Week 4 - The bones of lesson planning
"Our daughter's journey from being absolutely petrified in the water to not being able to keep her above water is truly amazing".
"My son has gone from crying and not wanting water on his head to loving it and asking for more".
"I just can't believe how my daughter has gone from a total non swimmer to doing full strokes on her front and back in no time at all".
"My son hated being on his back, but one day, it was like a light switch reaction, he just decided he wanted to do it. Now he has no struggles to go on his back".
Welcome to Week 4. Aren't those few words from parents above great? Such positive feedback.
As an experienced teacher with close to 28 years of teaching, I am concerned with the way the learn to swim process is becoming. From my observations, it seems to have become a stressful and pressured learning journey. Are all children enjoying their swim lessons or are some of them doing them because their caregivers see it only as a vital safety skill to learn?
Why is teaching children to swim become so skill driven? Why are there so many learning outcomes to tick off? Why are lessons 100% teacher led? Why are there so many levels?
In our last blog Week 3 - Purposeful play, we took a look at what additional benefits adding a play-based approach to your swimming programme and how meeting the needs of a child's natural urge to learn enhances their learning experience.
We looked at the need for the teacher to become more of an observer, a facilitator to ensure the swimming pool is a true child-centred environment.
Also we looked at the readiness of a child, and when they are developmentally ready? Do our current qualifying centres support new teachers and provide them with the most up to date pedagogic thinking, so their lesson plans and learning outcomes are appropriate and designed according to a child's readiness?
Studies have shown that children who are exposed to the water for longer and more frequently are likely to learn to swim quicker. So, why are many swimming lessons only 10 - 25 minutes long? Also in the UK most children will only attend one lesson per week. If swimming lessons are regarded as SUCH an important life skill why isn't swimming also classed as a sport to continue with once younger children have learnt to swim.
As I have mentioned - children learn through play, through exploring, through investigating and being like little scientists in their world, by taking risks and having time to explore. Adults do not think or act like children and therefore why are we imposing an adult world on them when they are learning to swim? Why is it becoming more of a tick box exercise?
I believe in making things as simple, straight forward and uncomplicated as possible. Children thrive in environments where they feel safe and secure, where it is fun and stress free.
I believe that understanding how to teach and understanding the development of children has to come first - it's a priority! Then getting to grips with swimming skills comes with time and exposure to the water, trial and error. By observing the way a child learns will enable a teacher to provide an enriching environment where the child will naturally learn to swim when they are ready.
So what is the answer I am proposing?
1) Every swimming teacher is encouraged to research and take in as much information about how a child learns in a holistic way–It’s important to understand their biological, cognitive and a social development.
2) Using this knowledge, the basic skill sets for learning to swim have the best impact for children up until 7 years old.
3) Only introduce children to more complex concepts when they shows signs of readiness and when they are asking for more.
At Mini Water Adventurers we have developed what we call Bones of it lesson plans which are skill set categories and age appropriate . They include recommended progression activities to undertake when the child shows signs of readiness. These skill sets are encouraged by providing an enriching environment using themes and engaging, relevant props/equipment.
An example of a Bones of it lesson plan for children aged 2-3 years old.
An example of 4-5 years old:
The reason I have called it Bones of it programme, is because these are only recommendations to practice every lesson. For the different skill sets there can be a multitude of ways to accomplish that particular skill.
The skill sets are written in a particular order but not timed as the time you choose to take on the skill will depend on how much time you have in the water. You also may find that some or all the children don't want to do a particular skill such as go on their backs for a particular lesson. How would you deal with this? Pushing a child do something they don't want to do could be detrimental. There could be several reason as to they this might be the case. Therefore, knowing the children in your class is hugely beneficial so you can know when to push them and when to give them more time. What you would need to ask yourself, if this is a re-occurring request to ditch the back - why is this?
Here is a break down of the levels and age groups we find works really well:
For levels 1-2 and 5-7, from experience, to create momentum and fluidity to learn following a sequential lesson plan works well. With Level 3 & 4 I have found that teaching children in a routinely manner is not as successful. This happens because they are very independent and really want to do what naturally urges them to do, so enabling stations of different activities is fantastic to get around this challenge.
I will go in to more detail about how to structure your lesson and what to add into your lessons whilst using the Bones of it plan so it can become a constant working document for all the specific age groups you teach.
For example: If I am working with ages 4-5 years old and thinking of different ways to encourage breath control, I would use a theme to motivate them and make it fun. The success rate of the child taking part and achieving this particular skill is far greater when we use a variety of, and familiar activities. The theme then provides a way of making the same skill interesting and engaging which gives the child the opportunity to practise numerous times without feeling it is repetitive and boring.
Below is an activity card for a Dinosaur theme working on breath control. The card shows what levels it works well for at the bottom (the seal life images).
Another themed idea may be a Pirates, so to work on the breath control skill, I use a different activity card with that theme.
I must add that in the Levels (age appropriate) that I generally have a beginner, intermediate and advanced progression tracker to ensure that each child is challenged enough to enable them for progression when they are ready.
I do not offer rewards - no certificates or badges. At Mini Water Adventurers we thrive on intrinsic rewards, like self motivation and self satisfaction. This is another topic - one for another series.
I look forward to our last blog next week, which will show you how all this can be accomplished with a kit of essential equipment that have multi uses and help to bring your lessons alive.