Confidence: Sophie Wells, aged 10 months, with her mom and Swimming Instinct owner, Mandy Wells.
Confidence: Sophie Wells, aged 10 months, with her mom and Swimming Instinct owner, Mandy Wells.
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Learning to swim is not only an essential life skill but is a healthy, fun and sociable pastime.

From our earliest days in the womb we all have a natural instinct for water. Even before they can crawl, babies can swim at just a few months old and they feel at home in the water.

“Children start learning how to swim in the womb, so the earlier you can get a baby back into the water, they find it very settling. It’s instinctive for them,” said Mandy Wells, owner and instructor at Swimming Instinct.

You may feel nervous at the thought of your child around water but, with a little coaching, they can master how to swim and to be safe quicker than you think.

Vigilance

At Swimming Instinct, youngsters from the age of three months upwards can take swimming lessons under the watchful eyes of Mrs Wells and her team of instructors.

Swimming Instinct runs ‘Tadpole’ classes each summer for children aged three months to three years old.

Each have to be accompanied by a parent in the water, in a purpose-built pool measuring 12 ft x 20 ft. The 4 ft deep pool, at Ferry Reach, St George’s, is also heated.

Mrs Wells said: “We have the baby pool in the high-80’s, for example at 89 degrees, and you can easily stand in it with the babies.”

She describes the half-hour lessons as “an excellent bonding experience” between parent and child.

The Tadpole lessons are divided into four age groups: Children under-one; children aged three to 14 months; 15-24 months; and 25-36 months.

Each group class is set to music, such as nursery rhymes and songs with a water theme.

This helps children to associate water with “a positive environment”.

Early lessons include knowing when to hold your breath on a cue/signal, being submerged and learning how to feel comfortable in the water.

Swimming Instinct uses the words ‘Ready, go’ as its signal for youngsters to hold their breath underwater.

“They quickly learn not to breathe in on this signal,” said Mrs Wells.

The baby is then dipped underwater for a few seconds.

 “With the younger children, we also blow into their faces on this signal so they will pucker up their mouths and hold their breaths.

“For example, ‘Ready, go, blow’. It only takes four to six lessons for these young children to get the hang of it.”

And parents can also help in their training at home, by giving the baby the signal and then pouring water over them.

“Once they’ve learned the signal, if they were to fall off the side of a pool into water they will know what to do,” said Mrs Wells.

“They will know not to breathe until someone picks them up and brings them back into the air.

“Eventually, the children will be underwater for six to seven seconds and won’t be phased by it at all.

“Once they reach eight seconds I let them go on their own and they just glide through the water, which is lovely to watch.”

The classes also teach the youngsters how to float on their backs.

“For the under-threes, the expectations are that they should be able to do a back float for 10 seconds and that they will be able to jump into the water, turn around and then reach for the wall of the pool. These are the survival skills.

“It’s also about teaching children how to be comfortable in the water. They learn that if they do fall in, to not open their mouths or take a breath.

“I think that’s a very healthy thing to give a child, to know that if they fall underwater, they will be fine.

“We want the babies to have a positive experience while also gaining skills that could potentially buy them some time if ever they were in trouble in the water.”

Mrs Wells has a six-year-old son, Aidan, and a daughter Sophie, who is almost two.

“Sophie can jump off our diving board, swim three feet and then hold onto the sides,” said Mrs Wells.

“But I didn’t teach my children these skills in order to leave them unsupervised around water. In fact, as a parent, you need to be even more vigilant once your child starts to love the water as they will be more attracted to it.

“The vast majority of our ‘tadpoles’ learn to love the water, so we always discuss the need for parents to be even more vigilant with their children after taking lessons.

“Swimming lessons are not a substitute for keeping your eyes on your child around the water.”

At the age of three, children can then move on to individual lessons to improve their swimming ability and stroke technique.

The lessons are held at a second, purpose-built larger pool, measuring 16 ft x 34 ft with a depth of 8 ft, at Ferry Reach.

The children have a personal instructor who focuses on each of their individual needs, with the aim of making them more efficient swimmers.

Swimming Instinct runs its lessons from May to October and aims to develop ‘muscle memory’ among students so that strokes are remembered and can be built on the following year.

While Mrs Wells teaches the under-threes, she has a team of 16 swimming instructors to train the older children. These high school and college summer students are chosen for their personality as well as skill. They need to be firm, but also fun.

“I’ve got a whole range of instructors,” she said. “Some are really bubbly and chatty, and so they are good with the younger, timid children.

“It’s all about winning the trust of each child and developing a relationship with them. Others have to be very strict, to get the attention of children who are not as focused.

“Our instructors also have to be good with parents. Parents are allowed to watch the classes and they will get feedback at the end of each lesson on how their child is progressing.

“The instructors may also provide homework, for example, lying the child on a bed and practising their arm strokes for a certain number of times in between lessons.”

At the age of three children start learning how to flutter kick, and also how to tread water — basic “survival skills’ according to Mrs Wells.

“Then we will teach them the freestyle and backstroke arms, followed by breaststroke and butterfly, although you are usually around the age of seven or eight at this point.”

Children learn the best techniques for their strokes by developing ‘muscle memory’.

“We hold a child’s arm and move it to exactly where it needs to go and then do this 30 times so it gets into the muscle memory,” said Mrs Wells.

“My philosophy for teaching students age three years and up is to teach technically correct right from the start, to make a swimmer strong and efficient in the water.

“To achieve this we isolate one aspect of the stroke at a time, teach it and perfect it before moving onto another aspect.

“After the skills have been mastered individually, we then start to put them together.

“Let’s take freestyle as an example. It has three parts to it — the kick, the stroke and the breathing.

“A student must learn each part of the stroke in isolation before combining any two of the three parts, and two aspects must be mastered before attempting to put all three together.

“It is much easier for a child (or an adult beginner student) to concentrate on one thing at a time, rather than having to split brain power between two skills which can often vary in speed or direction. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy.”

Social skill

Mrs Wells formerly taught children how to swim at the Harbourkids — Harbour Swim Club, but moved to the UK to study for a postgraduate degree in music education, at the University of Surrey.

She started working for Swimming Nature, a London company owned by a Brazilian, Eduardo Ferre.

Mrs Wells said: “He was very innovative and I brought back some of his philosophy to Bermuda.

“He was very particular about getting technique perfect from the start, and about concentrating on one skill and mastering it before you move on to the next.

“For example, getting the legs right on a stroke and then working on your arms, before putting it together. I also worked with a South African trainer with whom I put together a baby swimming programme set to music.”

Mrs Wells founded Swimming Instinct on her return to Bermuda in 2003.

She says there is a “huge demand” for swimming lessons on the island.

Most of the babies who learn to swim with Mrs Wells then return year after year to perfect their techniques.

Most children between the ages of three and 10 will attend four weeks of daily classesa each summer.

“The more classes they do in the summer, the more they retain it in the winter,” she said.

The school can teach up to 280 babies and 320 children each summer.

Mrs Wells said: “Growing up in Bermuda, an island surrounded by water, means beaches can be treacherous. You want your child to be able to swim safely and efficiently, not just to be able to keep their head above water.

“If my son Aidan got pulled out by a rip current, I would know he would be okay as he would know how to swim out of the current and then back into shore.

“Learning to swim is also an important social skill to have here. There is so much partying on the water, hanging out on boats or on the beach. So swimming brings confidence. It’s also good for young people to have a healthy respect for the water.

“In addition, we have a large competitive swimming and triathlon community here, so learning the correct technique can be important for these sports too.”

 

For more information contact 297-8062 or e-mail info@swimminginstinct.com. See www.swimminginstinct.com