How long does it take to learn to swim?

“How long is it going to take for my child to learn to swim?” This is one of the most common questions parents ask – and one whose answer is specific to each student. Like learning to play the piano, speak a language, or perform gymnastics, there are a lot of variables that make a precise, universal prediction nearly impossible.

What we do promise at FOSS is that we can help anyone learn to be a confident swimmer. We also can share some of the most common experiences and learning paths we have seen in our more than 25 years of teaching swimming and share the “why” behind those experiences. Here are a few factors to consider while planning out your swim experiences.

First, it’s important to note that while there are many FOSS levels that could comprise a student’s Swim Path®, no student will take all the levels. Rather, each student’s path is their own, based on their unique abilities and age. As students move into new age groups and develop skills, they swim in the appropriate levels each quarter to progress them toward graduating from one of our three sequential programs: Learn to Swim, Swim Stronger, and Swim Faster.

Second, these are a few assumptions we make of most swimming experiences:

  • We expect many students to need to take a few levels more than once. This is normal and part of the process. Students learn at their own pace, not necessarily at the pace of the calendar. Where the repetition happens will vary from student to student. (If a child seems really stuck, we can and do take special steps to help them get over the hump – part of our Swimmers Guaranteed philosophy.)
  • We anticipate that many families will need to take some time off. This affects the pace of learning, but we get that school, vacations and activities are all part of life.
  • We usually see more rapid progress from students who practice outside class. We assign “dry land” homework to help improve strength and form. More swimming helps too, of course.

Key influences on how fast a child can learn swimming

The assumptions above show why it can be hard to give a specific answer to how long it will take to learn to swim. But it’s still worth talking about some of the key starting points and how they generally influence the time it takes to learn swimming.

  • We start with a question: What does “swimming” mean to you as a parent or student? If it’s about being confident and safer in the water, that will take less time than learning all four competitive strokes proficiently. We encourage parents and students to think about what their intended goal is, and see how our Swim Path® can get them there.
  • The age of the student impacts how they learn, and how fast. In general, older students can understand and apply complex lessons faster than younger children who learn to swim earlier, and often have greater physical strength. Our level structure accounts for that – the levels for younger children are more granular, while a pre-teen starting for the first time will need to master far more skills in one level. In one sense, the older child may learn skills faster overall, but often will be more challenged since skills progress so quickly.
  • A child who has growth spurts may need to loop back to focus on a few skills. Parents are sometimes shocked to see a child who mastered a skill in a previous level now struggle with it. It’s more common than you think. A buoyant baby may look totally at ease in water, but as their body stretches and changes, the center of buoyancy changes and they may seem to struggle. It happens for older kids too. We are prepared to help them relearn skills.
  • Young swimmers need time for emotional and intellectual development, too. If a child starts our Little 1 program right when they turn three, technically they could progress through all the skills we teach in six quarters, if they never stopped and never repeated a class. But it’s unrealistic – and unfair – to imagine a 4 ½ year old will have mastered four competitive strokes. There will be levels a child will coast through, and others that introduce complex skills that take more time to master. They need to develop the language skills to understand instruction, and the patience to practice. We still encourage starting as young as possible – it’s the time when they can learn most naturally, just like other skills such as language or music, and also offers improved safety around water.
  • Consistency is key to learning. We do understand that people miss classes or have to take some time away from swim school. These things do have an impact on how long it takes to learn to swim. Swimming once a week, we have only 6 or so hours per quarter directly teaching swimming to a particular child; missing a week or more can mean some regression, and after missing a quarter a student will often need to relearn some things. For those who can stick with it, or even take advantage of twice-weekly lessons, progress tends to come faster.

The FOSS Swim Path® teaches swimming at the pace that works for each student

The Swim Path is a clear and leaner way to track and help every student progress towards becoming a stronger, more confident swimmer. Each level focuses on teaching specific skills, which build on each other as a swimmer progresses. Mastery of the pre-requisite skills is important to assist in learning the skills of more advanced classes. In addition to level, we also group students into cohorts by age. Age impacts how a person learns, and how rapidly they learn. We have learned it is best for students, teachers, and the learning process to group students with others of the same age.

If you’re looking for a hard and fast answer on how many classes it takes to learn swimming, we realize “it depends” isn’t the most satisfying answer. But if your goal is to help your student learn to swim, reduce their risk around water and to have fun doing it, working with FOSS teachers who understand how to help them keep learning, come visit FOSS today. See you at the pool!

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