That floaty feeling

We have been taking the boys to swimming lessons since September. Once a week - Mondays - each boy goes to their own class at the Riga Olympic centre - a beautiful, super-modern, brand-new public swimming pool, which is on the third floor, and it has two big glass walls so that you can look out over the city as you swim.
Because the boys are still at drownable stage, we get in the water with them, and encourage them as best as we can. I figured it was high time that Tiss learned to swim, because although not that many kids can swim at his age in Latvia, I am still judging bits and pieces of child development by Australian standards - and a six year old that can't swim in Australia is just not normal.
So anyhow, we've been persevering with swimming lessons for a couple of months now. And both Jem and I have had moments of concern, because, unfortunately, I think Tiss takes after me in the physical agility stakes. Meaning, he has trouble coordinating arms and legs. He also takes after me in the "drama" department - highly developed skill there - so that combined with the coordination issue makes for some interesting swimming lessons. We've had lots of swallowing water and crying and "I don't want to put my head under" issues.
But last week, it finally happened! And I've got to say I'm not sure who was more excited - Tiss or me. Tiss can actually swim!!
What I found the most interesting and instructive in the whole process, was that it proved that you can't rush a kid to learn something - they have to do things in their own time and their own way. Although I'd heard this theory a hundred times - especially because we've flirted with Mrs Montessori - I'd never really seen it in action so obviously. The earnest instruction of the swimming coach, Eddie, has been constant, but (and sorry to all you PE teachers out there) I'm not actually sure that Eddie's efforts were the most important influence here. Last week, when Eddie and I forced Tiss to do something we both knew he could do - push off from the side with his legs and kick over to where I was standing 1 metre away - Tiss freaked, struggled, and sank down under the water with a panicky gurgle. Then Eddie went away. And I cuddled a howling 6 year old, and told him that it was cool and that he would do it when HE himself was ready... then he calmed down, and stopped freaking out, and held my hands and put his face into the water. Then he let go of my hands and floated... and then kicked a little... and then floated some more. Then he put his head up out of the water and said, "Eddie forgot to say that you need to get that floaty feeling before you swim. Let me get that floaty feeling first, then I can do it". And he did it!!! After Tiss had swum around for a while we both just stood in the pool smiling and laughing like crazy, and floating some more, and laughing some more. It was truly incredible! To see the moment it all clicked together - to watch a child really GETTING something for the first time - suddenly they're swimming, while a minute ago they were sinking.
By the way, I'm not trying to devalue the input of the swimming coach. Without a doubt, a lot of the exercises that we have been doing for the last three months have helped Tiss to FIND "that floaty feeling" - how to kick and use his arms and get him used to the water etc - but ultimately, the big step had to be taken when Tiss was ready, not when the teacher decided he was ready. Anyhow, this post isn't meant to be a comment on teaching philosophies - I know nothing about them - all I DO know, is that seeing a child learn a new skill is one of the most amazing, exciting and beautiful things I've ever seen. You lucky primary school teachers you!
PS. The pic above is of Thailand 2006 - When Tiss was still well and truly wearing floaties and clinging to any available uncle. We keep saying that on our next trip (to Mexico!) Tiss will be able to swim by himself in the resort pool!!!

2 Responses so far.

  1. Marite says:

    The thing that keeps me in this job is the "ah-ha moment", when something completely out of my control clicks for a kid, and they suddenly get it. It is wonderful. And it makes everything else worthwhile. :)

    Congrats to Tiss! I can't wait to see the swimming in Mexico! Whoohoo!!!

  2. Rozy says:

    I think to see ANYONE, not only a child to click with a new skill is a great feeling. I still continue jumping of joy when I myself realize or learn something new.
    A veeeery touching story!!! And probably more things than we think happen when they/we/everyone involved is ready not when we think they should happen. Lots of times cutting some slack would be good. Maybe I'm just a lazybeing but that's what I think. :)) Catching the floaty feeling... A bloody philosophy!!!
    I like your blog!

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