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Wearing goggles in swimming lessons

wearing goggles in swimming lessons

Each swim school and teacher has their own opinion on whether or not young children should wear goggles in the early stages of swimming lessons. In this article, we explain the reasons behind each approach and options to help you optimise your child’s learning.

Children should NOT wear goggles in the early stages of learning to swim

In this context, we are talking about children aged 4 and above who are in a beginner’s class.

The swim school curriculum has evolved over the years with the sport’s governing body (namely the Amateur Swimming Association – now called Swim England/Swim Scotland/Swim Wales in the UK) overhauling the system of badges and certificates from time to time.

Around 15 years ago, the curriculum comprised of 12 Levels and the first of these levels included a requirement to “open the eyes under water and identify an object selected by the teacher”. The purpose of this was to encourage children to open their eyes without goggles, because a common instinct is to squeeze the eyes shut. If a child falls into the water and cannot open their eyes, they can become disorientated, panic and unable to see their way to safety.

It is an unnatural feeling to have water touching the eyeballs, plus the chemicals in the water often make the eyes itchy and sore, but getting children over this fear at an early age is often thought to be much better than trying to do it later.

Another good reason why swim schools and teachers prefer not to let young children wear goggles in lessons is that they can be very distracting. Goggles fog up, children fiddle with them and take them off, some children find them uncomfortable and too tight, or if they are too loose and flood, this can be off-putting. All this fiddling about with goggles can waste an enormous amount of lesson time, which is limited anyway with a group of beginners.

Children SHOULD wear goggles in the early stages of learning to swim

The swim school curriculum changed a number of years ago with no specific requirement for a child to open their eyes under water and many swim schools and teachers are happy for all children to wear goggles in lessons.

Without goggles, under water vision is blurry and when you lift your head out of the water to breathe there is an instinct to use your hands and wipe the water out of your eyes. It is a big ask for young children to fight this natural instinct and simply get on with it.

Children who are already afraid of putting their face in the water will find that blurry vision and itchy eyes validates their fear. They may become stubborn and simply swim along keeping their eyes squeezed shut or may refuse to swim on their front. It is difficult to swim comfortably with the head out of the water all the time and young children can find it difficult to stay afloat. Progress in swimming may be delayed because the child cannot get past this mental block of putting their face in, yet their ability to coordinate the arm and leg actions may be far more advanced than they are able to show.

When allowed to wear goggles, children may find that having clear vision under water makes swimming far less scary. They are easily able to see the floor (so it doesn’t feel like a million miles away) and they can see the teacher or helper in the water, reassuring them that they are not far away.

Many teachers and swim schools feel that wearing goggles from the beginning simply helps children to get going. When they are confident in their ability to swim in general, then learning to overcome a fear of water directly on the eyes is just one new thing to handle.

Should children wear goggles or not?

As you can see, there are some valid reasons for each approach. It is up to you which of these reasons are more important for you or your child. However, no matter what approach your swim school or teacher takes, there are things you can do outside of lessons to optimise your child’s learning:

  • If you child is permitted to wear goggles at swimming lessons, you can practice a few activities without goggles either at home or during a family swim session. They can practice putting their face in the bath and opening their eyes (without bubble bath or soap in the water), identifying objects under the water or reading a baby bath book under water. During a family swim, you can establish a routine of taking the goggles off for a few specific activities each time, so that your child does not rely on goggles for swimming. Those activities can be entirely separate from practicing swimming strokes (such as going under to pick up a sinking toy)
  • If your child is not permitted to wear goggles at swimming lessons and you are safe to take your own child swimming in a public session, then let them try goggles whilst they practice all the activities they have been learning during your family fun time. They will benefit from the extra practice, whilst they may discover that some activities are a lot easier when they can see clearly.

Enhance your learning

How to fit a pair of swimming goggles – Oshun Swim (oshun-swim.com)

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