Swimming lessons are the process of learning to swim. In most countries there is a definition of a number of swimming levels that are reached in the process of the curriculum. The respective certificates of swimming tests are required for further training in aquatic abilities. Many countries have defined a minimum swimming level that children should reach by the end of primary education, in most cases with the help of school swimming classes being part of the normal curriculum.
Children are often given swimming lessons, which serve to develop swimming technique and confidence. Children were traditionally viewed not to be able to swim independently until 4 years of age, but infant swimming lessons are now recommended to prevent drowning. There are many different ways of learning to swim with swimming lessons. There are community centre lessons, semi-private lessons and private lessons.
Infant swimming lessons
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends swimming lessons for children from 1–4, along with other precautionary measures to prevent drowning. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed its previous position in which it had disapproved of lessons before age 4, indicating that the evidence no longer supported an advisory against early swimming lessons.
There is an essential difference between the new infant swimming lessons and the traditional parent-child water play sessions. Infant swimming lessons, sometimes called infant swim recovery, teach infants and toddlers how to recover from an accidental fall into a body of water. Unlike traditional parent/toddler classes, which encourage the child's face in the water through blowing bubbles, infant swimming lessons instill in the child the skills to regain buoyancy from a submerged state and to tilt the head back, getting it out of the water to take breaths and cry for help. Children ages one to six-years-old learn advanced safety skills to roll to their backs to take a breath and then to roll back to their stomachs to continue swimming.
Swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88% for babies and children up to 4 years old.
In many places, swimming lessons are provided by local swimming pools, both those run by the local authority and by private leisure companies. Many schools also include swimming lessons into their physical education curricula, provided either in the schools' own pools, another schools' pool or in the nearest public pool. The Department for Education in England includes learning to swim as a compulsory element in primary school PE curriculum. At the end of year 6 (age 11), all children, according to the government website, "should be taught to...swim 25 metres" (front and back) and demonstrate an understanding of water safety. Schools can decide when and where pupils will learn to swim. Many children in the UK learn to swim in lessons that are not provided by their primary school and can swim 25 metres by the age of 6. Advocates for school swimming lessons in The United States frequently cite the CDC estimate that 34% of American adults are unable to swim 24 yards.
In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, the curriculum for 11-year-olds in the fifth grade states that all children should learn how to swim as well as how to handle emergencies near water. Most commonly, children are expected to be able to swim 200 metres (220 yards) – of which at least 50 metres (55 yards) is on their back – after first falling into deep water and getting their head under water. Even though about 95 percent of Swedish school children know how to swim, drowning remains the third most common cause of death among children.
In both the Netherlands and Belgium, swimming lessons during school time (schoolzwemmen, school swimming) are supported by the government. Most schools provide swimming lessons. There is a long tradition of swimming lessons in the Netherlands and in Belgium; the Dutch translation for the breaststroke swimming style is schoolslag (schoolstroke). The children learn a variant of the breaststroke, which is technically not entirely correct. In recent years however, most Dutch towns have abolished school swimming in order to cut expenses.
In Germany and Austria, school swimming ("Schulschwimmen") is part of the elementary school curriculum leading to the entry level certificate "Frühschwimmer" for about 90 percent of the children (a 95% goal set by the ministers for education with actual percentages ranging as low as 75% in some schools). About 50 percent reach a higher swimming level certificate during school swimming. In Switzerland most schools offer a swimming course, however only 70% of the students take part in it which has led to the "Schulschwimmen für alle“ petition in 2007. Unlike in Germany and Austria, a swimming test including a jump from the diving tower is common in Swiss schools.
In France, school swimming ("natation scolaire") is part of the curriculum for physical education in the 2nd and 3rd grade in elementary school, or for children aged between 4 and 6 years of age. The aim is successful completion of entry into water then swimming for 50 metres, before floating for 10 seconds, then swimming on the front and on the back (for 10 metres each), ending with retrieval of an object from deep water of more than 2 metres.
In the UK, the "Top-ups scheme" calls for school children who cannot swim by the age of 11 to receive intensive daily lessons. These children who have not reached Great Britain's National Curriculum standard of swimming 25 metres by the time they leave primary school will be given a half-hour lesson every day for two weeks during term-time.
In Singapore, most swimming schools teach the SwimSafer Programme introduced by Singapore National Water Safety Council in July, 2010 with support from the Singapore Sports Council. The SwimSafer Programme combines instruction in swimming and life-saving skills.
The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Österreichisches Wasserrettungswesen (working committee for water rescue in Austria) is a joint committee of private organizations and government bodies. They have defined four grade levels of swimming lessons that is used in school swimming.
The Entry level "Frühschwimmer" (early swimmer – the badge showing a penguin) requires jump from side, 25 metres of swimming and 5 rules of swimming.
The Level 1 "Freischwimmer" (free swimmer – the badge with one wave and a bronze pin) requires 15 minutes of swimming (at any style of choice), 1 metre jump into water, and 10 rules of swimming.
