FOSS Insider: Repetition as a Teaching Tool

“One swallow does not a summer make,” Aristotle said, reminding people that seeing one migrating bird isn’t evidence that the seasons have changed. At Foss Swim School, we take a similar view—you can’t really show mastery of any of our swim skills just by doing it once.

Parents sometimes ask us why their child does the same thing several lessons in a row, and the answer is simple: Because in our years of experience, repetition is a critical tool for teaching a child to be a confident swimmer. Our goal is to graduate swimmers from our program with a mastery of the basic swim strokes, and the stamina to swim 12 lengths of a standard school pool, a generally accepted benchmark for calling someone a “swimmer.” That isn’t something anyone can just do without building up to it, and building up to it takes repetition!

Fortunately, our curriculum is designed to get kids to that point, even if they’re experiencing being in water for the first time. Our class levels are good indicators of progress, but we don’t push kids to the next level until they’re ready—that would both be unsafe and unfair, since it would shortcut their learning. Often, kids will need to repeat at least some levels, sometimes simply because their bodies are growing in spurts and it takes some time for their strength and coordination to sync up. 

What role does repetition have in developing swim skills?

In the Foss method, repetition serves different roles at different class levels:

  • Infants learn to be comfortable with the water through repetition. When they do the same thing each class, they learn that water is fun, and they aren’t surprised or scared by the constant introduction of new experiences. We add new steps gradually, always in the context of what they already know and are comfortable with.
  • Toddlers and young kids build confidence through the repeated experience of success. We celebrate each time they complete a skill—even if they did it last week as well – and so give them boosts of joy throughout each lesson. That makes the experience of going to swim lessons enjoyable and gives them a reason to want to do the next skill.
  • School-age kids learn to enjoy the challenge of reaching a goal they need practice to achieve. For them, repetition is a means to a more distant goal—it might take several weeks of building strength and developing muscle memory, but they are able to see incremental progress and celebrate bigger achievements like swimming a full length, then two, then faster.

So how fast can a child learn to swim?

We understand the eagerness parents have to see their child progress. And that’s where repetition and frequency come in. Our once-a-week classes help keep kids progressing, and when you can increase lesson frequency, more repetitions in a shorter amount of time equals faster progress. That’s the philosophy behind our Progress Builder Camps®—in just two or four weeks, a total of eight lessons, a child might be able to make a leap in their swim skills greater than you would see in eight weeks of once-a-week lessons.

Of course, families need to balance their swim school with other activities, so high-frequency camps aren’t for everyone, or might only work at certain times of year—but if you have the opportunity, it’s the best, surest way to speed up learning. (Conversely, decreasing frequency slows progress, and in some cases kids may even regress—that’s why we teach in quarters, to ideally allow kids to swim year-round.) So the next time you see your child doing an activity in class that you’ve seen before, give them a smile and a thumbs up—you’ll be rewarding them and building them up for the next skill and the next, and the next!

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