Two years ago, before we moved to Cary from Beijing, I signed my then-4-year-old, Donovan, up for private swim lessons in anticipation of spending long summer days at the pool in North Carolina. Donovan had a wonderful Chinese instructor named Alan, who swam for the Chinese national team in his younger days, and he was fantastic with the kids. Donovan loved going to the swim lessons, but at the end of the month he still wouldn't get his head wet, which made progressing on the actual swimming front a challenge.
We relocated to Cary and did spend a lot of time at the pool and at the beach, and still Donovan would not get his head wet. Even washing his hair in the bathtub or shower was a challenge, so the fact that he wouldn't go “all in,” as it were, in the pool did not come as a surprise. Rather, it was more of a slight frustration and worry that he would never become proficient at swimming. Given that knowing how to swim is a safety matter, it was a milestone I wanted achieved sooner rather than later.
Last summer, there were more encouraging signs as Donovan, then five, tried to keep up with his friends in the bigger pool, yet still no getting the eyes wet. So as this summer rolled around, and I thought about signing him up for yet another round of swim lessons, I wondered if I should even bother. I wondered if we had missed an important window now that he is six.
I persevered, since it is much more relaxing and more fun to be at the pool and beach when all of the kids can actually swim. The night before his swim lessons started, I observed him at the pool watching some older boys having a ball jumping in the three-foot section. Donovan observed and then walked over to the six-inch section and launched himself in. An action akin to jumping in a deep puddle! I wondered how the swim lessons would go the next morning, since we left the pool with dry hair.
I needn't have worried! By the end of the first 30 minute lesson, Donovan was dunking his head! His amazing swim instructor, Miss Julia, even taught him a magic eye wipe that seemed to really minimize the eye irritation. His homework that first night was to dunk his head five times before the next morning’s session. Donovan took on the challenge and proudly dunked his head 20 times, even discounting dunks that didn't get his whole head completely submerged. I was in shock!
Every day progressed with similar groundbreaking developments, and by the end of the first week he was a verified water baby, spending hours in the pool and even going down the slide! By the end of the second week he was outright swimming. I have been reading books at the pool while he tries out his new swimming skills, I feel like I have been on a relaxing holiday and am so glad that I tried out swimming lessons one more time!
We went to the beach the other day and I could not believe when I saw my husband taking Donovan into the surf and diving right beneath the waves with him, hair, eyes, ears and all absolutely soaking wet! In two short weeks I feel like an entire new world of summer fun has opened up for Donovan.
The experience has served as another reminder of the importance of allowing our children to do things in their own time. To continue to try things out and not to discount an activity just because they didn't take to it like a duck to water the first, second or even third time around.
As if on cue, Donovan just yelled out, "Mom, can we go to the pool?" and it is music to my ears!
(EDITORS NOTE: See Part 1 of Heidi's musings on letting kids achieve things on their own timetable here.)