3-Year Old Swimming Issue at School - Am I Crazy?

Updated on September 17, 2014
R.D. asks from Bedford, NY
35 answers

I enrolled my 3-year old along with my 2 older in children in after school swimming lessons at their school. They are beginners. I feel it's necessary for children to learn to swim - even just for safety reasons.

I observed the first lesson. I am not allowed on the pool deck but watched from seating that is separated by a railing and it's raised up. So I could not get to her immediately in the event of an incident.

There was one instructor assigned to a group of all 3-year olds. The kids were standing on a platform in a shallow end. The platform is like a bit step with a railing that can go in and out of the water.

Routinely during the lesson, the instructor had her back to the idle two 3-year olds while swimming at least 10 feet away with an individual swimmer. They all took turns. While this was happening, there was no one assigned to watch the rest of the group. No lifeguard or other adult on the pool deck watching the kids. At one point my daughter was stuck in a back float position while holding the railing. She wasn't in immediate trouble, but I knew she couldnt' get out of the position and she had to stay like that until her instructor returned with the other swimmer. The teacher didn't even seem concerned. I don't think she even realized my daughter was stuck. I actually ran down to the pool during this time and no one seemed at all concerned.

I made a big issue of this and the school says I am wrong. I need objective opinions. Would you take your 3-year old out? If I take her out I need to pull all 3 kids because she'd have to go and watch with me and that would be upsetting to her.

I can find another place to swim but as a mother of 3 who works from home, this is probably the most convenient thing to do. I plan to be there and watch every time, but part of me also thinks there is principle involved here and by leaving them in.. I send a message that I think it's ok and my feelings about safety for my child are being dismissed. Leave them in... or take them out?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

TO answer some questions: No lifeguard on duty at all. Just the instructors with the swimmers.
The 3-year olds waiting for their turn were IN the water - not on the side of the pool waiting.

I am not the "overbearing" mom that interferes, but I have to say I was a wreck watching. I am a former lifeguard and I felt like I was on duty and I wasn't on the pool deck to be able to help.

Featured Answers



answers from Philadelphia on

Something to consider... I've had my kids in group lessons. Then I tried private swim lessons. My daughter got more out of 1 private lesson than she did out of a whole semester of a group class.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

It sounds similar to what I've seen. I think we did semi private lessons at that age so that could be an option for you. These facilities are expensive and the schools have to make money so I don't think having the kids on a shallow platform seems too risky. As someone said, if they're not ready to just wait and will be jumping in, then they're not ready for group lessons. If this is convenient and you can be there to watch, I wouldn't switch. No dedicated swim school we've gone to has had a lifeguard in addition to the teachers. If there's open swim there's a guard but not if it's just lessons. So doesn't sound perfect but since you can watch, like I said, I'd go with it if you feel like the teachers and everything else is good. I know I always was there to keep an eye on my kids too until they were good swimmers as even a life guard can miss something if it's crowded.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I personally don't think its right there's no lifeguard, the place where I take my kids has a lifeguard right there in addition to the instructors giving the classes, and its watching the children all the time, even talking to them when they're misbehaving or acting dangerously while the teacher is not next to them.

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from New York on

You said it yourself she wasn't in trouble but had to stay like that until her instructor returned. She was fine. You were in a panic because your head was full of what ifs. As moms our heads are always full of what ifs. I'd say to leave them in and just continue to watch.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

That's how swim lessons work here. As a beginner at age 3, the ratio would be 1 to 4. Everyone is in the water. The children are expected to stay on the pool steps in the water and wait for their turn. If they can not follow that instruction, then they are not mature enough for swim lessons and the pool will not take them. Once they are past the beginning stage (but still very much non swimmers) they hang onto a rail in the water while they wait their turn.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

This isn't being run how you would like but in reality your child is in no danger if you are there watching from ten feet away. If you see your child start to drown, you can scream at the teacher and she will go save her. I think in a class setting like this you need to be as hands-off and accepting as possible or remove the child.

