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Testing the Waters at Silver Bear Swim School

I didn’t learn to swim until I was 11 years old. I remember being frustrated when I went to the pool with my friends and I couldn’t hang out with them in the deep end as easily. There was one time, I remember trying to play “lifeguard” with my cousin and little sister the year before I took lessons. We thought it would be fun to pretend to lifeguard my little sister across the deeper part of the pool, but since two of the three of us didn’t know how to swim, it probably wasn’t that great of a plan. My little sister panicked and pushed me under. My cousin detached from us and swam to the edge of the pool. I remember detangling my hair from my sister’s grip and walking, under the water, to the shallow end. One of my uncles dove in and helped my sister, but I think it took the adults a minute to realize what was happening. It was scary and has always stuck with me.

Fast forward to when my daughter was 3. We decided swimming was a good activity to start and began assessing our options. We initially started with private lessons because I thought that was the way to go, but we quickly discovered that wasn’t a good fit for our family. I worried that swimming just wasn’t for us or thought maybe we should try again when my kids were older. Fortunately, before giving up we moved over to Silver Bear Swim School and haven’t looked back since. I know it’s hard to gauge what is going to work for your kids, and it’s difficult to know if you should change when something isn’t working for you. My kids Swimming Ready are different people than I am and parenting has taught me to be humble and willing to constantly reevaluate what I think will work best. I wanted to share our family’s experience in case it helps you make a decision for your family.

The Instructors and Staff

At the time we started my daughter Hadley in swim lessons, she had trouble pronouncing certain sounds and had a tendency to speak very quietly. She didn’t do well in groups, and combined with her high anxiety around the water, it made us feel that maybe she would do better in a more individualized setting. It went poorly. We spent the lesson after lesson with her screaming and refusing to do anything. I was told that by the instructor that they would rather have her scream all lesson than “give in” to her — but she was terrified, not throwing a fit. I felt lost, I felt awful for forcing my kid into the pool, and I felt like the crazy helicopter parent for wanting to not dunk my already screaming kid in the pool. I did finally agree to try dunking her on the third-to-last private lesson, and she refused to even get into the water after that. I felt like all the progress we made went down the drain (not to mention the money). The very last lesson, the coach coaxed her into the pool and dunked her again. She came up obviously upset, grabbed the swim instructor’s ponytail, and the swim instructor screamed.

We switched to Silver Bear, and the difference was immediate. Hadley comfortably sat on the side of the pool without being forced in and watched other kids her age jump in and swim. She got to see that there was nothing to be afraid of. The first day I was there, I watched a deck manager, who is a staff member on duty outside the pool, come out and sit down with the parent of a boy who was in his very first swim lesson. The deck manager reassured the parent that her son’s reaction was normal, that it was ok for him to be upset, that they would find the best way to navigate his lessons together. I was so impressed with the time they took to communicate with the parents at Silver Bear.

Less than a month into the lesson, Hadley did the hair grabbing maneuver again. I watched as her coach gently untangled my daughter’s hand from her hair and set her down on the platform in the middle of the pool where she couldn’t go anywhere. Jamie then calmly told her they couldn’t do anything until she calmed down. It took a minute, but once my daughter calmed down, the rest of the lesson went smoothly. Hadley just needed the adult in the situation to show that even if she was worried, they were not. At the end of the lesson, Jamie told me Hadley just needed to build trust with her instructor. Their instructors deal with a wide variety of kids with a wide variety of personalities, and it shows. They are great at handling different situations and evaluating the real cause of the kid’s distress or why the kid is not progressing. I finally felt comfortable having my daughter in swim lessons.

Hadley is now almost 6 and happily swims across the pool on her own. She loves swimming. She is sad if we have to skip a week, she asks to go to their family swim time. My son Cole just turned 4, and we put him in lessons. I had thought Hadley was high anxiety when it came to water, but Cole has taught me that kids can always one-up each other and surprise you. Cole hates the unknown.  He has trouble before any sort of structured activity, and when we add water to it, he really struggles. He breaks down before every class, but once he is out there, he is fine. I’ve handed him off to the deck manager sobbing before and watched as she calmly took him over to the shelf of pool toys, let him pick one, and stayed with him until it was his turn to swim with his instructor.

Flexibility and Options

Testing the Waters Hadley turned into a negotiator last year. I’ve watched her stand there during her turn at swimming and try to convince the instructor to let her do something different. Now that she is older, she does need a bit of a firm hand. Cole, on the other hand, hates to be even slightly in trouble and needs someone very reassuring.  I’m so thankful that I can bring them both to one location and find instructors that work with their personalities.

I appreciate the flexibility we have in schedule with group lessons. I have had sick kids on swim day, I have had a last-minute work meeting come up, I have had family in town that week and we just couldn’t make the schedule work, among other things. Silver Bear’s policy allows us to miss one lesson a month and reschedule it up to 30 days after the missed session. It’s been a relief to know I don’t throw money away when those unavoidable circumstances happen.

Practice Makes Perfect

Ringing the BellThe biggest questions I get asked is whether I’m getting my money’s worth or whether I feel like my kids are making progress. And my answer is a wholehearted “yes.” I know they share their lesson time with up to three other kids, but my kids have always moved forward at a great pace for their age (they aren’t going to be Olympic swimmers overnight). They get a lot out of watching their peers in the pool (monkey see, monkey do). They enjoy making friends there, and it takes a lot of the pressure of what was a scary situation for them. Hadley especially hates to be the center of attention. She does not like pressure and thrives in the group setting where she doesn’t feel like she is the sole focus of the lesson.

I think there is something to be said about the sustainability of cost. I firmly believe, especially at their age, that swimming is something they have to continually practice, or they will lose the skill. One eight-week session might teach them the basics, but it isn’t going to teach them how to truly swim. Group lessons have been more sustainable and realistic long term for my family – we are going on almost three years at Silver Bear.

To find more information at Silver Bear Swim School visit their website, call  775-852-0550 or email info@silverbearswim.comDon’t forget to sign up to win a free 30-minute lesson by commenting on the post on our Facebook page. Double your chances by commenting on Instagram! 


About Danielle Sanford

Danielle Sanford
Danielle Sanford moved to Reno when she was three, just about when she started remembering things, so essentially, she is from Reno. She earned her graduate degree in civil engineering from UNR by putting trucks up on bridges and shaking them a lot (there’s internet video of this somewhere). Currently, Dani’s at home raising her two kids and finding that to be just as challenging as being an engineer. In her free time, she’s found out what it means to be in a ranching family since she married into one and is now balancing her serious love of make-up and being clean against the fun her family gets to have when out on the ranch (a couple extra loads of laundry is worth the experience, right?). She loves to ski, firmly believes you are never too old to read young adult books, and knows way too much about pop culture if you ever need someone to round out your trivia team.

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