At Aquatots we recognise and nurture babies’ natural ability to swim by using specialised techniques that our Managing Director Fiona has adapted and fine-tuned during the past 19 years of running Aquatots. We have a solid core belief backed up by scientific evidence that proves the attributes of starting your baby swimming at a young age[i]. This is why we feel it is so important, in the light of a new method of baby swimming technique ‘drown-proofing’, that we add our experienced voice to the UK’s leading swimming authorities and “debunk” the so called “benefits” of these water survival programmes!
You may have seen videos or images of toddlers, fully dressed, alone in a swimming pool using a combination of propelling themselves through the water towards the side whilst rotating onto their backs to breathe – this is the ‘drown-proofing’ method! The general first impression is awe and amazement of seeing a child so young using life-saving skills but at what cost! In June 2017 the STA, Royal Lifesaving Society UK and Swim England endorsed a report written by Dr Francoise Freedman, a medical anthropologist and founder of Birthlight, which although was sympathetic to the reasoning behind the launch of this method, was able to give a strong case against the use of it by using scientific research to provide reasoning that the use of such an extreme measure and the negative effect on neuro-developmental pathways in infants is disproportionate to the risk of drowning. You can read the full report HERE.
Whilst it can certainly be endorsed that the ‘swim and roll’ method is to be encouraged as a valuable life-saving exercise – that is what it is – an ‘exercise’ to be included with a wide variety of other exercises to build up an enjoyable session in the water which the baby/toddler is going to want to repeat and to definitely go back too. The overwhelming message from watching the videos of ‘drown-proofing’ is that NONE of the babies/toddlers are happy, they don’t like their teachers or what they are being asked to do. There is no parental involvement and the parent is featured watching from poolside whilst their infant cries and reaches out for comfort. The lessons are extremely intense (10 minutes each day) and forced movements of ‘flip and roll’ are continuously repeated.
Predominantly the differences between these ‘drown-proofing’ methods and our methods of baby swimming are foundered in the ‘gentleness’ of our programme. At Aquatots, parental involvement in our baby swimming programme is paramount. Bonding with baby is achieved by skin on skin contact and is a great source of comfort, the ‘survival’ babies are very much being taught not to enjoy their experience whilst alone in the water.
At Aquatots, we do want to prepare our infants for the unexpected, there is always a possibility that they may fall into water once they have started to crawl/walk and so at various developmental stages that the babies go through (approximately the crawling/walking stage) we initiate a ‘little drop’ followed by a ‘turn to the side’ so that babies are shown what to do. Whilst some babies take to this exercise quite happily, others do not and although we give another two opportunities to try within a term and encourage participation – we do not force a child to undertake any exercise as from experience we know that a term or two later, when developmentally the child has changed, they are usually more prepared to comfortably participate.
At Aquatots, we encourage children to jump in and turn back to the side within higher levels, to swim and roll until they are old enough to lift their heads up on their own is also encouraged, but again these are just part of our varied swim programme, along with many other different exercises, all aimed at giving our infants/toddlers and parents a wider experience, not just one at getting them to ‘roll on to their backs’ and swim for their lives!
During the past 19 years we have grown as a business and have now taught over 12,000 children. We have an extremely high level of retention of Parents and babies (80%) with approximately 140 new babies joining us every term. We feel this is because our structured, progressive yet adaptable programme works! The majority of our swimmers move on after our last level to continue swimming towards STA/ASA awards with other local swim schools – more often they are placed in higher level groups way ahead of their peers – this again proves that not only do we teach water safety, swimming and life-saving skills but also a love for the water and a confidence that cannot be matched by “Sink or Swim” programmes.
Photos by MLS Photography