I am a huge believer that every child should learn to swim as early as possible. It is not only great exercise and a lot of fun, but it can save your life. The only issue is finding a great place for your child to learn to swim. It seems like it should be easy, but we have tried a number of places with not so great results. Some are too cold, some cancel lessons because not enough kids sign up and others have too many kids for each instructor.
A swim school now exists that addresses all of those problems. It opened a year ago as Carlile Swimming based on the swim school that Rick Curl of Curl-Burke Swim Club and Olympian Tom Dolan brought back from Australia. As of a month ago the school officially changed its name to the Tom Dolan Swim School. The facility is exactly the same, but some of the methodology has changed.
My son has been attending lessons there since last September. He loves the water, but had a big issue with putting his face in the water. He also had a tendency to gag on the water when he did decide to put his face in the water. I signed him up for their introductory class for kids ages 2 1/2 to Kindergarten age – now called Penguins.
On the first day we arrived about 30 minutes early. The nice woman at the reception desk gave my son his welcome pack – a backpack, water bottle and car magnet. My son was also handed a colored token. The token matches a basket at the end of the appropriate lane in the pool.
This way both the instructor and student know they are in the right place. We then headed for the changing rooms to get his swimsuit on. There are quite a lot of small changing enclosures outside of the locker rooms. There are also boys and girls locker rooms with showers just beyond the changing area.
After my son had his suit on, we made our way to the viewing room. The whole facility is toasty warm, so my little guy had no problem hanging out in his suit before his lesson began. The viewing room has large windows facing the pool, chairs and vending machines. Parents and children can see each other, but benches are also available on the pool deck for those that want to be closer.
When it was time for my little guy’s lesson I walked him out to the pool where he found the basket with the red square that matched his token. His instructor introduced herself and then had my son put his token into a little container. He sat at the edge of a miniature pool and I walked back to the viewing room.
The facility has three pools of varying sizes. The pools have a depth of no more than four feet. The pools also have ledges built into each end so that the children can stand in the pool. The water temperature is always between 89 and 91 degrees. I have never heard a child complain of being cold.
Two other children joined the group (there are up to 4 kids in the younger groups and 5 in the older groups). The 30 minute lesson started out with games and play and progressed to kicking on this great floating mat, floating using a kickboard on the front and a noodle on the back. No other flotation devices are used. My son hopped out of the pool at the end of the lesson grinning.
After his lesson he took a shower located right on the pool deck. I do warn you that it is very hard to turn on these showers without getting at least a little bit wet. After his shower we headed back to the locker room to change. It was then that I discovered one of my favorite things about the swim school – the bathing suit water extractor. You put the suit inside, hold down the lid and seconds later, the suit is nearly dry. What a great gadget!
My son loved every minute of his lesson that day and each week since. The first level for preschoolers is mostly about water comfort, but also teaches the kids to float on their front and back and learn to kick. Subsequent levels introduce freestyle and backstroke with correct breathing and later breaststroke and butterfly. There are also groups for babies (with a parent in the water), school-aged children and adults.
Children progress to the next group when a supervisor sees that they have achieved all of the goals of the level they are in. There is no set amount of time that children should be in each group. My son just graduated from the Penguins, which took about six months. Some children move up much quicker, but children are evaluated continuously and the supervisor is always available to answer questions.
After leaving my son’s swim class we headed next door to check out the animals at the pet store. A Wegman’s and a Target are in the same shopping center, as well as a small playground nearby.
- Group lessons for preschool age children are available from 9am to noon every morning except Wednesday and Thursday. Lessons for older children are available weekend mornings and Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 6:30.
- Lessons are 30 minutes and are once a week for $99 per month. There is a 15% discount if you wish to add a second lesson a week.
- Lessons are typically cancelled on major holidays and rates are automatically prorated.
- There are no makeups. I am not a huge fan of this policy, but it appears to be the norm in the swim school world.
- Children should bring a suit, towel and goggles if they will wear them. Instructors encourage goggles, but do not make the kids use them.
- Bathing suits, goggles, fins and swim caps are available for purchase at the reception desk.
- Online registration is not available. Call the swim school and they will let you know what days and times are available and what level is most appropriate for your child. They also happily give tours to those considering signing up for lessons.
We love the Tom Dolan Swim School! My son has made great progress and loves going to swimming each week. It is somewhat expensive, but learning to swim is so crucial that the money is well spent.