in it. So, I thought I hated all forms of exercise (except swimming), and once I finished the required minimum of physical education classes (grade nine), I stopped doing pretty much anything physical at all, except swimming and downhill skiing. However, when I joined the YMCA between my first and second year of university, I started exercising on my own, I became healthier, and eventually earned a yoga instructor certification a few years ago.

  109. Yes, Emily, my kids are in karate and swimming, and their dance/gymnastic classes include yoga. My “free spirit” does like swimming a lot and happens to be good at it. (I’ve read that being less slim is an advantage there.) She doesn’t seem to be that thrilled with the others, but she tolerates them once a week. She wasn’t gifted with very athletic genes; I’m not sure she actually knows how to run (it looks more like a gimpy fast walk to me). Which is all the more reason I structure movement into her day – because she will not want to be too far behind her schoolmates when it matters socially.

    I was like you – I hated “gym” for the same reasons. But I was very active in my free time as a kid. I also enjoyed activities that did not require “team” involvement – yoga, karate, hiking, biking, etc.

    In my kids’ case, they are 5yo and haven’t yet gotten a chance to hate school gym. Let’s see how it goes as they enter 1st grade next month. I think a lot depends on the approach of the gym teacher. A good gym teacher knows how to turn gym into an opportunity for positive (mutually respectful) socialization as well as healthy movement.

  110. Wait, you’re saying that your daughter, who you’re worried about becoming a health statistic, is only five years old, and yet you’re already referring to her as “less slim,” and making her do physical activities she doesn’t enjoy, on the grounds that she “tolerates” them? I’m not quite sure I’d want to do that, because you told me yourself that there are at least a few activities that she does enjoy, like swimming, karate, and yoga–I’m not sure if you said she enjoyed dance and gymnastics, but anyway, how much awareness does she have of herself? Does your daughter know that you see her weight as a problem? Is she self-conscious about not being as athletically adept as other kids, or is she still too young for that to have set in yet? All I’m saying is, kids are perceptive. I knew early on (starting at about age four) that being overweight was undesirable, just from the way my mom talked. By the time I was eight or so, I had started to become overweight, and as I grew up, it became increasingly obvious to me that my parents favoured my younger brother because he was thin, and more athletic than I was, and that just exacerbated things. I wasn’t lazy; I swam and volunteered at the YMCA, and I was active in my high school band, student council, and various other activities, while my brother would just come home every day and play computer games and eat junk food until he went to bed, but the comments I remember most from my parents were things like, “You’re bursting out of your band uniform!!!”

  111. “The test is offered every day at 2 pm. ”

    Is the test public? Perhaps the kids are afraid of being seen to fail by their friends.

  112. Emily, with all due respect, you are projecting.

    My kid is not overweight. She WOULD be if I did not require her butt to move. I talk to my kids about good health choices. Saying my kid is “less slim” (true) is not equal to “I think my kid is fat and embarrassing and I dislike her.” I happen to be extremely proud of both of my kids. But that does not change the fact that she NEEDS to move in order to be healthy. Being too scared to acknowledge this is another example of “we gotta protect kids’ tender egos” at the expense of health and safety. So when they are 13 and hormonal to the point of being suicidal, they can be saddled with an embarrassing weight problem that will take years to address (if it’s even possible at that point). It’s my responsibility as a parent to take care of her health while she’s too young to make mature health decisions.

    My kid does not “love” any sport other than swimming. I cannot take her swimming every day of the year, nor do I desire to.

    My kids are both 5yo and they do everything together. I’m a single working mom. I don’t have a lot of options. I don’t protect my athletic kid from the “shame” of being a much poorer reader than her sister. And I don’t protect my intellectual daughter from the “shame” of being less athletic than her sister. What I do is read with both kids at their level, and have them do physical activities they can both handle.

  113. By the way, Emily, is it your belief that a child of 5yo cannot be “less slim”? Or that getting them active is not a better way of addressing a tendency to gain weight than (a) ignoring it until it’s not my responsibility any more or (b) making her eat differently than her sister and peers?

