In a city where “cooler by the lake” is part of the daily forecast, getting the littlest citizens swimming is a must. Get your guppies going with classes catered to them — even babies barely sitting on their own can join in on the fun. These swim schools focus on everything from playful instruction to competitive training, all properly tailored to a child’s development. Click through for six worth checking out now to keep that outdoor swim season momentum going.
Goldfish Swim School
The Lure: Get transported to the tropics, thanks to brightly painted murals, tiki-style decor and a snack hut. Individual changing rooms and a relaxing viewing area for parents redefine "family friendly."
The Plunge: No chattering teeth here: The pool is a comfy 90 degrees with an air temperature of 92 degrees. Lest you worry about that deep end, the water runs a friendly four feet deep with a two-foot ledge for beginners.
The Classes: Thirty-minute sessions are divided by age and ability for kids ages 4 months to 12 years. Want to enroll more than one child? Group sizes are small and lanes are divided to hold different classes, meaning your 10-month-old and 4-year-old could be scheduled at or around the same time.
The Parent Connection: Moms, dads and caregivers join children up to 35 months in the water, playing games and singing songs with lyrics like, “The babies in the pool go splash, splash, splash” (à la “Wheels on the Bus”). An instructor guides parents, demonstrating with a doll and offering hands-on feedback.
The Dunk: Teachers encourage activities like blowing bubbles. But it just might be the critter-shaped flotation devices and ride-on boats that help kids overcome their fear of water for good. When they’re ready to move on, rings on the bottom of the pool (and even crazy-colored toenails on instructors) encourage underwater dunks. Special ribbons reward hard work and are printed with accolades like “I’m so cool, I wear my goggles in the pool” and “I can kick really great with my legs straight.”
The Location: 13 Chicagoland locations. Find the one closest to you at goldfishswimschool.com.
Foss Swim School
The Lure: Interesting fact: Foss means "Fast Water" in Norwegian. Fun is fundamental here, and instructions given with a playful twist: for example, instead of telling kids to “do the backstroke”, they’re told to paint the ceiling different colors.
The Plunge: The pools are heated to a fine 91 degrees and have stairs, islands and benches, and only go as deep as four feet. The changing area boasts multiple family-friendly stalls.
The Classes: You pick a progression, like "Learn to Swim", "Swim Stronger", "Swim Faster", and based on age, you select class times. All classes are 30-45 minutes with discounts for siblings and a student-teacher ratio ranging from 3:1 to 5:1.
Parent Connection: Parents join in on the fun and instruction in the first three levels of Backfloat Baby, and optionally in the fourth. Check the calendar for Family Fun Swim, where the whole family gets to jump in. Non-Foss families are welcome; every Family Fun Swim has a mini 15-minute instruction time.
The Dunk: Foss tells you from the get-go that they don’t teach Red Cross classes. Instead, the emphasis is on teaching “bite-sized” skills for mastery, not just paddling along the pool. Even the humble flotation devices aren’t just for safety. They’re used to isolate and develop motor skills and develop specific muscles to conquer a swim skill. Hesitant beginners can observe at first.
The Location: 6 Chicagoland locations in Lakeview, Oak Park, Highland Park, Libertyville, Niles and South Barrington. Visit them at fossswimschool.com.
Sharks Swim Club
The Lure: For kids ages 5 and up who have Olympic rings in their eyes, this place is where it’s at. The goal here is to finesse skills at all levels; beginners here, though, should already know how to finish at least one lap of freestyle. The “experts”? National competitors and Junior Olympians.
The Plunge: All classes are held at St. Patrick High School, so while it lacks the punchy decor of the other kid-centric schools, it’s the perfect training ground for serious swimmers.
The Classes: They're divided according to Future, Bronze, Silver, Gold and National. Beginners (Future) are for ages 5-8 and teaches the technique for competitive strokes, kicks and turns. Classes are an hour, and upper levels include “dryland conditioning,” i.e. aerobic exercises, strength training and resistance workouts.
Parent Connection: Since even the youngest here are independent swimmers, there’s no need to suit up. Parents are free to watch or drop off.
