As a swimming teacher and mother of two, I made up a group game and often started a class or a kids’ swimming party with a pretend tea party. We’d jump up and down to keep warm and to attract attention, so others would get in the game and to foster a feeling of all playing the game together. It’s fun, and it keeps the kids in view of the leader. Children enjoy being part of a group, and they’re easier to supervise when everybody is doing the same thing at the same time. We’d drop hands, and I’d move to be near a small child who hesitated but wanted to do what the group was doing. I’d move the game along rapidly, pretending, "I have these nice, crisp graham crackers and this chocolate milk. … " Parents can be great teachers for their children and a group of their friends.
Let’s say you’re the responsible person, and you start the game by asking, "Who wants to go to my tea party? Oh, great! I have this tray of chocolate milk and crisp graham crackers." You say, "I’ll put these treats on my imaginary table. Let’s all go down to eat and drink. It’s OK to hold your nose, if you wish." If some children don’t go down, you stand near them or let them hold your hands. You don’t do the holding unless a child asks you to do so.
To benefit someone who hesitates, say, "We’ll go under and right back up." Then I would say, "What did you do with the graham cracker crumbs? Let’s get them out of the swimming pool. Ready? Set? Go!" All would come up holding imaginary crumbs and pretending to throw them out of the water. I’d pass imaginary rags and say, "Go back to wipe up the milk you spilled," and once a child added, "We’d better go wax the floor." We always did, of course, after that.
I’ve played a lot of tea parties and waxed a lot of pool floors in my time. Tea parties appealed to children in Michigan more than 50 years ago, and it worked in our backyard pools with children’s classes. My daughter, Nancy Russell, and I taught "tea party" as a warm up for classes. Many were swimming before they knew it. This game approach had a few serious moments, but our objective was to teach the children to swim well enough to enjoy it for a lifetime.
We taught with tricks and gimmicks and expected beginning students to swim on both front and backstroke. We taught and practiced self-rescue by playing "kangaroo hop" in water chest deep. One child at a time would hop forward, pulling with both hands, taking a breath and moving forward a little with each hop.
Some of our long-ago swimmers still recall the tea party game with the graham crackers and chocolate milk. Many, such as our own Nancy, at age 4 or 5, got so caught up in the games that they were swimming before they knew it. Organized games made water play safer - and more fun for all.