    Do you not believe that some people are born with a tendency to gain weight more easily than others?

    Have you ever tried balancing the needs of a tot who is below the 3rd %ile for weight against a tot who gains weight remarkably easily?

    Frankly I think I’m doing as well as can be done – focusing on healthy behaviors and NOT on negativity. But I do feel responsible for my kids’ health. I don’t consider that a fault.

  114. Oh, okay, SKL–I guess I misunderstood what you were saying. It sounds like you’re a great mother, and you want the best for both of your daughters. It sounds like you have twins, and it never occurred to me that twins could have such remarkably different metabolisms, if they’d once shared a womb–and, if their metabolisms are different, maybe they’ll hit growth spurts at different times. Anyway, do both of them love to swim, or just the one? I can see how it might not be logistically possible to take both of them swimming every day, but they’re only five, so I’m sure they’ll both find activities they really enjoy over time, and you won’t have to “get their butts to move.” I didn’t realize that I was into yoga until I was finished my first round of university, and in retrospect, I kind of wish I’d gotten into it sooner. I also discovered that I enjoyed body boarding, bushwalking, and fire twirling while I was in Australia. I wasn’t especially good at those things, but they were fun, and I think a big part of the reason why I enjoyed them was because I chose them.

  115. P.S., ad, I agree–a lot of the kids might not want to take the regular swimming test that’s offered every day at 2 p.m., because they’re afraid of failing it in front of their friends. I wonder if there’s any way for the parents of shy kids to arrange for a private test for their child, even if it’d mean paying the price of a 30-minute private swim lesson, which is the shortest lesson length available at most pools? If my kid was in that position, and had the ability to pass the swim test, but choked under pressure in front of others, I’d try to arrange that–not to be a “snowplow parent,” but just to give my (hypothetical, future) child a boost forward. Would that be snowplow parenting, or just trying to address a shy kid’s needs?

  116. Emily, to be clear, my kids were adopted and they are 3 months apart in age. They are as different as day and night, but that could be the case even with fraternal twins.

    I think when you have a couple of kids you’ll have a better sense of how different their personalities and needs can be. What worked for you and me (only doing what we chose from an early age) doesn’t work equally for all kids. That’s why we advocate that the parents’ role/rights be respected when it comes to deciding what a given child is ready for / capable of / in need of.

  117. Different view here – and I’m braced for the cries of negligent parent, but….it’s not that I fear my kids will be crushed if they fail a test, it’s just that I don’t understand why the test for going off the diving board isn’t simply – can you go off the diving board with no problem and swim to the ladder with no problem, repeatedly? Watch if they can do it. They can? Great. Let them do it! I don’t understand why the test for “can you ride your bike down the block by yourself without stopping” should be “can you ride your bike two miles by yourself without stopping”? Well, until you can ride your bike two miles without stopping, I won’t let you ride it down even one block by yourself! It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, to be honest.

    My son has absolutely no problem going off the diving board and swimming to the ladder, again and again, and has done so repeatedly and with great joy at pools that allow him to do so. He cannot, however, swim the full lap required to pass the test at some pools, a distance easily six times or more as long as that from the diving board to the ladder. So I understand the frustration of parents who know their children are quite capable of swimming in a pool unassisted but aren’t allowed to. I understand the need for these skills if you are caught in the middle of the ocean, but when you are in a pool where the farthest wall at any point is *always* less than *half* the *width* of a pool? And they already have mandatory breaks every 45 minutes to make sure the kids aren’t overtired.

