I have had the pleasure to visit a baby swim school in Sweden as part of the pre-conference activities prior to the Nordic Baby Swim Conference. Of course one school does not represent the Swedish swim industry, but what I observed caused me to rethink some of the taken-for-granted aspects of Australian swimming lessons and the values that underpin the teaching approaches that we observed across many sites in Australia as part of the Early Years Swim Project. What was striking – to me – about it was the difference between what I’ve seen in Australian schools and this school. In speaking with other people from the conference who were also observing lessons at the school, I had cause to reflect on a number of issues. The people with whom I spoke are connected directly with baby swim industry – either as owner/operators of swim schools or as teachers working at a swim school.
First, a conversation with a South African swim teacher went something like this. I initiated the conversation by commenting that there was a marked difference in structure from Australian observations, her observation was that Australians like structure and order like no other country. I was a little surprised by her observation but then thought about it, Australians do have a propensity for order in comparison to many other cultures/countries. It may be the case that the importance of order and structure are an integral part of the practices of Australian swim schools that is lived out in the curriculum and practices of the swim schools. It was commonplace to observe lessons that followed a particular sequence and activities planned for the whole lesson so that there was very little downtime in any given lesson.
A second conversation with a group of Scandinavian teachers focused on the Swedish tradition of family, play and enjoyment as being a priority, something that is valued within Australian contexts but not fundamental to them. What was clear as I observed the lessons (five lessons were observed) was that there was considerable scope for parents to play with their children. Often parents were free to play with their children in ways that could only be described as being respondent to the needs and interests of the child rather than being constrained by a particularly lesson structure. Speaking with local people, it was clear that child-directed play was a big feature in Swedish learning, particularly for this age group.
What the poolside conversations said to me was the approaches that are used in teaching baby swimming are not random, but rather reflect some of the values that are part of the psyche of the people. What are held near and dear to us as a culture become reflected in how we teach. Sometimes this needs to be made visible so that we can reflect on why we teach as we do and in so doing assess if this is the best way to teach, or if it is simply a reflection of values of which we may not be aware.