I don't understand why you "can't" leave other two in class if you pull the three-year-old because it will upset the three-year-old....You are in charge. Not the 3 year old. I have three kids too and they often have to be separated, some get to do things others don't, etc. Just make a decision and take charge. It will be OK.

On a different tangent. My kids learned very little in their lessons anyway. Year after year we went and year after year they couldn't swim. It wasn't until I carved out the time and got in the water with them for a significant amount of time and MADE THEM SWIM that they caught on. And my 5 year old still barely swims and she's been in lessons in summers since age 2...So your child will be OK even if you pull her, you'll just have to teach her yourself and it isn't easy to find the time, I know.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

If you are not comfortable with the way the program runs for your little one, then take the little one out.

Maybe you need to better understand how the lessons will be run. What you described sounds normal to me.... children STAND and wait their turn.

There is no point in taking all 3 children out because of what you feel was unsafe. Why should the older 2 suffer because your little one did not follow instructions and then you got all riled up at the program?

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

If you're a former lifeguard who knows more about safety in the water than everyone here, why are you asking this question? Go talk to the staff and ensure that they have a better instructor to student ratio for the 3 year olds.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

We've been doing year round swim lessons for over two years now. The scenario you describe is unsafe and not one I would tolerate. Accidents can happen so fast.

The swim school we use and other companies we have visited have adults on deck at all times. The monitor adults sit on barstools spaced about every 10 feet. Typically the monitors are watching over two to three groups of children at one time (no more than 18 children at one time). Their job is to watch the children so the instructors can do their jobs which instructing the children. Instructors cannot both instruct and watch children. In fact our swim school has panic buttons on the parents viewing station side of the pool deck. The idea being the parents can be involved in watching the children and if something unsafe is seen, someone can push the alarm. Where water is concerned there is no such thing as too much safety and vigilance.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My kids all learned to swim from one instructor at one pool, with no other life guards. They were all in the water 90% of the time and told to hang on. My youngest had trouble with water at first, but now he is a fish and never wants to get out. Why? Because I let the lifeguard do her job. If my son was in danger, he was in the pool with someone who could save him. I can swim, but I'm not a lifeguard.

I can also do math and have an MBA, but it doesn't mean I can teach my kids their math homework. You have to step aside and let the professionals do their jobs. Your child was in the wrong and could have been in trouble because she didn't listen - that's the REAL issue here.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

R., I hope you will take my words to heart. I was the swim mom when my kids were growing up. My sons were 2 1/2 and almost 5 when we started swim lessons at the Y. My youngest one was in a smaller pool while my older one was in the bigger pool. There was a lifeguard watching the kids in the larger pool, so I went in to the room with the smaller pool to observe my youngest. (No lifeguard there.) He may have already have been 3 when the following happened: It was right as the lesson was ending and the teacher turned her back to my son. He slid under the water. I yelled but with all the acoustics and noise in the room, the teacher couldn't hear me. I jumped into the water with all my clothes, feet first to pull my son out of the water. He would have drowned if I hadn't. The teacher acted like I was crazy. I told her I yelled for her and she didn't listen.

Guess what happened a few weeks later? All the parents were banned from that room and the bleachers were set up outside to watch through the glass. THAT TEACHER was still teaching the swim lessons. They didn't want the embarrassment of a parent saving a child, so they made it so that we couldn't go in.

That was an AWFUL decision and if we hadn't moved to another state right after that, I would have found a different place for my sons to take swim lessons. I don't know what happened at this Y after that. I hope someone took them to task for it. I hope a child didn't drown because of that awful teacher.

I will tell you that the school doesn't care what you think. They don't care if you leave. They will do what they are doing until a child dies or almost drowns. And then heads will roll.

If you want, you can try to find out who their liability insurance carrier is, and write a letter to them with your complaint. That insurance company doesn't want to have to pay the parents of a dead child, and THEY may be able to force the school's hand in this.

