Saturday, April 2, 2011

Swimming Lessons: Private vs. Group Lessons

When it comes time to enroll their child in swimming lessons, many parents are unsure what situation will lead to the best results. With so many programs out there, each with their own goals and strengths, how is a parent supposed to choose? One of the first decisions to make is between enrolling your child in private swimming lessons or group swimming lessons. Knowing the benefits and weaknesses of each approach will allow parents to choose the best swimming lesson for their child.

Group Lessons
When someone says “swimming lessons”, they are usually thinking of group lessons. In this set-up, there are multiple children per instructor. Numbers vary from 3-4 students for young children to 6-8 for older, more experienced swimmers. Red Cross and YMCA are two of the biggest providers of group swimming lessons in the US.

Group lessons are often the cheapest option. Prices generally range from $20-$50 for about 8 lessons. They are also easy to find; most health clubs, community centers, and sports complexes offer some form of group swimming lesson.
The biggest advantage to group lessons is the social interaction between students. Kids benefit from being able to watch their peers try skills and accomplish tasks. It gives them the confidence that they might be able to do it too! Swimming is more fun for children when they get to play games and show off for their peers. Group lessons also allow kids to get some rest between activities, as other students take their turn. A swimming lesson can also teach kids good social skills such as taking turns, sharing, and playing fair. There is also the opportunity for students to learn how to encourage each other in a scary setting and be patient with other people.

The main disadvantage to group lessons is lack on one-on-one time with each student. Even the best teacher can only spend so much time with each child on focused correction and feedback. She may have to spend time disciplining a challenging child or coaxing a fearful one, leaving the other children with lots of free time. As a result, kids in group lessons may not advance as fast as they would in a private lesson setting. Group lessons are also highly standardized and may not be a good fit for every child and skill level.

Private Lessons
Private lessons consist of one instructor and one student. Some parents may choose to have siblings of similar ages “share” a private lesson.

In a private lesson, the student(s) get focused, one-on-one attention. Instructors are able to concentrate on the needs of the individual child. Drills can be customized to the skill level of the student. As a result, students tend to advance faster in a private lesson. Discipline can also be tailored to the student's challenges, leading to a better learning environment for both student and instructor. The lesson can also meet the personal goals of the student and parents, from water adjustment to safety skills to competitive swimming skills.

Private lessons can be expensive, starting at $15 per lesson. It may also be more difficult to find a good private instructor. There is a lack of social interactions with peers, which may cause motivation challenges, as lessons may seem more like work than play. There is no opportunity for children to watch their peers try and master skills, which could benefit a nervous child. Private lessons also make it more challenging for an instructor to keep a child engaged for the entire session.

So which option should a parent choose?

Group lessons may be the best option for families in which cost is a major issue. It is also a good option for children who may be unsure of the water and slightly shy, where the social aspect of group lessons will allow them to observe their peers. While children will advance at an acceptable rate in group lessons, this option is best for parents who are less concerned with speedy results and want their children to learn to love the water and interact with their peers.

Private lessons may be the best option for parents who have a specific goal in mind. It might be to learn to swim in time for a vacation, or improve stroke performance for swim team. A private lesson is also a great option for those children who may have have had a traumatic experience with water and need to progress slowly. Students who may become distracted by other students or need specialized direction and discipline would also benefit from a private lesson.

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