I am in no doubt that being able to swim is a necessary life skill. Personally, I rank it up there with learning to read or do simple maths. Even before tragic stories fill our headlines in the summer months – if you have children with a thirst for adventure it just becomes immediately apparent!

My youngest son – Thomas – loves the water. As a small child if we were at the pool, he would ask adults to turn around as if playing some fun little game, but he would take any second possible to launch himself into the deepest water he could. The problem being… he would inevitably sink.

It has taken a long, long time to find a teacher who is right for him… so grab a cuppa as I want to share the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

This post is part of an AD campaign with the Michael Jamieson Swim Academy. All views are my own. 

‘He’s too young’

Having had an incredibly positive swimming journey with my daughter Katie – who could comfortably swim a length just before her 3rd birthday – I thought Thomas would be good to start lessons aged 3.

Initially, he was given a teacher he really gelled with – but she left. He was moved to a new teacher but it quickly became apparent that he just wasn’t interested in staying on task. After a disastrous cover teacher – who declared him ‘unteachable’ – it was suggested that we take a break and try again in about 6 months – so we did.

Six months later, we saw exactly the same result and it was suggested he would be better off with a different teacher within the school. So another switch was made…

Things went well for the first few weeks, but then his half hour lesson was becoming 25 minutes, then 20, then 15… as he would be sent out of the pool for not listening well enough.

Now, bear in mind there were only two children in the class – this really was quite erm… surprising? irritating? embarrassing? In short, a whole host of emotions but none of them good.

Each week, the lesson would end with him being told off and there was a whole lack of positivity.

Top tip 1: Look for a smile – from both the teacher and child!

‘Playing games isn’t possible’

As I had paid for a block of lessons – and desperately wanting Thomas to be able to swim – I didn’t want to just give up. But I found it a little strange that in order to be able to ‘jump in’ at the end of the lesson, the teacher was requiring him to do exactly what she wanted until that point. The way things was done was really very rigid – it was the ‘method’ and although she began to at least hand out some enthusiastic high 5’s some weeks… I wouldn’t say Thomas was really having fun.

I suggested to the teacher that they may find things a lot easier if they explained things through play – perhaps they could shoot off the wall like a police car, or have straight arms like superheroes? This was dismissed as ‘there are two children in the class’… heaven forbid this might be something that would work for them both?!

Top tip 2: Find a teacher who is willing to adapt!

‘It’s not good enough’

The final thing that really got me was that already tasks were being ticked off as ‘completed’ in the online portal, Thomas wasn’t being given the badges that corresponded. When this was queried, I was met with ‘he’s not good enough’ or ‘he’s not quite there yet.’

It got to the point that Thomas was being shown as being at the 3rd level in the online system, but only had been awarded the badges from the 1st! As a parent, this made it really difficult to gauge where he actually was, and really difficult to identify what progress – if any – was being made.

Top tip 3: Ensure that you receive fair and consistent feedback!

Finding the right fit

What our experience reminded me, is that no two children are alike. My daughter has swum with the same school and had the most wonderful experience. She took her lessons very seriously, and really responded to the ‘method.’ But the rigidity was just unbearable for Thomas. But I really did not want to just give up and accept he would be a non-swimmer. I could see that despite everything, he did have the ability to swim, and was beginning to get some sense of what to do.

So when I heard that the Michael Jamieson Swim Academy were branching out to Edinburgh… I was keen to give it a go – accepting that just as no two children are alike, neither are swim schools!

Top tip 4: Don’t be afraid to change to find the right fit!

In our first lesson, we were given an accurate assessment of where Thomas was at with his swimming. He was much further behind that we had hoped but they gave us a realistic reminder that this was a new place for him and with a new teacher. Whilst this was disappointing in one sense, receiving this level of honest feedback felt like a very good sign!!

As the lessons went on, his ‘home portal’ was updated regularly with his progress – in precise detail. The stage he is working at, is broken down into 13 different steps and his progress with each has been updated regularly. And whilst we can’t watch the lesson (thanks to Covid restrictions) his teacher has provided feedback at the end of each lesson as well. And in the last ten weeks – lessons have consistently ended positively. Even to the point where Thomas didn’t want to leave as he was having so much fun.

What’s made it fun? His teacher has continued to adapt things. She speaks to the children and finds out their interests – even to the extent that the swim school has purchased turtle packs so they can play Mutant Turtles! Last week, Thomas spoke of ‘star gazing’ i.e. they had been floating for the last part of the lesson. As he reeled off a list of ‘games’, I was overwhelmed by the number of skills he was obviously now comfortable with.

The contrast for me could not be more striking. I have an accurate idea of where he is but more importantly, I have a boy who now goes to his lessons cheerfully. Whilst I have no doubt that he is a wiggly six year old with questionable focus at times… he leaves his lessons happy and relaxed.

To learn more about the Michael Jamieson Swim Academy approach do check out their website. Aside from having a number of Glasgow venues, they now have two locations in Edinburgh – with new spots opening up in January.

If you’d like to book, they’ve kindly given our readers a discount code for 20%. Just use the code EWK20 when you book!

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