The Dunk: Every coach is equipped with an underwater iPad and camera to record each stroke and kick. The visual aid when training your child is a powerful tool. (Told you it’s serious here.)
The Location: 5900 W. Belmont Ave., 312- 800-3014. Visit them at sharksswimclub.com.
Chicago Blue Dolphins
The Lure: State-of-the-art pools and snazzy technology (under- and above-water mirrors and underwater video taping) help master swimmers train. Kids receive the same royal treatment.
The Plunge Two endless pools are shallow and kept at 90 degrees so kids can relax and focus. Swimers graduate to skills like diving and treading water at satellite locations with deep-end pools in Edgewater and Lakeview or at Ohio St. Beach.
The Classes: Baby and toddler classes are for six months to four years, preschool beginners are ages four and five, and everyone else from six and up are placed by skill level. Swimmers are encouraged to enroll twice, even up to four times a week for the first month, so they acclimate quickly. Kids with special needs and sensory processing or motor skill issues will love the Swim Whisperer program in private or semi-private lessons.
The Parent Connection: Moms and dads join babies and toddlers up to four years old. Instructors pass baby back and forth to parents to teach them how to roll their little minnow from side to back or cheek to ear.
The Dunk: If your landlubber isn’t keen on getting his feet wet, he can play at a separate station where water wheels, colanders and a spray will keep him busy. For those still in the pool, singing songs, splashing, blowing bubbles and playing with toys keep tears at bay.
The Location: 2222 N. Elston Ave., Lincoln Park, 773-342-7250, Visit them at chicagobluedolphins.com.
British Swim School
The Lure: Kids learn to back-float first, because teachers profess that it’s the ideal survival skill, allowing the swimmer to reserve energy, breathe and cry out for help. Check out the video on their website of wee ones diving and rolling onto their backs as easily as baby belugas.
The Plunge: Classes meet in fitness centers and residential buildings downtown, including Fitness Formula Club in the Gold Coast and LA Fitness in the South Loop. There are several suburban locations, too. If locker rooms aren't available, the school brings changing tents.
The Classes: Babies and preschoolers are divided into two levels, while swimmers ages three or older start from beginners (minnows) and progress to swim-team hopefuls (sharks). The special abilities program is new but already a big hit, recommended by doctors for kids with muscular dystrophy and autism. Multiple classes are held at the same time to keep multi-kid mamas happy, and you have the option of adding on extra days a week.
The Parent Connection: Mommy/Daddy and Me classes are available for swimmers three years and younger. Play games like “Humpty Dumpty” and help them jump from the ledge into the water. An instructor uses a doll to model every move and facilitate proper form.
The Dunk: Slow and steady wins the race, as instructors use gradual techniques to quell fears. Those with extra butterflies in their tummies can take a break and get personal attention from a teacher, whether walking around the pool together or playing games.
The Location: Chicago locations include Skokie, East Lakeview, Ravenswood, Gold Coast, North Harbor, South Loop, Hyde Park and more. They also offer classes at several JCC Chicago locations. Find the nearest one to you at britishswimschool.com.
Chicago Swim School
The Lure: The school's modern, upbeat vibe mirrors the lovable staff members. Families feel taken care of with everything from fun water toys to monthly newsletters with updates and parenting tips.
The Plunge: The heated four-foot-deep pool is surrounded by huge windows and a viewing room for parents.
The Classes: Babies four to 36 months old enroll in StarBaby and kids age 3-6 and 7-12 are grouped by ability. Unlike the other schools that allow registration at any time, this one runs in sessions, but you’ll be prorated if you join late.
The Parent Connection: Parents splash along in StarBaby's beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Then there's a transition level that phases parents out while instructors fully take the reins. Every few weeks, instructors set aside some Q&A time for parents.
The Dunk: Kids nervous about bobbing around can start by sitting with instructors near the pool, then dipping their feet in. Instructors also use a “shower bucket” (a bucket with holes on the bottom) and a song about getting wet to gently wet hands and shoulders. Graduates of each swim level earn a different colored wristband — a great visual reinforcement tool.
The Location: 2020 Northwest Highway, Arlington Heights, 847-870-7946. Visit them at chicagoswimschool.com.
— Maria Chambers and Selena Kohng