Saturday, July 7, 2012

To Swim or Not to Swim

As we're about to re-embark on our homeschooling journey I have been doing what most good homeschooling moms do: research.  I have been trolling blogs, lurking on homeschooling sites, browsing libraries and book stores, and joining local support groups.  I have examined what we have done in the past and prayed about what to do in the future. One type of philosophy that has caught my eye is unschooling.  In theory everything about this method seems to make sense to me... that is except for one thing.  I can't get around the fact that sometimes it's good to "encourage" kids to do things they may not on the onset want to do. Case in point, this summer my husband and I agreed that all three of our kids should be on a swim team. Yes they can swim to the other side of the pool, but if they found themselves in a difficult water situation I'm not confidant they wouldn't be in trouble.  In short, we want them to be strong confident swimmers who could effectively use different strokes if the need should arise.  We do live in Florida and there is water all around so to us this makes good sense.  We believe it's a life skill much like reading, driving, or doing arithmetic.  Yes it can be acquired later in life, but knowing how to swim before you get into an emergency is most helpful.

We found a swim program that wasn't too strict about missing practices or going to swim meets and figured this to be a low-stress way to gain a new skill and build endurance.   The kids were less than enthused.  The groaning began at the first mention of "swim team".  Even after careful explanation of our reasons and a promise that this was to be only one summer - just a few times a week for one hour - and then they would never have to swim on a team again - they still didn't want to do it. If we are to embrace an unschooling philosophy I suppose this is where we should have stepped back and allowed them to choose whether or not they wanted to participate.  But having never tried it before how would they ever know if they are good at it? or maybe if they like it? or maybe would use it one day to save their lives?  The protests continued but we insisted. The first couple of weeks were tough. Let's face it, swimming laps is tiring and hard work. None of them were warming up to the sport. Yet at the first meet, our youngest took first place in backstroke, something she didn't even know how to do a few weeks prior. Our eldest showed promise as well and our son just "got through it" the best he could.  After a few more weeks of practice (and A LOT more whining) they got up early for their second meet.  This time Emily took first in butterfly and backstroke and swam several relays.  Kat was fourth in backstroke which is turning out to be her signature stroke, and James not only swam several relays but he did so without complaint, protest, or whining.  He has improved tremendously since the first meet.

Dennis and I remain convinced that pushing them to move beyond their comfort zone and participate in something they didn't really want to do IS a good thing.  Sometimes kids just don't know what they are missing or what they are capable of.  Next week is another meet and they have already planned which events they want to enter and which ones they want to drop.  I can't say they have grown a love for swimming, but I can tell they have a deeper appreciation for what it entails and how it might serve them in the future.  I know they feel a sense of accomplishment having competed against their peers and not only finished races but made a good showing too. 

As for our homeschool, I will consider this summer experience as one that carries weight when determining what, when, where, and how we will learn.  I do agree with the unschooling philosophy of how important it is to listen and respect the educational and recreational wishes of a child; however, we will also do our part as parents to gently nudge "insist" on having them move beyond what limitations they have set upon themselves especially if it is something they have never done or learned before.  And for the record, it is past 9:30pm and guess who's in the pool having practice races? That's right, Emily, James, and Katherine...and a friend who is spending a night. Maybe she'll get bit by the swimming bug too!

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