As school winds down and the temperature heats up, a young child's thoughts often turn to swimming. And his parents' thoughts turn to swimming lessons. Instructors differ on the optimum way to teach a child to swim. Some insist that private lessons are best; others say that small groups are more relaxed and are therefore a more welcoming learning environment. One school fancies the dog paddle, another the back float. In the end, the secret to successful lessons might be selecting the right teacher. Good swimming instructors are more than good swimmers. They understand the fears of beginning swimmers, and they can cajole and encourage children to enter the water. Here is a sampling of all types of swim classes in the valley.
Australian Swim School (at Racquetworld, 22235 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, 818-884-5034). Lessons here are offered for children 3 months old and up, as well as to adults, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The heated indoor pool, from 85 to 88 degrees, is four feet deep. Children with no swimming experience begin with a series of eight or 12 private, half-hour lessons ($112 for eight, $168 for 12). Once they can swim across the pool, children move on to Tadpole classes--three swimmers matched by ability in each group. Tadpole lessons once a week are $24 a month; twice a week, $46 a month. Swim squads, for more advanced swimmers, cost $22 a month taken once a week and $32 a month, twice a week. Children, under their parents' supervision, may practice before and after lessons if the pool is not crowded with those taking lessons.
Lucile Cowle Swim School (1619 Peyton Ave., Burbank, 818-848-7206). Lessons here are offered for children from 6 months old, as well as to adults. The school has two outdoor pools. The larger one is heated to 85 degrees. The smaller one, which is 90 degrees, is 3 1/2 feet deep and used for the youngest swimmers. Classes are offered Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This school specializes in private lessons. For children of ages 6 months to 5 years, the sessions are 15 minutes long and cost $78 for 10 lessons. Sessions for older children last half an hour and cost $135 for 10 lessons. Classes are two or three times a week. Because there are several instructors in the pool during class times, practice sessions are set up when there are no lessons: Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. At the end of one series, the instructor evaluates the child's progress and may often recommend practicing at home for a while before proceeding with more lessons.
Jim Herrick's Swim School (11845 King St., North Hollywood, 818-843-5556). Herrick and his instructors will teach in his pool or yours--although Herrick prefers his, an outdoor pool heated to 90 degrees. "Parents think their kids will learn faster in their own pools," he says, "but I've found that they do better in a new environment, one that they don't associate with playing around." Private lessons are 20 minutes and cost $100 to $130 for 10 sessions. Herrick charges more for his own tutelage than for his instructors'. Lessons with two in a class last half an hour and cost $150 to $195 for 10 lessons. Herrick uses the dog-paddle method. Hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Herrick has made a 55-minute video on how to teach swimming, which can be used by parents to augment the classes ($24.95).
Stern Swim School (8221 Sepulveda Place, Van Nuys, 818-785-5592). This school offers classes for children from 3 months old, as well as adults. Stern follows the American Red Cross in recommending that students, even beginners, take lessons in small groups, although the school offers private lessons for parents who prefer them. The outdoor pool is heated to 90 degrees. Lessons are offered Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Groups are limited to four children and cost $85 for 10 half-hour lessons, which include singing and water games. Classes meet two or three times a week. Children are moved along to higher class levels as they pass proficiency tests. Private lessons are $110 for 10 15-minute sessions. Classes for children under 3 require that a parent be in the pool with the instructor. All students are encouraged to stay after class to practice in the water with parental supervision. A swim team, for children who pass the advanced beginners' test, meets two to three times a week for 1 1/2-hour sessions. Children 5 years old and up compete in swim meets. The cost is $50 a month. Classes for handicapped children are also available.