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French people have a lot of holidays. And many beautiful beaches. As wonderful as this might sound, there is a dark side. Too many French children drown every year in swimming pools and beach-side holidays. This is especially the case for small children, with the 0-6 category being the hardest hit.
As a result, the French government took action (link in French). Today, in communes across France, kids learn to become acquainted with the water in preschool, under the supervision of experienced lifeguards. It also gives all those future olympians an early exposure to the pool!
The motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité!
The “Equality” part of the motto is takenvery seriously here in France. And teaching kids in public schools to swim is one way to ensure that the playing field is leveled. This way kids from all backgrounds have access to swimming lessons, whether or not their parents can take them.
Another example of the French emphasis on equality is the banning of packed lunches. Unless your child has an allergy, parents are not allowed to send packed lunches. This way, every child is offered the same healthy meal at lunchtime. (It also makes parents very happy, to not have to think about what lunch to prepare for their child!)
Preschool Swim classes
Usually, 10 lessons are offered within the school year, and unlike most instances where French parents are expected to stay out of the classroom, parents are actually invited to help out here. (This is unusual for France, parents are normally discouraged from coming to the classroom!)
I got to volunteer at one occasion at my little one’s school and was quite impressed. The kids went to a special swimming pool that was specially made for preschool-age children, and their regular teacher got in the pool with them to calm any nervous nellies. Alongside were 3 maître–nageurs(lifeguard level swim instructors), 2 of whom got in the water, while one stayed outside to survey the kids.
Once at the pool, the kids were split into 2 groups. The first group sat in a little shallow pool playing while the second group was in the water doing various exercises such as crossing a floating bridge, swimming around the pool, etc. After a while the groups switch. The most difficult part of the organization was getting 25 little kids dressed and undressed, but nevertheless, the kids seemed to have a blast!
Not all preschools have their own swimming pool, so the kids were taken to the closest one in their town. It is quite obvious though, from watching the children that this is a great programme because some have clearly swum before with their parents, while others have not. Leveling the playing field a bit, and maybe even saving a few lives.