Lewisham council have published a new booklet on Swimming for under 5s. (At least I assume it is new, I picked one up at Downham Leisure Centre today and hadn't seen it before.) It has a guide to the different swimming lessons that are available, but points out that "all Lewisham pools offer swim sessions for parents and children but they have different names." Because, of course, each set is from a different provider (since Leisure Centres are run by private sector companies under contract). At Downham the classes are for 3 months-3 years, then 3-4 years. Elsewhere in Lewisham it's 18 months-4 years then 4+. The classes are called Aquanauts 1-4 at some pools, you get Duckling awards 1-5 at Downham. Formal lessons start at age 4 in all pools, but again the programmes differ: either Aquazone or Swimschool. Confusing or what?
I am really keen for J & C to go swimming. So I am persistent in trying to get them on to swimming lessons. And boy have I needed to be. We swim at Downham. At first it was impossible to get any information out of them at all, as the staff on reception knew nothing about the lessons. Then when we did get information, it was different depending on who we spoke to. I was able to book C in for lessons because I could do them on a weekday (back when I was on maternity leave) while J was in nursery. I couldn't get lessons for J, because the Saturday was full up and all the other times were unsuitable (9am or 5:30pm for a parent and child session when your creche hours are 9-5 is no use to anyone with more than one child to consider). So C did her first batch. I then rebooked her on, but moved her lesson to Saturday, as I was starting back at work. I couldn't get J into the Saturday class because he wasn't already doing swimming so I had to wait for open bookings and all the Saturday slots are gone. Thanks to my employer's flexible working hours, I was able to book him for Friday mornings. I then swapped them round so that J went on Saturdays and C went on Fridays. Phew!
Of course, with Downham, things are never simple, so fast forward to the end of that batch of lessons and time to rebook. Except that all the times have changed. Friday morning is now a 60+ swim. Saturday has changed from 9:30 to 11, which is great for those who like to laze around on Saturday morning, but means that by the time we get home J will be starving hungry and grumpy. Regardless, I have rebooked J, but have to choose a different time for C. The offered options are Tuesday morning 9am (no good, see above comments re: creche) or Thursday lunch time (no good as I work on Thursdays). So I have to take my chances with switching class again! I'm hoping to get her in on Saturdays too and M will come with me. Otherwise I will be going back to Wednesday lunchtimes and again using flexi working to do this.
Anyone with less persistence and a less flexible employer would have given up long ago! So does the council want more under 5s swimming or not? If it does I suggest the following:
1. A simplified programme that is the same across leisure centres (I actually think the 3 months- 3 years parent and child then 3-4 years pre-school model operated at Downham has the potential to work very well in practice, if it's well organised and explained).
2. Select times for the parent and child and pre-school lessons that fit in with people's lives. If you have a creche, then having parent and child sessions at the same time as it's open is actually sensible for those who have two children. You could also have pre-school and p&c at the same time, as pre-schoolers don't go in with their parents. Around lunchtime isn't ideal, as many babies/todders nap around this time, but better than not being able to go at all. 9:30 or 10 is a good time for those who can get up. 14:00 ish would just about allow people to take their younger ones and still be ready for the school run afterwards.
3. Once you've set lesson times, stick to them. Don't keep changing them about, as people make arrangements to allow them to take their kids swimming and these can be awkward to alter.
4. Keep parents informed of the inevitable odd cancellation. People are much less annoyed about these things if they're told.
5. Try putting up information about swimming lessons and how they work on the noticeboards of the pool (and that goes for the pool timetable too!), so people can find out information without having to ask at reception and getting different stories (note this could just be at Downham...)
All that said, both J & C love swimming, so I don't allow my frustrations to lead me to give up on the lessons! C passed Duckling 1 this time and J Duckling 2. Here's to the next batch and whatever that may bring.
The pic of me and C swimming on holiday. I posted some of J and I swimming at Downham a while back. Unfortunately, despite us being almost ever present for C's lessons, we missed the one where they did the photos, so we tried to recreate the idea ourselves while we were in Cornwall!