12 ON YOUR SIDE: Fast track swim lessons

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's a lesson that can save your child's life, but how extreme are you willing to get when it comes to teaching your child how to swim?

Some parents recently fell under scrutiny after letting their baby swim alone.

One local swim program is taking a "tough-love" approach. Aqua Tots just opened in Midlothian, and it's been open in the West End for some time.

From tears to uncertainty, every parent knows swimming lessons can be a challenge.

"Last year, I couldn't even get her off the steps," said Kelly Shingleton.

We asked little Jackson Robertson about learning to swim, and he summed it up pretty succinctly - he was scared.

But stop by Aqua Tots in Midlothian or the West End and you might bump in to Kerin Morgan, previous founder of the Morgan Swim School. Morgan and her fleet of swim instructors aren't phased by the tears or the worry.

"We simply tell parents to expect it," said Morgan.

Their fast-track program is eight days of 30-minute lessons for kids as young as 2 or 3. It's a no-nonsense approach, which sometimes includes dunking the kids under the water to familiarize them with submersion.

"We tell parents the first lesson is actually the hardest because most children in water have decided what they will and will not do," said Morgan. "They come here and they say, 'I don't want to, I don't want to,' and we say, 'we know you don't want to, but we're going to try it two times.'"

On day one, there are tears and escape attempts. Jackson Robertson is unsure when he's told he's going underwater.

"It's not really hard, you can do it," Morgan says to him. "You can do it Jackson. It's not really hard, you can do it."

"That's kind of tough. You know, watching through the glass and stuff, you kind of see these moments where your child looks like they're trying to get air and you kind of get a little anxious," said Melanie Robertson.

But the lessons continue, with life-saving skills like crawling on the wall to get to safety, and floating. Day one ends with a towel and a ribbon for fearless floating.

Fast forward to day eight, and swim class looks a lot different. Participants are able to swim from the wall to instructors and grab toys from the bottom of the pool.

In moments of hesitancy, Ms. Morgan steps in and pushes her swimmers forward. Jackson is worried about swimming without his goggles - and Ms. Morgan is having none of it.

"Should you say no to teachers?" Morgan asks him. "NO. Ms. Morgan loves you. You don't need goggles. You don't need goggles."

"We know that it's much harder for the parents to deal with the tears than it is for us because we're use to it and we know it goes away," said Morgan. "The result is amazing. We see amazing progress. It's great."

And ask Jackson eight lessons later, certificate in hand, how important swimming is - and he knows the most important tricks for staying alive in an emergency.

"You can catch your air that way!" said Jackson.

It's that thinking, the swim school is after.

"So to us, independent swim is a child thinking the right way," said Kerin Morgan. "If I fall in, I turn around and get the wall. If I am in trouble away from the wall and I can't get it, I roll on my back or I learn to pop up. That's what we're after. "

For the parents, the lessons learned in this tough-love swim school are well worth it.

"If she was to get in a situation where she, you know, had fallen in the water and she would be able to do what she needed to do to get to the side or on her back," said Kelly Shingleton.

"I think it's great," added Melanie Jackson. "They break things down so kids know each little step along the way, and you know focusing on safety first is really important. That way, if they do fall in, they'll know how to get to the edge."

Just eight 30-minute lessons, that could save your child's life. Aqua Tots does recommend ongoing lessons. They're still the same no-nonsense mentality one or two times a week, but they say the eight-day fast track program really seems to help the children get over that initial fear and start swimming.

Here is a note from Kerin about her program:

"Thanks for coming out. It has been a full week, but I wanted to write some of the key points of our school that gives a full picture of who we are.

"We believe that swimming is a life lesson - not just to gain the skill of swimming to participate in for life but also that there are character lessons that are life lessons in the process. Examples are:

•  Self control is foundational and a base virtue upon which other disciplines are learned/

•  Submission to authority- we all have authority in our life- including you and me. We do not always want to do what they want but we need to b/c they are in authority over us and often have our best interest at heart

•  Perseverance and diligence to improve and continue trying

•  Swimming is easy and fun, if we do what teacher says!  What child does not do better in life if they obey mom and dad as young children!

"We know that the first lesson is the hardest and the second the hardest to come back to. This is often the first time a child has been in water where they did not call the shots and decide what they would and would not do.

"We know that some of life's greatest and most wonderful lessons start out hard and then become something we can boast in and be proud of. True self esteem is built by overcoming fear or accomplishing something we did not think we could do.

"We need to raise the kids to our standard not lower our expectations to theirs. They can do so much more than we think.

"Water is fun only after it is safe. Kids that can swim safely have tons more fun in the water than kids that cannot.

"Kids that learn to swim well and efficiently over time as children will end up being adults who enjoy swimming. Swimming to just get by as kids will not produce safe adult swimmers. Much of the adult population of "swimmers" would not really be able to take care of themselves in an open-water situation.

"We LOVE kids, but we know kids can have unreasonable fears. We respect them, but we will not let the "scaredy cats" be in charge. Swimming is all about control - first of emotions and then of the body. A child that can be in control in water is a confident and safe swimmer.

"Aqua-Tots has been designed knowing that learning to swim is progressive. You lay a good foundation, and then, over time, there are many building blocks to add and learn all the strokes. Lessons over time produce the best swimmers down the road - not the fast track. The fast track is wonderful to get kids over the emotional hump and lay a foundation to trust the water and trust what their bodies do in it, but it is never suggested as a stopping point in our school rather a starting point only. We say you actually "train someone to swim - not teach them" This implies skills done repeatedly over time and maturation and familiarity will improve technique."

If you can't afford swimming lessons, here's another option:

Free classes designed for non-swimmers for youth ages 5 through 12 will begin on July 22 at pools in Richmond. The classes are sanctioned by the American Red Cross. Call or visit the pool of your choice to register.

Pool Locations & Telephone Numbers:

Battery Park Pool, 2917 Dupont Circle, 23231 -- 804-646-0127

Bellemeade Pool, 1800 Lynhaven Ave., 23224 -- 804- 646-8849

Blackwell Pool, 238 E. 14th St., 23224 -- 804-646-8718

Fairmount Pool, 2000 U St., 23219 -- 804-646-3831

Hotchkiss Pool, 701 E. Brookland Park Blvd., 23227 -- 804-646-3762

Powhatan Pool, 5051 Northampton St., 23231 -- 804-646-3595

Randolph Pool, 1401 Grayland Ave., 23220 -- 804-646-1329

Swansboro Pool, 3160 Midlothian Trnpk., 23224 -- 804-646-8088

Woodville Pool, 2305 Fairfield Ave., 23223 -- 804-646-3834

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