Water safety is a serious issue wherever you are in the world. Living in Doha, it is even more critical, with beaches on our doorstep and swimming pools in most compounds and at many villas. Swimming is taught in schools and is an important skill for children to learn, primarily to reduce the risk of drowning. Gemma Hughes, Legacy Swim Academy Aquatics Manager, is passionate about water safety. “Drowning is still the highest worldwide cause of death in children under the age of four years old. Young children can drown in as little as an inch orb quickly and silently,” she says. According to Hughes, learning how to swim should not be optional. She considers swimming a vital skill that every child should learn, “not all children will love swimming, but they should all learn how to behave and be safe in and around the water as a priority”.
Swimming is, of course, great fun, whether you are at the beach or in a pool. Everyone loves splashing around in the water, and once you can swim, you can take boat trips, go kayaking and enjoy lots of other water sports. There are many other reasons why you should teach your baby to swim:
- Bonding with your child: Spending precious time together
- Physical development: Gross and fine motor skills, coordination, muscle strength, respiratory development, balance, flexibility and immunity
- Psychological and cognitive development: Confidence, as well as improved sleeping and eating patterns, communication skills
When can they start?
There is conflicting advice about when to start swimming with your baby. For many sports, children need to wait until they have developed important listening skills and are able to follow instructions. But swimming lessons are rather different because the baby is always in the water with their parents as well as their instructor. Legacy Swim Academy offers classes in Doha for babies aged three months to four years old. At the time of writing, the academy has 179 babies registered for courses and more than 80 on their waiting list. Other course providers recommend waiting longer until your baby can support their head easily and offer lessons from six months old.
Parents are key to the “learning to swim” process, and it is never too early to start your child on that journey. As soon as your baby is born, you can help them feel safe and secure in the water by making bath time relaxing and fun. Singing songs and blowing bubbles can help a baby enjoy their time in the water, and these techniques are also used in baby swimming lessons.
The earlier you start, the easier it is for your baby to be confident in the water and with confidence, they are more likely to start swimming at an early age.
Getting the Ball Rolling
When you are ready to start swimming lessons, get prepared. Research the swimming academies and instructors providing individual lessons and ask them about the style of their sessions. You can decide what suits your child because you know your baby best. For example, are they sensitive to the cold? Would an indoor pool be more suitable? Would they prefer a small or big group lesson, or perhaps an individual lesson? Find a swimming coach you trust and with whom you are happy.
Happy, relaxed parents in the pool help to ensure that their babies are also relaxed and happy in the water. Fortunately, you can choose from several qualified instructors in Qatar. Legacy Swim Academy coaches are all STA certified and have a specific preschool parent and child qualification recognised by this British organisation. Elite Swim Academy coaches follow the AUST-SWIM Learn-to-Swim methodology. Firas Khachai is a swimming coach for Qatar Swimming Association (Qatar Olympic Committee) with over seven years’ experience of teaching swimming here in Doha. He has qualifications from FINA, ILSF and ASCA. When you find a swim coach, make sure you check their qualifications.
Being prepared for the lesson itself can also help you and your baby get the most out of the experience. Take a bag containing a swimming costume/shorts, a swim nappy, footwear for the poolside, a towel, toiletries, extra clothing and a healthy drink and snack. You can also take a few items to keep your baby warm like hooded swim towels and fluffy dressing gowns. The pool should be warm and shallow enough for you to be able to stand easily while holding your baby in the water. Professional swimming coaches also use fun educational toys to entertain the babies and encourage them to learn.
Going to classes regularly means faster progress and better results for your baby. As Hughes says, “some weeks, baby might be tired and hungry or just generally grumpy—not all lessons will feel like an achievement. But dedication to weekly lessons is when we see the most progress. We appreciate [that] getting to a weekly lesson with a little one is not always easy, but the reward really is worth the effort”. And the rewards don’t just stop with the little ones, according to her, “as swimming coaches, it is so rewarding for us to see the results of class dedication, term by term, as the babies progress”.
Generally, parents are also involved throughout the classes following the teacher’s instructions, doing the exercises, and playing games with the babies. Practising the skills, you are learning in the classes is a great idea. You will be able to repeat the games from the class in-between lessons and on a regular basis, which will help your baby’s progress. Many swimming coaches emphasise that repetition is very important.
Danielle Jones has been taking her baby daughter to swimming lessons at Legacy Swim Academy since she was four months old. “We have been learning how to enter the water correctly and safely, back floating—getting used to water in her ears—and learning a cue to hold her breath (this is done with water pours over her face, it starts
with little splashes, so they get used to the cue, and you build it up until they can hold their breath). My daughter is now on to full underwater submersions. These are all life-saving techniques that we can teach from a young age,” she says. Babies progress at their own pace, mastering new skills as they go. For example, at Legacy, the Junior Starfish programme is followed.
This consists of:
Starfish 1 – Introduction to Water confidence and breath control
Starfish 2 – Safe submersion (aided)
Starfish 3 – Self submersion
Starfish 4 – Self submersion with solo movement
Starfish 5 – Self submersion with movement and rotation.
When a baby has completed Starfish 5, they are considered a “Starfish Superstar” and graduate to the Learn to Swim Programme, no longer requiring a parent in the pool. If your baby is anxious or scared of the water, don’t worry. Swimming coaches are experienced in helping babies learn new skills by recognising any anxieties and slowly encouraging babies to be relaxed in the water. The slow and steady approach is more appropriate than forcing a child to do something they are reluctant to do.
- Water safety: Make sure that babies and children are always supervised near water, at the beach, the pool, or even playing at a water table in your garden.
- Begin at birth: Make bath time fun and help your baby relax in the water.
- Get to know your baby: Are they confident in the water or worried by it getting on their face? Do they get anxious if you are in a big swimming pool or when swimming with lots of other babies?
- Research swimming instructors in Doha: Use the Doha Family listing below to get started. Don’t forget to check their qualifications.
- Practise, practise, practise!
Where to Go
Elite Swim Academy
Ages: Six months to four years of age (infants’ programme)
Fees: Contact Elite
Locations: Hamad Aquatic Centre, Aspire Zone
Ages: Six months and up (parent and baby groups)
Fees: Contact Evo
Locations: Doha College Al Waab, Doha College West Bay and Park House English School Abu Hamour
Ages: Three months to three years
Tadpoles group–Three to 12 months
Turtle Tots – 12 to 24 months
Crocs–Two to three years
Fees: QR 489 for the eight-week term (10% discount for DRFC members)
Locations: Doha Rugby Club, Al Waab
Firas Khachai (Individual Coach)
Fees: Contact Firas
Ages: Six months to three years (adult and child Lessons)
Aquababies group– Children ages nine months and under
Aquatots– Ages ten to 20 months
Aquasplash– Ages 21 to 36 months
Fees: Contact Hamilton
Locations: Doha English Speaking School, Madinat Khalifa
Telephone: Giovanni 5585-9232
Legacy Swimming Academy
Ages: 16 weeks to four years of age
Fees: QR 1020 per 12week term (plus QR 50 registration fee)
Locations: Grand Hyatt Hotel, Al Aziziya Hotel and Wyndham West Bay Hotel