It may seem obvious, but the foundation of all swimming ability (and by extension water safety) is a feeling of comfort in the water. No Olympic swimmer, lap-pool enthusiast or weekend waterpark-paddler got to where they are without first, at some point, accepting and eventually liking and even loving the feeling of being immersed in water, understanding how it holds a person up, the resistance water gives to movement, and controlling their breath as they submerge.
For some people, adjusting to being in and interacting with water seems like second nature; for others, water represents fear and evokes a “fight or flight” response. Wherever a person is on their Swim Path when they first come to FOSS, we have designed our Learn to Swim program and capabilities (one of three FOSS programs, along with Swim Stronger and Swim Faster for more advanced students) to meet them. Our Learn to Swim program first establishes and reinforces comfort with the water, a milestone we call Water Adjustment.
Fun, repetition, and patience: How a swimmer learns Water Adjustment
Water adjustment is more about attitude than developing a specific new ability. As such, it can be taught at a very early age, starting with the simplest things you can imagine. Sitting in a bath, playing with water in a basin, getting water poured over the head and face, sitting in a shower – these are things every baby encounters almost from birth in the form of paths and washing. They are also keys to Water Adjustment, and parents can make them successful by making it fun!
Keep your baby close, and make approving sounds and exude happiness during encounters with water. Go slowly and be patient if there is any resistance or a startled reaction. Your presence, physical contact and voice will help reassure your child that this is a good thing. Sitting in the shower is a good goal to work towards, since the water by nature flows over the head, face, ears and eyes, creating comfort with the sensations even without submersion.
Engaging with water regularly, ideally as part of a game and positive interactions with a parent, can lay the foundation for feeling more comfortable and confident around water.
Water Adjustment at Foss Swim School
By the time we first meet a swimmer at Foss Swim School, in many cases that foundation has been laid, which makes the transition into water experience in a large body of water and everything that entails easier. But we know not all students join us as babies, and each student is at a different point of Water Adjustment when they start. Depending on age and comfort, our Swim Path® approach engages each student differently:
- Backfloat Baby for children 6 months to 3 years: Our Backfloat Baby program is primarily focused on water adjustment. The same principles of fun, repetition and patience apply. By having an adult in the water with each child, we promote a feeling of security in water. Through games and songs – done in the same way and often the same order each session – we help create a sense of predictability and comfort; the child knows what is coming next, which build confidence.
- Little 1, Middle 1 and Big 1 classes: For every age group up to 10+, we have entry classes designed to assess and develop Water Adjustment. These classes are designed to accommodate first exposure to a pool and/or swim class, although of course kids these ages have had some experience with water already. If it has been a positive experience, they may already be adjusted and we simply note they have reached the milestone. Other may come with some fear or unfamiliarity with water. These levels build in sessions to help build comfort and confidence, again through fun, repetition and patience, although with age-appropriate activities and at a faster pace as age increases.
- Private lessons for any age, including adults: If a person has a serious fear of water, or has a disability or situation that calls for a custom program at any age, private lessons give our teachers the flexibility to tailor the program and take whatever time or special approaches may be needed. The milestone is the same, as are the founding principles and how we approach it. At any age, anyone can become more comfortable and confident around water.
Reaching the milestone and moving to the next stage
By the time a student graduates from Backfloat Baby, they typically have achieved the Water Adjustment milestone. If they haven’t they can continue their development in the Little 1 class. All students must reach the Water Adjustment milestone before they can move on from a 1-level class, and in almost all cases they do, and start working on new skills even at level 1.
Those new skills form part of the next milestone phase of the Swim Path®, called Float Up, which is about understanding and mastering buoyancy (and is addressed in our next Swim Path®-focused blog.) From then on, new skills, abilities and confidence will move each student along their path to becoming a stronger, more confident swimmer – but it all starts with making that first encounter with water a happy one!