My son failed swimming lessons. Yay! Yes…yay!

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After 10 weeks of swimming lessons, today was the final day of Red Cross Level 2 swimming lessons for Elijah, who will be turning 6 this week.  My kids are both little fish – never afraid of the water as infants and always eager to go swimming whenever the chance comes up.  Elijah was in swimming lessons from the time he was 3 years old, in our old community which only had an outdoor pool.  The summer was always swimming-lesson time.

I began to notice something among the (teenage) instructors that worried me. They were not paying attention.  They’d ask my son to do one the required tasks for Level 2, he wouldn’t do it successfully, and the instructor would nod and say, “Good job!” and move onto the next child.  It wasn’t that there were too many kids per instructor either.

The first time (yes first, there were more) he was in Level 2 there were 2 other children in his class.  The following summer, instead of enrolling him in Level 3 which he clearly, at the age of 4, was not ready for (there were kids in grade 2 in that level) I put him in Level 2 again.  Five kids total in his class this time.  Once again, same routine…he passed again.  “See you in level 3!” his report card said, scrawled in that messy writing so characteristic of teenage boys.  I was left unsettled.

Moving to a larger city I debated for days what level to enroll Elijah in at the new pool, with new instructors.  Do I put him in Level 3 when my gut, after passing Level 2 twice, was telling me my kid was not ready, or do I enroll him in Level 2 for a third time and somehow explain to my son why I was “holding him back”?

I opted for Level 2 again – by the way 6 year olds do not care that they are held back. They care that they get to swim!

And so, 10 weeks later there we were.  The report card was handed to me (quickly) by his new instructor.  I noted that there’s no completion date and pulled the instructor aside to ask, “Does this mean I should put him in Level 2 again?”  The look of terror in her eyes and the stumbling of her words told me that this may be the very reason I was in this particular situation to begin with.

“He’s a great kid,” she stammered, “But he’s just not ready…” I interrupted her with a smile and said, “This is a good thing!   This means you’re doing your job.”

I saw the sigh of relief and the smile come back to her face.

“I’d  much rather you tell me my kid isn’t ready to move on than pass him TWICE like other instructors have done,” I told her.

She gave me some areas Elijah could improve on over the summer, and I thanked her graciously for her work these past 10 weeks.

Are teachers, instructors, and coaches so scared of parents that they are passing our children when they should not be?  It’s a shame if this is the case.  Especially in something as life-saving as swimming skills are concerned, I 100% don’t want my son to sink before he swims.

Isn’t that the point of learning in the first place?

I am a proud mommy today.  Elijah did his best and is a better swimmer than he was 10 weeks ago.  To me, that’s what matters.  Next fall, we will tackle Level 2 for the fourth time. ;)


  1. my sister doesn’t do swim classes anymore b/c they’re so expensive and they really don’t watch the kids at all. it’s much cheaper to just go to the rec center and she teaches them herself

    • Lindsay says:

      It can get pricey but you are able to claim up to $500 per child in Canada on your income taxes now for sports and another $500 for “arts” :D

  2. What a great story Tenille! What a point! I don’t know if teachers and coaches do this or not. It makes me wonder though.

  3. As a teenage swimming instructor myself, I am so happy to see a parent recognize their child’s abilities when it comes to swimming lessons! Too often, we receive complaints from parents who consider it a child’s personal failure if they don’t pass, and it’s great to hear from someone who genuinely wants their child to learn.
    I think that if an instructor has doubts about passing one of their charges, they should imagine them in the next level and decide whether they are ready to move on, or if they just need some additional time to practice.

  4. My son Ben began swimming lessons two summers ago. 5 days a week for 2 weeks were the classes. And the end of the two weeks he got a report card. The first summer we went for 3 rounds…he failed level 1 each time. This summer we began a bit later, and after 4 week (2 rounds) of Level 1 he finally passed. I don’t hold a grudge to those instructors (except the lack of attention at times) for failing him. He wasn’t ready. And the look on his face when he passed…well, that was priceless.10 weeks, and $300 later, he’ goes into Level 2 this fall. :)

  5. This is an encouraging story for parents like me.

  6. I m also a swimming instrutor and I know that when I say good job to a child that has not done a skill right, it is because hey gave a good effort and also so we dont signal that child out from a class that are doing right. I strongly support teaching your ownkids how to swim at the younger levels because you know how your child would learn best and you can focus on one child instead of six at a time. For highe levels the instructors can coach them on proper skills for stokes. If an instructor does something yo dont like ask them, they will tell you will your kid passed or didnt pass. Sometime they pass one level but are not physicaly stron enough for the next. If they completed all the skills for level 2 they pass even if they cant make the next level.

  7. Veronica says:

    This is great!

  8. I think it would help a bit if everyone stopped referring to swimming lessons as something that kids can “PASS” or “FAIL”. Learning to swim is a life skill and is taught through a progression of skills that can result with safety, competence or high performance depending on the path you choose, but NEVER actually ends. There is no passing mark or grade required in swimming lessons and in every lesson every child is learning, practicing, reinforcing or improving their skills. They get exercise, they socialize, they learn to be safe and they have fun. A card, a sticker, a badge or a medal are simply ways of recognizing what they have accomplished and “levels” are simply a way of organizing a group of like-skilled children together so that resources like staff and pool space can be utilized efficiently. When students achieve the skills they need to be ready for the next progression they may move to another group…but if they don’t , that doesn’t mean they have failed…it just means they need to learn, practice or master more skills before moving on.
    We don’t talk about children passing or failing in baseball, hockey, basketball or any other physical activity, especially at a young age. Often, as they get older, they “don’t make the team”, but that just means they don’t have the skills required to play at that level and need more practice and development! Swimming is the same and it would make a huge difference if we all put the emphasis on the activity, not on an arbitrary end point.

    You are so right! It’s too bad that people get caught up in the badges and stickers instead of seeing their child get stronger and more competent in the water. I once put my grandson in private backyard lessons for a week and when I first spoke with the instructor I told him that I wanted him to teach him cannon balls and flip turns and anything else that would make him comfortable and stronger in the water …and enjoyable. The look on the instructors face was “relief” (yes i am a known Red Cross Instructor Trainer and I’m sure that he thought that I would be analyzing his every move). My grandson had a blast while I lay back and caught some rays – a win-win situation for all!

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