The Level 2 "Fahrtenschwimmer" (trail swimmer – the badge with two waves and a silver pin) requires 15 minutes of swimming, dive jump or jump from 3 metre height, 10 metre swimming underwater, pick up of a thick object from deep water (2 metre water and 2,5 kg weight), 50 metre of back crawl, and 10 rules of swimming.
The Level 3 "Allroundswimmer" (routine swimmer – the badge with one wave and gold pin) requires 200 metre continuous swimming (100 metre front crawl and 100 metre back crawl), sport swimming of 100 under 2:30 minutes, 10 metre swimming underwater after dive jump, pick up of a thick object from deep water (2 metre water and 2,5 kg weight), 50 metres of back crawl, 20 metres rescue swimming with a person of about the same weight, and 10 rules of swimming.
Additionally, the ÖWR water rescue organization has test for the "Jugendschwimmerschein" (youth swimmer certificate) including 50 metres of breast stroke under 1:05 minutes, 50 metres front crawl under 1 minute, 50 metres back crawl under 1:19 minute, description of lifeguard rules, 50 metre rescue swimming with another person, 100 metres snorkel under 1:50 minute, 100 metres swimming with clothes.
In Canada, the Canadian Red Cross Swim program is used, with over one million Canadians enrolling each year. Similar to the system set out by the American Red Cross, the Swim Kids program for school-aged children consists of ten levels that progress from basic, confidence-building skills to more complicated strokes and techniques. In beginner levels, students can expect to learn skills such as breathing techniques, basic water safety skills, and introductory swimming techniques including how to float and glide in the water at shallow depths. As the program progresses past beginner stages, students will be taught six swim strokes including front crawl, sculling, back crawl, breast stroke, elementary back stroke, and sidestroke. As students proceed through the levels of the program and gain further experience, they will learn to use the techniques that they have learned to swim in deeper water and will build confidence in their ability to be safe while swimming. Once students complete the ten levels of the program successfully, they are eligible to enter into Bronze Medal Programs (Bronze Star, Bronze Medallion, and Bronze Cross) to gain a better understanding of lifesaving skills. After completing all three courses in the Bronze Medal Programs, students will have the opportunity to advance their skills by enrolling in additional programs such as Water Safety Instructor (WSI) programs to teach them how to become swimming instructors themselves. Additional programs following the same structure at a faster pace are also available for teenagers and adults who wish to learn how to swim safely and build confidence in the water.
Also annually, 800,000 Canadians participate in Lifesaving Society (LSS) swimming, lifesaving, lifeguard, first aid and leadership training programs. Each year, LSS certifies thousands of instructors who provide the leadership for those training programs. As Canada's leading lifeguarding experts, LSS sets the standard for professional lifeguard training and certify Canada's National Lifeguards.
The "Schwimmabzeichen" (swimming badge) is assigned in four levels – Entry, Bronze, Silver and Gold. The levels are defined by the Bundesverband zur Förderung der Schwimmausbildung (federal association for promotion of swimming lessons – assembling NGO associations) in coordination with the federal Kultusministerkonferenz (assembly of the ministers for education of each Bundesland-state).
The entry level "Frühschwimmer" (early swimmer) includes a swimming test where the student shows a jump from side, 25 meter swimming (free style), and pick up of an object underwater. The "Frühschwimmer" level is better known by its mascot "Seepferdchen" (seahorse) shown on the badge with most people to call it the "Seepferdchen" certificate.
The bronze badge requires 200 meter of swimming in under 15 minutes (no style prescribed).
The silver badge requires 400 meter of swimming in under 12 minutes, pick up of an object from deep water (more than 2 meter), jump and dive from the side, and 10 meter swimming underwater.
The gold badge requires 1000 meter of swimming (under 24 minutes for males and under 29 minutes for females), sport swimming of 100 meter (under 1:50 for males and 2:00 for females), 100 meter back crawl, 50 meter rescue swimming, 15 meter swimming underwater, pick up of three objects from deep water (2 meters, under 3 minutes, max. 3 attempts).
Lifeguard certificates are defined separately by each organization – the entry level is "Junior-Retter" (junior rescuer) at the DLRG (the largest aquatics life saving organization in the world) and "Juniorwasserretter" (junior water rescuer) at the Wasserwacht (water rescue branch of the German Red Cross). Extended Lifeguard certificate grades can be obtained at three levels of the "Rettungsschwimmabzeichen" (rescue swimming badge) in bronze, silver and gold.
SwimSafer programme works to help children learn how to swim and how to be safe in the water. This is a six-stages programme that works with a process that encourages kids to have fun and to learn at a pace that is right for them.
SwimSafer Stage 1: An Introduction to Water Skills This part works to teach children how to become more confidence and how to become independent in the water. This is used as a means of making it easier for a child to feel more comfortable. A child can also learn about general water safety, how to enter and exit a pool and how to move back and forth in the water.
SwimSafer Stage 2: Fundamental Water Skills This part of the process involves learning how to handle surface dives, sculling, water safety and awareness in the water. This also involves learning how to get into the water without any assistance. The programme encourages kids to learn how to swim twenty-five metres.
