My Fabulous Life

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

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. 😉


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  • 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

    • 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” 😀

  • 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.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Even if Elijah was put into Swim Kids 3, it’s not like the instructor would say “swim by yourself now”. If Elijah wasn’t ready to do the Swim Kids 3 material, the Swim Kids 3 instructor still has “x” number of days/weeks to work on anything with him, and it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t complete the level the first time. Learning to swim is a process, not a competition or a race.

    When instructors start a swim session, they always start by reviewing skills from the previous level. So the swim kids 3 instructor would look and see that Elijah’s Swim Kids 2 skills weren’t very strong, and then they would keep working on those skills before making him do Swim Kids 3 things. So even if Elijah would have been better off staying in Swim Kids 2, he isn’t being put at risk of not learning or not being safe by being put in Swim Kids 3 – the parent just has to be aware that the level will be more challenging and that it’s OK if the level needs to be repeated.

    I’ve been teaching for 7 years and taught kids in Swim Kids 6 that should have been in Swim Kids 3 etc.. But I’d work with them on the things that needed work and then on their report card I would show them what their child has completed and what level I would have them in based on what i’ve seen and then I would give them the option to repeat the level again, or I would suggest private lessons to review the material leading up to Swim Kids 6. But no matter what level they are put in, they will always be learning, they won’t be left behind and they won’t be expected to perform at the same level as every other child.

    Every kid in a swim class is assessed and taught individually, not in comparison to the other kids in the class. Each individual can receive their own feedback and have their own skills that they need to develop further. It’s the instructors job to provide the opportunity and knowledge for each individual to work on their own progress.

    • If the child you taught was in level 6 and was at a level 3 in swimming, you shoud have talked to the parents and moved the child to the correct level to match his abilities.

  • I am a swim instructor, and the reason she might have been afraid or uneasy is because we do, on occasion get the parents that are very dissapointed and take out their frustrations on us. One time a parent took out her anger out on me and told me that she’s just going to teach her own child because I wasn’t doing my job and because we were ”apparently” only doing songs and games. Let me remind you that this was 4 & 5 beginner, so the kids are still ages 4 & 5 and we need to include fun and games as well as swimming skills to keep the children interested and having fun. Some parents aren’t as easy going like you seem to be. So everytime we get the ”did my child complete” we are programmed to believe that the parent is frustrated or mad. We do really appreciate the parents who are kind and believe that swimming can be difficult and appreciate our work. As well as we dont want to complete children who aren’t fully ready for the next level because that wouldn’t be fair to them and they woudn’t be prepared. Thanks 🙂

  • Have you heard of K & K Swim School? They specialize in private swimming lessons and are now in Regina! They started in Saskatoon and have spread to Calgary as well. The Private lessons are offered one on one with students ranging from age 24 months to adult seniors. They also have many services ranging from lessons with infants to adults, special needs lessons, backyard lessons and backyard lifeguarding! Check them out, or on facebook: K & K Swim School

  • Hi, i found your story so interesting.

    I am a swimming instructor and i’ve been an instructor for the past 7 years. At first i was afraid to not pass a child because of the comments below about them parents yelling at you or saying you didn’t do you job properly…

    But I can actually say now that i am not afraid of the parents and what they tell me if their kids don’t pass….
    Everyone has their field of expertise !! I can say proudly that swimming and teaching swimming is my field!!

    Now I tell them why they didn’t pass and how to practice with their kids during open swim so they can pass the next time.

    But now That i have started my swimming company in Gatineau QC I can truly say that if you want to truly see a big improvement in a short amount of time private swimming lessons in the way to go.

    Yes it is more expensive than public swimming pools but the instructor can work with the student for the WHOLE class and not just 10 mins out the 30 mins class.