I commend you for taking the kids to swimming. I did it for years and it is a labor of love. My youngest stuck with it and was MVP of the Year his junior year in swimming. My older son switched to drama but is a beautiful swimmer in his own right. They are like fish in the water, unlike me. But you have to be vigilant until they get to that point. I will add that going to swim practice and lessons was NEVER convenient. I just managed it because it needed to be done.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

You are correct. Kids should never be in the water without someone actually looking AT them. Not being 10 feet away. Most drowning is silent. People don't wave their hands and yell. The just go under. If one of the kids just slid under, how long would it take before the teacher actually turned around? I have NEVER heard of swim lessons for kids this young where parents were not either IN the water with the kids or right on the pool deck. I would pull her and file a complaint.

ETA: You would never leave a group of 3 year olds next to a road, would you? Even if they had all been clearly instructed not to run into the road...

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

The teacher should not be turning her back on three year olds in the water. It is dangerous and she will not hear if a child slips under. Drowning is silent. It makes no difference if your child was told to stand there. She's only three. Three year olds aren't the greatest at following directions to the letter - especially when they're in a fun and different place such as water. I have had my children in lessons since three months. Never, until they were competent at swimming did the teachers leave small children in the water unobserved by an adult.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

When my son was about that age he was in his first swim class and we were told we couldn't be out by the pool either. I stayed anyway. As the instructor took another child across the pool my son lost his grip of the side (he wasn't playing around at all, just lost his grip) and silently sunk to the bottom. I went in after him as the instructor was still at the other end with no clue what was going on.
From that point on at any time the instructor was one on one with a child all others were sitting outside the water on the edge of the pool, not in the water holding on.
Regardless, that was our last session there.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Reading on

If you're uncomfortable, find another place.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

That would not work for me. I trust my instincts. If it feels wrong I find another place to go.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I am a swimmer, an ex life guard, an ex swim instructor. I dont understand your description or your problem, maybe you need to explain better. how do you get stuck in a back float? Was your daughter left in water too deep to stand? Were other kids floating or?

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

My daughter took swimming lessons at a college from the ages of 2-4 and there were no life guards on duty. She was hanging on the side and decided she could swim and let go. She panicked and was sinking fast. The instructor was out with another child but rushed back with the child to pull my daughter out. I panicked of coursed but decided to let her stay in the class because I thought it taught her a valuable lesson. She was told to hang on to the side and not let go. After that she didn't let go. Thankfully that episode didn't scare her. She loves the water and loves to swim.

I'm sure the class your kids are taking works. We as parents panic when we think our children are in danger. We have a membership at the Y now and there are lifeguards but not having lifeguards didn't scare me. Good luck with your decision.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would have issues with this too, but advise that you dial down how you approach the school. You've already put them on alert that when you come in, you're going to make a fuss about this -- even if you're right, they now are on the defensive. Again, I agree with you that if the instructor is in the water working with individual kids, some other adult should be eyeing the youngest ones. I'd be uncomfortable too. But read on....

I would go check what other swim lessons do (at the local Y, at county recreation centers, etc.) Ask what the adult-to-child ratio is for this age group. I think part of the problem with what the school offers may be that they have too broad a span of ages -- around here, three-year-olds would not be in a swim class with older kids but in an "all threes" class, at least at our local rec centers. Take that ratio information to the school if it seems the school ratio is way off compared to what other places require. But this may get you nowhere with the school if they say, "We've done it this way forever and no kid has ever been hurt." If you think you'll face that attitude, just don't bother with the research, frankly.

