“It depends; what’s your philosophy?”
That was the response I received a few months ago when I asked a fellow parent at my kids’ daycare which swim school she’d recommend.
My “philosophy?” I was confused. I wanted my kids to learn how to swim — I didn’t realize I’d have to first choose between Plato and Confucius.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I eventually managed, clearly needing more information.
“Well, some of the schools take a gradual approach that slowly introduces concepts, while others are pretty much about throwing the kids right in the pool and letting them learn.”
I thanked her, then went home and did some research. Not surprisingly, parents seemed to be pretty divided on which method works best. Even in my own home, my husband Dan favored the “tough love” approach, while I leaned toward a more deliberate method. When I related this to a friend, she laughed, saying, “That’s a father for you.”
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that both methods have merit. While I was in no way in favor of my kids being thrown into a pool, I did see the value in them gaining survival skills that might otherwise take a long time to develop. On the other hand, the “sink or swim” philosophy has been shown to scare kids away from the water, which I didn’t want either.
In the end, we opted for a swim school that seemed to fall somewhere in between. Over the course of either one week of full days or two weeks of half days, kids are taught the basics of swimming and water safety. With close supervision, they learn to swim a few feet on their own, with the goal being to make those stretches longer and longer. After the course is completed, parents are encouraged to attend a demonstration showing what the kids have learned, and continue to work with them and build on the skills they developed.
When Austin and Scarlett finished their one-week boot camp, I was thrilled to see the progress they had made, going basically from non-swimmers to beginners who had at least some grasp on what it takes to stay afloat (even if they still need floaties). So when I asked the instructors whether they thought the kids would benefit from more lessons (expecting to hear that I needed to write another check), I was told this.
“They came a long way, and you should feel really good about their progress. I think another week or half-week would benefit them, but what’s most important is that you keep working with them. Keep exposing them to the water and letting them get more comfortable with swimming.”
That’s when I had one of those wonderful ‘a-ha’ moments. Perhaps it isn’t so important whether we side with the Socratic method or the scientific method, but rather what happens after class is dismissed and it’s time to apply what was learned in the real world.
I guess that’s my philosophy.