SwimSafer Stage 3: Personal Water Survival and Stroke Developmental Skills Children will learn about how to survive in the water and how to handle different rescue skills. Sculling, underwater swimming and learning how to use a floatation device will be covered here. The goal of this part of the programme is to get a child to be able to swim fifty metres.
SwimSafer Bronze: Personal Water Survival and Stroke Improvement Skills This is where the programme gets to be more advanced. At this point the child will learn how to work with stroking movements and coordinated breathing. Kids will be encouraged to get as far as a hundred metres in swimming. Kids will also learn how to handle watercraft in safe ways while continuing to work on rescue and survival skills.
SwimSafer Silver: Intermediate Personal Water Survival and Stroke Refinement Skills Diving is introduced at this point. Advanced survival and rescue skills are also taught here. Advanced swimming strokes will also be taught at this point in the programme.
SwimSafer Gold: Advanced Personal Water Survival and Swimming Skills Proficiency This is the last part of the progress. A student will need to be able to perform one's skills over the course of four hundred metres. Standing dive and survival skills will be taught along with advanced lifesaving processes. Water safety is also taught at this point.
In Switzerland the "Schwimmtests" (swimming tests) is not organized in levels – instead each ability is tested by itself and a number of test certificates are put in a group designation. The swimming tests are defined by "swimsports.ch" which is an association of swimming NGOs and the federal institute for sports (BASPO).
The Entry level has six tests "Ente" (duck), "Schwan" (swan), "Seehund" (sea lion), "Nilpferd" (hippo), "Schildkröte" (turtle) and Biber (beaver).
The Basic level has seven tests "Krebs" (crab), "Seepferd" (seahorse), "Frosch" (frog), "Pinguin" (penguin), "Tintenfisch" (cuttlefish), "Krokodil" (crocodile) and Eisbär (polar bear).
The Advanced level has eight tests "Wal" (whale), "Hecht" (pike), "Hai" (shark), "Delfin" (dolphin), and tests named 5 to 8 (no symbols assigned).
In Scotland swimming lessons are undertaken by pupils at an age 8 or 9 when the child is in Primary 5. These lessons take place during the school day. The Scottish Amateur Swimming Association – known as Scottish Swimming – has called for all young children to be entitled to free swimming lessons as they have been in England and Wales since the 1990s. Swimming lessons in Scotland have come under criticism because of the long waiting lists where in some counties there is a waiting list of up to 2000 children, or 1040 days. This has led to an increase of private swimming schools start up which are able to use private pools (as opposed to council run lessons only using council pools).
Lessons in Scotland generally follow two main award schemes, the STA (Swimming Teachers Association) or ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) award schemes. The council lessons tend to follow the ASA Award Scheme whilst private swimming lessons use either of them. There have been a number of high-profile cases of private swimming lessons changing from ASA to STA. The STA also teaches about life-saving techniques in their lessons which the ASA largely ignore. In England, all schools must provide swimming instruction either in key stage 1 or key stage 2. In particular, pupils should be taught to: swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres use a range of strokes effectively [for example, front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke] perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations. There is no provision for this in the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland.
In the United States, most swimming schools use the swimming levels "Learn To Swim" as defined by the American Red Cross.
- Level 1: Introduction to Water Skills
- The student needs to get comfortable with water: this includes kicking, bobbing, underwater exploration, front and back floating and gliding with face in the water, open eyes under water. Children learning these basic skills often will use Styrofoam kick-boards, inflatable arm-floats and other aquatic equipment to help stay afloat.
- Level 2: Fundamental Aquatic Skills
- The student needs to swim 15 feet on front and back, submerge entire head, submerge and retrieve an object. At this level, swimmers will work to swim without any equipment except an object to retrieve underwater.
- Level 3: Stroke Development Skills
- The student needs to swim 15 yards on front, back and crawl, also jump into deep water from side. Swimmers are expected to perform these skills independently of any aquatic equipment that may assist them in staying afloat.
- Level 4: Stroke Improvement
- Includes front and back crawl of 25 yards, butterfly and breaststroke of 15 yards, allowing for turns while swimming.
- Level 5: Stroke Refinement
- All strokes should be shown at 25 yards, allow for flip turn, includes swimming underwater for 15 yards.
- Level 6: Skill Proficiency
- The swimming test includes swimming continuously of 500 yards, including back and front crawl at 100 yards, plus 50 yards for each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and sidestroke. On top of this common swimming proficiency there are three swimming test variants for the Level 6 certificate: (A) Fundamentals of Diving – show a jump from the diving board; (B) Fitness Swimmer – demonstrate the use of training gear; (C) Personal Water Safety – life jacket and boating rules.
Lifeguard certificates are obtained directly in courses of the American Red Cross. The course length varies with 30 to 37 hours with an option for blended learning for the five certificates of Pool Lifeguarding, Waterfront Lifeguarding, Waterpark Lifeguarding, Aquatic Attractions Lifeguarding and Shallow Water Lifeguarding.
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