I’m still developing a parental philosophy of extracurriculars, but generally speaking, one of our family rules is that if the Parks & Rec program near our home teaches something, there’s no need to pay more money or drive further to get it somewhere else.
We made an exception, however, for swimming, mainly because my daughter was phobic about water until recently. Washing her hair could turn into an epic battle. (Fortunately, she didn’t have much hair until recently either.)
Swimming is a life
skill, and a pretty important one for a normal social life in this
I’m still a bit sheepish about this decision, particularly among our friends who’ve heard us go on about how we don’t want to become “that” kind of parent. But this swim school has taught me a lot about how to treat parents and kids in learning situations – lessons the church could stand to learn too. I have no idea what their actual company manual says, but here's what I imagine is in there:
- Inspire confidence. Even if I wasn’t spending lots of money on these lessons, I would be spending precious time and gas, so I sure want to feel like it’s worth it, from day one. Everything from the cleanness of the facility to the clearly laid out expectations of each class says, “We know what we’re doing, and this will be worth your time.”
- Train the heck out of your teachers. Our kids have never had the same teacher twice, and no doubt there’s a good deal of turnover in a place where most of the staff are barely adults, but the quality of teaching is amazingly consistent. They all use the same methods, they all clearly love kids, and every single one is both courteous to the parents and respectful to the students.
- Have a clearly laid out system, but treat every individual like, well, an individual. This school is a big operation – they must conduct thousands of classes a year in the metro area. And yet the registration process is clear and simple, and when you arrive in a class, you know that your child will get the attention they need. My children are known by name and greeted enthusiastically – every single time.
- Evaluate like crazy. Every child is assessed by someone other than the teacher every term, and I have never been in a class when I was not asked to fill out an evaluation as a parent. The one and only time I wrote something out of the ordinary on an evaluation (and it wasn’t a criticism, just a “it would have been nice. . .”), it was responded to the next day, in person.
- Failure is not an option. This summer my son had a sudden and inexplicable case of stranger anxiety. He refused to get in the water without me. He cried through most of the first three classes. His group instructor couldn’t persuade him and still treat the other students fairly, but in a flash another teacher was there to give Johann 1-1 attention. No one blamed us, ignored the problem, or shrugged and said, “he’s just not ready.” No questions asked (and at no extra charge), he was given undivided attention until his anxiety abated, and by lesson five he was right in there with his classmates, progressing rapidly.
- Believe that this is important – and really fun too. The school reminds parents – before they register and during the course of a term – that swimming is serious business, a skill that can save lives and is worth teaching at a young age. They clearly know that there’s a huge responsibility when little ones are in the water. At the same time, every instructor knows how to calm nerves and make the hard work a whole lot of fun. There is tons of silliness, usually at the instructor’s expense. My kids are allowed to forget that we’re doing this so they don’t die.