    If interested please visit us at


  • Great story, i was scared of water and back then it was still colours yellow, orange, red. Instructors held me back i did orange 3 times

  • I have a different opinion. It seems to me how the tables have turn since on own daughter went to swim lessons when she was a kid. Yes she failed the first time because she was afraid to the water. I and I agree she should be failed. Anyways, when she caught on I I took her back to lessons and the rest is history. The Instructors then actually taught the kids and never allow them to have down time. They only have 30 min. Today My grand kids are in lessons and I notice the women(girls) are more interested if the boy instructors are watching them. They don’t pay attention Hey the boys were doing so much better then the girls as far as teaching going. I notice they show one kid at a time to do something for about 5 mins, while all the other just wait. This is not the way it was done before but they all do it now. It seem they want each kid to redo each lesson twice in order for them to pass. Every kid has to go at least twice. I started keeping tabs . Anyways one of my grandsons now doesn’t want to go back. He hates failing and now he feels like a loser. I realize everyone hate to lose but honestly he was good enough to pass but because this was his first go around on that level they failed him. I thought if they are going to fail all the kids on the first go around then call it swim lesson 4A and 4B. At least the kids think they are getting better. I am beginning to think you are better off to get private lessons. Maybe get a group together and hire a instructor old school preferable and it could be about the same price as the public swimming but much better.

    • I have to pipe in as both an ex-swim instructor and as a parent. I taught when I was a teenager and early 20’s. The pool I taught at always gave the parents an instructor evaluation form after the set was complete. I felt it made us accountable to the parents. So I was very shocked to discover no instructor evaluation forms given when my children take lessons. My son, when in swim kids 5 had the absolute worst instructor I have ever come across, I watched his front-crawl go from bad to terrible. This was the 2nd time in swim kids 5. I ended up allocating 10 lessons to him from myself and helped him obtain a beautiful front crawl. However, I really regret not providing feedback to the supervising staff about this instructor. She gave no feedback to the kids and was looking everywhere but at them. I learned that I need to speak up. So after my 10 sessions, he went in swim kids 5 again. This time the instructor was very attentive and instructive. However, I was frustrated that she was making the kids wait on the side after doing a width until the other kids caught up. Basically, there was alot of sitting and not much swimming. So I went to the office and asked for an evaluation form. They actually had them! The head supervisor on duty asked what was going on and I told him. He gave me the form and said that he wished more parents did this. I wrote down my constructive feedback. I week later, the instructor, comes up to me and says “did you write the feedback?”, I sheepishly respond “yes”. She thanked me and said that is the only way they are going to get better. Guess what, she had them swimming more in all the next sessions too. So I was a much happier parent.

      Every single time my children has passed or failed, I have agreed with the instructor decision except once. The one time, he was clearly a new instructor, and was not very seasoned. I believe he would have passed my son on the first day. I don’t think he learned a single thing that class but I was getting in the water after class and working with my child. I got him to a skill level where he earned that pass. Sometimes 2 or 3 sessions is all they need from me to get them on the right track. Privates clearly would be extremely beneficial to a struggling swimmer…also, some parent help would greatly benefit the kid! Parents, sometimes it is just getting them to do a front glide pushing through the water (not up); or keep your head at the surface when doing a front glide (don’t let it submerge); or working on tiny, fast kicks with tiny splashes. Parents, you can do this…you don’t need to be an expert swimmer to help.

      Lastly, instructors hate it when they get a child in a level that they shouldn’t be in. Most will teach to a higher standard than required because having a struggling kid in a class is very challenging. Not only do the instructors need to be accountable to their co-workers but the kid will get frustrated for lack of progress and not having the building blocks to exceed at a faster rate. My son just completed swim kids 8 (it was a 7/8 split). There was one girl in that class that I have no idea how she even passed level 6. I felt that the instructor had to spend so much time with her that it took away from the other kids. Frankly, he should have recommended that she go into a different class. I should have spoken up (but didn’t). If my son wasn’t such a strong swimmer (he did swim club for 2 years) then I probably would have felt more of an urge to say something. But he could have passed on Day 1 so I left it.

      The instructors need to have accountability to all the parents in the class, and if they don’t do it then we need to ask for it.