    Part of how kids learn to swim BETTER is simply by swimming OFTEN, unassisted, day after day after day. A 30-45 minute lesson a few times a week is good for basic skills, but often isn’t enough to really swim. I had my daughter in swim lessons, but she didn’t *really* learn to be a strong swimmer until she swam around in the pool all by herself over the summer, with me watching from the sidelines, not with me beside her ready to catch her every time she started to sink a little.
    Could she pass the test when I let her swim alone? No. She could swim well enough to always get to a wall without the least difficulty, but not to swim an entire lap. But by the end of a summer of swimming alone and practicing on her own (not always making it to the end, having to put a foot down or swim to a wall), you bet she could pass the test. How do they practice if the parents have to be with them in the pool the entire time? Maybe I am lazy, but I’d rather not run alongside my kid’s bike the entire time she learns to become a stronger, longer distance rider, you know? Let them learn/practice on their own once they have the basic skills not to drown in the particular environment they are in.

  118. I too struggled with the “be with your child the entire time” rule. In my case, I have two kids and they don’t always stay side-by-side. I couldn’t be within arm’s length of both of them without greatly restricting their activity. I pretty quickly just decided to stay in the general area where they could get into distress if they ran out of steam. Chasing them around the entire pool, half of which is quite shallow, was not remotely necessary. When they turned 5, they were allowed in the pool without a parent, and now I simply walk laps around the pool so I get some exercise while still being aware of what they’re up to.

    I do agree that a test should go a little farther than the minium required to save oneself in a non-distress situation. There are variables such as, what if there are people in the way, what if some other kid is being obnoxious, what if you get a cramp or panic. In those cases the bare minimum might not cut it. A kid who can swim a little can, with a little more practice, swim / tread water much longer. So I think it’s worth a little more practice to pass a test. But that’s just my opinion.

  119. I’m just amazed everyone’s still able to find an actual *pool* to take their kids to. Around here, municipalities at least seem to be converting to those obnoxious “splash pads” that stop being fun around the age of 5. Less liability, though, you know, and I suppose that even factoring in the cost of filling in the actual enjoyable pool, they’re cheaper to run, since you don’t need lifeguards. And, as everyone knows, once you hit 5, you no longer have any physical need to find a way to cool off, nor do you enjoy being in the water anymore anyway.

  120. Library Diva, in our city there is only one public pool and it’s indoors at the rec center. You have to either be a member of the rec center, or be a local citizen and pay something like $5 per person per swim. I tried to get my kids into an outdoor pool the next town over, and they wouldn’t let them in because it was only for that city’s residents.

    Most of the time, there aren’t many kids swimming when we go. I suspect there are many kids in our city who pretty much never get to swim.

  121. Library Diva, I hear you on the splash pads. Not much fun after a certain age. And, by the way, does anybody know how the water works for that? I need to ask because I keep seeing kids drinking it, and I am not sure if it is fresh water or recycled back into the sprinklers. Seeing as I live in a desert, I hope it is recycled back through…it would be nice if it was treated like pool water though.

    Our local town pool is cheap – only $2, but then, the swimming is only about 90 minutes, then they kick you out and you have to pay if you want to come in again. No swimming all afternoon any more. We go to the river and jump off the dock instead. As my kids are older and can swim, it works pretty well. But there are a lot of non-swimmers in the area, so it isn’t for everyone.

  122. There’s only one public pool around here, and it’s, well, in a neighborhood where a lot of people aren’t inclined to go, and it’s actually a temporary one they put up every year, not a permanent structure. I’m glad it’s there for the people in that neighborhood, though. Everything else is members-only at the Y’s or other clubs, and there aren’t even any membership pools that aren’t connected with clubs. They do free swim lessons at two of the local high schools that have pools but they’re not just a place to play.

    Which is odd when you think about it because we’re a pretty large community and far enough north that above-ground backyard pools are not exactly rare (we have one, and we’re hardly rich!) but not on every block, either, but not so far north that there wouldn’t be a lot of usage of public pools. I guess having swimmable lake beaches might be the reason why, but that’s still a lot bigger project than taking kids to a neighborhood pool because of the location of the beaches.

  123. […] 16, 2012 by Stephanie in General I was reading an article on Free Range Kids the other day about parents who feel their kids will be crushed emotionally if they fail a swimming test in order to use the deep end of a swimming pool. Taking a swim test […]

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