Bottom line: If you're not comfortable, pull your child. BUT I do urge you NOT to pull out your older kids. It will not scar your younger child for life to have to sit with you during lessons -- even a lesson you pulled her out of. She will have to learn that sometimes the older kids get to do stuff she doesn't, yes, even something she started doing but that wasn't right for her. It's life. Her being upset at lesson or two should not be a reason to deny your other kids swimming lessons at this time. Younger kids should not drive what older ones can do. Bring a ton of stuff for your youngest to do during lessons, or if the lessons are in a location where there is a playground outside, take her on the playground during their lesson time.

Look for classes at a rec center for your youngest alone. She should be in a class with just kids her own age, if this one isn't working for her. Let it be a thing dad takes her to on Saturdays etc. for special dad-daughter time, if that works.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

When my kids were in preschool age I had them in lessons at the city pool. There were always two teachers assigned to no more than 8 kids, AND a lifeguard for the pool (where there were several classes being held).

Do I understand correctly that this is part of the after school program at their elementary school? So the teachers are coming to them, rather than you taking them to a swim school?

For kids this young, it doesn't sound as though they have enough coverage, but I would also check into regulations and certifications.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on


Our daughters day care also offered swimming lessons for the little ones. The instructor was always in the pool and the children sat on the edge of the pool as the instructor worked with each child individually.

The classroom teacher stood behind the children always watching them.

I went to 2 lessons just to observe and this seemed to work great. The kids knew this was not a free for all, it was just like a classroom. At that age, they behaved very well.

Maybe you should consider either not allowing your child to take these lessons there.

Or offer to be there for these lessons that include your child each time. You could be a spotter.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

If you are worried then take your child out but remember that gosh for bid your child falls into the water they may be in that floating position until someone can help. I have seen the way they teach this swimming style to infants and small children and it prepares them to float and swim (a combination so they don't get too tired).

I still tell my 8 year old to do this if she were to fall in somewhere or gets too tired to swim to the side. Our pool at home is not that big but if we were out somewhere this simple thing can safe her life and it is not tiring.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

There should be a lifeguard on the pool deck supervising lessons. My kids swim at the Y and there are several classes at once going on in the pool and usually one or two lifeguards in addition to the instructors.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I just recently put my son in swim lessons and there was always a life guard on duty even while there were 2-3 classes of swim lessons going on. They did have a lap pool and I think that is why the life guard was there. There were 5 kids in my sons class and they were all instructed to sit on the deck, they were not allowed to get off and while the instructor was working with another child in the water, she was constantly turning her head back to check on the other kids. Once my son decided to not follow the rules and got in the water, granted it was only 1 foot deep but she immediately instructed him back on the deck and not to get in the water until it was his turn. I would keep your child there until the lessons are over but next time find another place to take her. And I would def go every time and monitor my child. I have to disagree with what one poster said that she should be able to listen... at three years old kids are just learning this task, sometimes it is not always easy. Good luck mama!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would calmly talk to the instructor and the pool. We had 2 teachers for a group of 8 or so, and that seemed like enough, but 4 yr old me slipped off the gutter rail and the kickboard in one series of sessions and it gave me a lifelong fear of deep water. The gutter rail incident I had to save myself, by pulling up on another child. In retrospect, were it my child, I would have been livid if she told me that. So, basically...I would express your concerns as a mother and a lifeguard and go from there. If you feel this is not the right time or right pool for your child, then I would pull her from the class and seek individual sessions (do they offer them at the same time?) or find an alternative activity for her while the others practice.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You can DEMAND this and DEMAND that.
If they won't modify the program, DEMANDING means squat.

If this is the way the program works and you're not comfortable with it? Find another program.
And safety always comes before convenience, right?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I would think that if this was really a big issue they would have a history of drownings at the pool. If you had run to your daughters aid during that time it would have taught her to feel in danger rather then to trust she can back float as long as need be (a much needed skill in case a swimmer gets tired) so in this case I think it may have been to your child's benefit that you could not get to her right away. If you do not feel comfortable then find someplace else, but I wouldn't worry if it was my kid.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

The lessons my kids have been in have always been set up this say - the instructor takes the kid and the rest hang on the wall (no platform to stand on). But (and this is major I think), in addition to each instructor with each class, there was 1 lifeguard who was not in the water who stood on the side to keep an eye on all the kids hanging on the side.

