Playing in water is always fun for young children, but here in Holland, where canals, lakes, rivers and the sea are all in close proximity to homes, so a child knowing how to swim is imperative. Standardized Dutch swimming certificate programs are readily available throughout the country.
One way to find a swimming class is to simply ask around. Parents at school, neighbors and fellow members of the international community can all provide helpful advice. Be aware that the most affordable swimming courses can have lengthy waiting lists. Swimming lessons given at municipal pools fall into this category. While you can’t beat the €4-5 per lesson cost, depending on your child’s age, a waiting list of a year or longer is not uncommon.
From June 2014, the Municipality of The Hague put into effect a new swimming lessons for kids policy. Now it is only possible to register a child for swimming lessons when they turn 6 years of age. Parents who want their pre-school aged children to learn how to swim need to register them for private instruction.
Most group swimming classes for children are given in Dutch (with a few words of English thrown in), but there are a few organizations that offer swimming lessons completely in English.
Swimming lessons during school time (‘schoolzwemmen’) had previously been supported by the government. In fact, the Dutch translation for the breaststroke style is ‘schoolslag’ (school stroke)! However, in recent years, many towns have had to abandon school swimming in order to cut expenses. The percentage of schools offering swimming lessons dropped from 90% in 1991 to just 42% in 2012. Nevertheless, “every child leaving junior school (‘basisschool’) should have a zwemdiploma” according to the official ‘Waterdicht’ issued by the VSG (‘Vereniging Sport en Gemeenten’). This edict is supported by the Ministy of Education, Culture and Science, but it believes children knowing how to swim is the responsibility of the parents.
A-B-C and 1-2-3 Swim Diplomas
The three key national swimming diploma’s are referred to as A, B and C. They teach water safety to children with a goal of instilling confidence and allowing participation in recreational swimming and water sports. Most swimming schools offer the diplomas with more advanced swimming lessons to follow, called the ‘Zwemvaardigheid 1-2-3’ diploma.
The ‘A’ diploma develops children’s swimming skills through 4 different levels, from ‘A1’ to ‘A4’. Once a child has mastered each level, they receive an invitation (usually by e-mail) for the A diploma swim test. When the child has passed the exam and earned their certificate, he or she can take part in water sport activities such as synchronised swimming, surfing, diving and water polo.
During lessons, children learn skills such as swimming underwater with their eyes open. The diploma exam requires children to swim with their clothing and shoes on and they’ll need to perform such exercises as a forward-roll into the water followed by getting out by lifting themselves onto a large floating mattress unassisted.
As most accidental drownings occur after a person has fallen into a canal, the exam tests realistic scenarios. For children (and adults for that matter), it is vital for them to to be able to handle underwater disorientation while dealing with the weight of clothing. During swim lessons, children are taught not to panic and to react in a calm, controlled manner when placed in a water emergency.
The certificate A program requires a child to swim 50 metres using both breast and back strokes, and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole in a canvas panel. The parameters increases to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming in swimsuit and clothing with additional obstacles, the forward roll, and finally 9 meters underwater.
Children who have not earned at least a diploma A are required to wear inflatable armbands in all public swimming pools until they have earned their swimming certificate. Most schools and children’s sports clubs in the Netherlands will not let children take part in water activities until they have achieved the A, B and C diplomas.
Zwemwater.nl lists fresh water swimming spots in the Netherlands which have been been checked for water quality by the respective provincial water boards and the Rijkswaterstaat. If bacteria or other hazards are found, the swimming spot is marked with an ‘X’ on the map.
This article was contributed by Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold of Ute’s International Lounge which provides inter-cultural support services and language training in the Netherlands.