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Bubbles and Bobs: Learn to Swim at The Baldwin School

The Bryn Mawr school's innovative program makes developing skills and strokes fun.

On any given day in The Baldwin School’s swimming pool, there’s giggling, kicking and bubble blowing. Beginning with fun in the water in pre-kindergarten and progressing through the mastery of all four strokes and diving by fifth grade, The Baldwin School Learn to Swim Program© stands out in comparison to other programs, with unique qualities that make it a great choice for your child.


Director of Aquatics Dave Hart has developed the program as an evolution of traditional swim programs, with their emphasis on beginner, advanced beginner, and so on.


“We have gathered research and data from programs such as The American Red Cross, YMCA, and USA Swimming to develop a fresh new approach to a traditional method,” Hart said. “I’ve been teaching swimming for more than 20 years and have learned that it’s less about levels and more about achievements. Skills may follow patterns unique to the child and not move in a predicted pattern. We celebrate every achievement using our ribbon system that I instituted when I arrived at Baldwin in 2008.”


Students are not classified into groups or levels, as is common with other types of programs. Instead, a child’s self-esteem is strengthened through achievement of a skill and recognized with a Swim Achievement Ribbon.


“The first ribbon is crucial. It’s ‘I Know Baldwin’s Water Safety Rules.’ From there, it’s ‘I can do bobs,’ ‘I can blow bubbles,’ and ‘I can do side bobs,’ as we work our way up in confidence to submerge their heads under water,” Hart said. “We also reward effort for those who may have initial trepidation. Ribbons declaring ‘I had fun in swimming’ and ‘I am getting close to getting a ribbon’ are equally celebrated.”


The program’s formula for success begins with making sure there is fun in each lesson, which encourages the students’ confidence and desire to keep going. Once the students are comfortable in the water, the Learn to Swim program teaches each stroke — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly — in parts, rewarding each swimmer as she executes each part correctly. When each individual is ready, the parts are put together to create the whole stroke.


There are 24 ribbons, each representing either one specific skill or a combination of skills. The combination ribbons are called Challenge ribbons. Throughout the seven-year full program, the ribbons progress to describe skills that lead to swimming — like blowing bubbles or picking up sunken treasure — and they move on through the four strokes. By third grade, most girls master all strokes and diving. By fifth grade, the goal is for all students to refine their strokes and earn the “I can swim a mile” ribbon and the ultimate “Polar Bear” ribbon, which represents Baldwin’s mascot and is earned for completing a 50-yard butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle.


The Learn to Swim Program is part of Baldwin’s physical education curriculum, and students participate in weekly lessons during the school year, as well as periodic exhibitions where they display their skills to family and friends. Parents are updated on their child’s progress through a report sent home three times a year.


“It’s rewarding to watch our students reach a state of comfort in the pool at such a young age. Parents want their children to be safe around pools, which is normally the initial driver for lessons,” Hart said. “But swimming offers so much more. In addition to the enormous health benefits, I’m seeing more girls interested in competitive swimming. It’s inspiring to watch a white-knuckled pre-K student develop into a confident and competent swimmer in just a few short years.”


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Photographs courtesy of The Baldwin School. 

The Baldwin School is an independent day school that develops bright, talented girls in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 into confident, accomplished women with vision, global understanding, and the determination to make enduring contributions to the world. Baldwin combines the region’s premier college preparatory curriculum with distinguished arts, athletics, and community service programs.