I don't know if you can go back now to having a constructive conversation that you've made a big issue, but a more productive way to handle it might have been to talk to whomever was in charge and ask them how they made sure that none of the kids hanging on the side were in trouble, and wouldn't it be better to have an additional lifeguard? I don't know if it's still possible for you to have the conversation - depends on how your last conversation ended, whether on good terms or negative ones.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I don't think I'd feel comfortable unless I was there at each lesson and there was a lifeguard on duty. I think you are right to be wary of the situation.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Since you are a former lifeguard I'd defer to you. YOU know what is water safety and what is.

How long are the swim lessons? A few weeks? Then leave her in and keep her in your sights at all times. Never looking away okay?

Then never use this facility again.

When the kids take swim lessons at the Y there are regular lifeguards in every position and then there are 4-6 kids in each class.

In the lap pool there are 2 teachers in each group, one to go along the laps with the kid/kids swimming and one to hang back and meander along behind them just in case one of the back ones get in trouble.

I feel completely safe as far as they are taking every safety precaution. I know accidents happen and sometimes they end tragically but if you're sitting there and you know that your child is not safe then that's the line that has been crossed.

Again, if your child is not safe then there is no question. IF you feel you can add that lifeguard support to this class and that makes your daughter safer then you have to weigh that and see if it's enough.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Toledo on

Was there a lifeguard at the pool? Or just not one assigned to the 3 year old group?

There should be a lifeguard (or 2, depending on the numbers) when there are swim lessons. The instructors need to be able to focus on teaching. They need to have someone else watching over while they teach. Actually, some swim teachers are certified teachers (WSI) but not lifeguards.

There should be a lifeguard. But it is not uncommon in a 3 year old class to have 1 on 1 instruction with the other kids waiting at the side of the pool.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

I am rather mixed about this. It sounds very similar to the swim lessons my daughter started at. In our case, there were about 5 children and one child had listening to instruction issues. He was tall and would always get off the platform and the instructor would have to place him back in his place. As well, we were behind a class and could would have to go through a small obstacle to get to the children.

My first question is, how long has the instructor been giving lessons, have there been any accidents, and does your child have listening issues? She is 3 years old, so, you know, how much listening do they have???

As parents, we panic a lot quicker than the calm, trained, instructors do. Is she in a floating device? It doesn't sound like it. I think part of the lesson at this age is learning not to panic, to save your life. If a child panics (or sees mom panic), they forget their skills. It sounds like she held on and floated.

I can't imagine the fear that went through you and possibly through your child, but at the same time, you can't teach fear of the water.

I can't tell you what I would do because I am not in your position, but my advise to you is that before you know it, she will be swimming and that is most important.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

When you signed her up, was there a description of how the classes would be conducted? Was there something that described the supervision the kids would receive, what they were expected to do while another swimmer was getting personal attention, how safety would be monitored? I'd review their paperwork, and I'd also look into the safety requirements for a 3 year old class. I'm no swimming expert, but there must be a standard level of supervision or expectations set forth by some governing agency (Red Cross or some Lifeguard certification association). I'd compare that to what you observe at your daughter's class.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I'd be a bit concerned at how they run their 3 yr old program.
You might want to wait till your 3 yr old is older to take swim classes but the other 2 can continue with this one since that class seems to be alright.



answers from Hartford on

I taught swimming for years, the 3 and 4 year olds where in a class of 4-6 kids. There was always 1-2 lifeguards on duty during swim lessons and if we where in the deeper area (above 2-3 feet) the kids where sitting on the wall while I was working with them. I would bring to the pool manager's attention as to what happened in the lesson. It is not unusual to have the other kids in the water while the instructor is working with them however the instructor should be watching and have control over the class.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions