This month we have a guest post from one of our splashtastic Water Babies teachers, the lovely Vicki Oldfield, who teaches classes across South Manchester.
How did you first get into Water Babies?
I don’t remember a time when I haven’t swum. Swimming was what we did as a family and it’s what Sunday mornings were all about - hot chocolate and Maryland cookies out of the vending machine, overpowering that very familiar swimming pool aroma!
I swam competitively as a synchronised swimmer when I was younger, so when baby number 1 (William) popped into the world there was no doubt about it - he was going swimming! When I looked around at baby swimming locally, Water Babies offered everything I wanted and stood out among all the other companies I was looking at. So our Water Babies story began when William was a few months old, with Emily (baby number 2) joining in the fun when she was just 5 days old!
What made you decide to become a teacher?
David, my husband, got the opportunity to be a Water Babies teacher before I did as he was a stay-at-home dad with our 2 children while I went back to my career in child and adolescent mental health nursing. And to be honest, I was a bit jealous. He was getting to be in a pool, which I love, have fun with children and generally have a far better time at work than me. So when I got the chance to become a teacher, I didn’t think twice - I jumped at it!
How did you find the training?
I loved every minute of it. I thought I would miss the kids, with it being the first time I had been away from them, but there was no time for that! I’ve never learnt so much, or been so tired and happy both at the same time, in all my life.
Your training isn’t over once you’ve completed your 7 days in the pool, though. There’s then a series of at least 20 mentored ‘live’ lessons, followed by 6 independent assessments to get through. It’s a tough process, anybody who’s been through it will say the same, but the reason why our training is so challenging is because we’re the best at what we do!
What’s a typical teaching day like?
My preparation for teaching starts the night before, when I start packing up the Water Babies Mini with all my teaching kit. I enjoy combining fun with a sense of challenge in my lessons to help the little ones progress, and love thinking up new, fun ways to get my toddlers to advance their swimming and safety skills.
On the morning of my lessons I do the usual round of getting the whole family ready for the day ahead – dressed, fed, watered, packed lunches etc. - then as soon as I’ve done the school run I rush off to the first pool I’m teaching at that day and say a cheery ‘hello’ to everyone (mums, dads, kids, grandparents, pool staff, whoever’s there!). It’s really important to be able to communicate with the children, as well as with the adults, and it makes me smile that I’m affectionately known as ‘baby swimming lady’ at one of our pools. After testing the pool to make sure it’s safe to swim in, I get in - and off we go!
Moving from pool to pool throughout the day is a case of throwing my clothes on over my costume each time – after all, getting changed takes up precious minutes! Being a good teacher can often be as much about what happens out of the pool as in it, so if I’ve had a carer whose little one might not have been their usual self I’ll ring the office so that they can give them a call and offer some support.
What’s your favourite part about being a Water Babies teacher?
It’s such a varied job, I think that’s why I love it so much. No 2 days or lessons are exactly the same, and no 2 children will ever be the same either, so every day starts with that exciting anticipation of what’s to come.
As a Water Babies teacher, it’s amazing to watch as those parents or carers who were a bit nervous in the first week grow and develop with their babies to become confident and comfortable in the water. Then there are the fun-loving toddlers who shout requests out at you during a lesson, so you have to constantly think on your feet.
Some little ones go through what we call the ‘water wobbles’, and supporting them (and their carers) through this challenging phase takes patience, calmness and a sense of humour! But when they do come out the other side, it’s fantastic to see everything they’ve previously learnt and loved coming flooding back, and often they’re even more confident in the water as a result.
Watching the look of sheer pride on a mum or dad’s face when their little one does something for the first time always makes me smile. One mum said to me recently that watching her child swim on a woggle was the equivalent of watching them take their first step. It’s so rewarding to give carers and children the opportunities to have those experiences, and I see it as a real privilege, too.
I don’t call what I do ‘work’ as it’s way too much fun for that, and I certainly never get the Sunday-night-blues any more!
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about becoming a Water Babies teacher?
I would say that the first thing you have to do is to get wet. Get in the pool and watch children and adults being taught to swim. Doing your ASA Level 1 qualification is a good indicator as to whether or not you’d enjoy teaching. Then get in touch with your local Water Babies office to see about vacancies – and prepare yourself for one heck of a ride!