Different Strokes

Appears in the April 2024 issue.

7 swim schools catering to kids

Naperville Park District’s swim lessons at Centennial Beach
Naperville Park District’s swim lessons at Centennial Beach

Managing your offspring’s extracurriculars may feel like jigsaw puzzle without room for one more piece; however, educators who spend their days teaching swim safety want to remind families to prioritize swim lessons. “A lot of the time, swimming is lumped in there with activities like gymnastics or soccer, but we live around water, and it’s an important life skill to learn to prevent drowning,” says Sara Mesnard, director of operations for 11 Midwestern locations of Goldfish Swim School, including Naperville and Elmhurst.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 as well as the second-leading cause of unintentional death for children 5 to 14 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “May is National Water Safety Month, and the sooner you start lessons, the faster your child will start swimming,” Mesnard says. Here are seven spots to get your feet wet.

Big Blue Swim School

Competitive swimmer Chris DeJong narrowly missed qualifying for the 2008 Olympics when Michael Phelps beat him by three-tenths of a second. He shifted gears to teach swimming lessons and went on to found Big Blue Swim School, with its first locations in the northern suburbs. Now a national franchise, the company opened a Naperville location (1265 S. Naper Blvd.) in June 2022 offering lessons for babies as young as 3 months all the way up to early teens. Big Blue’s teaching method centers on the acronym EDMC—explain, demonstrate, mimic, correct—to introduce and reinforce concepts to students. A comfy environment is also key. “We have floor-to-ceiling viewing from our air-conditioned lobby with Wi-Fi if parents need to work from there, and we have mats for the little ones to play on,” says Naperville’s general manager Anna Vargas. “The kids can see their parents, and the parents can see their kids—every inch of the pool is visible. The pool temperature is kept at 90 to 91 degrees, so when the kids get in, it’s not a shock.”
PRICING: Weekly lessons are $35 to $42, charged monthly like a gym membership.
GOOD TO KNOW: There’s also a location in Glendale Heights (145 W. Army Trail Rd.).
MORE INFO: bigblueswimschool.com


Naperville Park District’s swim lessons at Centennial Beach
Naperville Park District’s swim lessons at Centennial Beach

Naperville Park District

Every summer, Naperville Park District runs a robust swim program of outdoor classes at Centennial Beach (500 Jackson Ave.) on weekday mornings and evenings in June and July. Preschool classes (ages 3 to 5) have two to four students per class and focus on acclimating to the water, front and back floats, and holding breath underwater. Elementary classes (ages 6 to 14) have three to five students per instructor and are designed to teach deep-water safety and survival skills and a variety of swim strokes. At the highest elementary level, students learn swim team prep skills such as racing starts and turns.
PRICING: $77 for residents and $107 for nonresidents for an eight-lesson session
GOOD TO KNOW: Prefer a private lesson? You can book a 30-minute session for $25. During the spring, fall, and winter, all lessons move indoors to the pool at Naperville North High School (899 N. Mill St.).
MORE INFO: napervilleparks.org


Goldfish Swim School
Goldfish Swim School

Goldfish Swim School

Former competitive swimmers and parents to four children, Jenny and Chris McCuiston founded Goldfish Swim School in 2009 in the northwest suburbs of Detroit. The company now has more than 100 locations nationwide, all with toasty 90-degree pools and tropical decor (think fish aquariums and blow-dry stations with tiki-hut-inspired thatch roofs). “We do perpetual lessons, so you can book in at any time for a 30-minute lesson once a week, every week—and we are open every day of the week,” says Mesnard, director of operations of Goldfish locations in Naperville (1688 Quincy Ave.), Elmhurst (614 N. Michigan St.), and several others around the Midwest. “It’s based off of [students’] skill level as well as their age, and they move through the program based off of that.” Babies as young as 4 months old can begin classes with a parent, while experienced swimmers can join the Swim Force recreational team to train for competitive swimming in the future.
PRICING: $30 per weekly group lesson, charged monthly
GOOD TO KNOW: Students can refine their skills during week-long Jump Start clinics throughout the summer.
MORE INFO: goldfishswimschool.com


The Swim Academy at Wheaton Sport Center
The Swim Academy at Wheaton Sport Center

The Swim Academy at Wheaton Sport Center

This sprawling fitness facility (1000 W. Prairie Ave., Wheaton) offers swim lessons for children starting as young as 6 months old with a parent. Children ages 3 to 12 years old can enroll in group lessons with three or four students per class. Beginners start with basic kicking and paddling and work all the way up to treading water and perfecting freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke. “We encourage having fun while learning a lifelong skill and water safety,” says aquatics manager Kathy Nkhoma, adding that instructors are known to use puzzles or games such as Scrabble and bingo to keep students engaged while learning.
PRICING: $68 per four-week session for members; $100 for nonmembers
GOOD TO KNOW: Private lessons for individual students or siblings are available starting at $47 per lesson for members and $57 for nonmembers.
MORE INFO: wheatonsportcenter.com


British Swim School
British Swim School

British Swim School

This national swim organization hosts its programs at local pools inside gyms and hotels. Monika Allabaugh, franchise owner for British Swim School of DuPage and Kane County, runs the Naperville program hosted at LA Fitness (3116 Rte. 59) as well as programs in other cities such as Downers Grove, Carol Stream, Oswego, Plainfield, and Glendale Heights. “We are very survival-oriented, so we make sure that every child learns, as a first thing, to go on their back if they fall into the water and float,” Allabaugh says. “When you come to us, we will teach you to swim without googles, because if you would ever fall into the water, what is the probability you are walking around with goggles on?” Periodically, students come to class dressed in clothes instead of swimsuits for more real-world survival practice. “We have you swim with your clothes on just to feel the difference, and how heavy just a pair of jeans can feel in the water,” she says. Infants can start as young as 3 months old with a parent and transition to group lessons around age 3.
PRICING: Group lessons start at $145 per month for weekly lessons.
GOOD TO KNOW: Allabaugh has instructors trained in adaptive aquatics through Angelfish, an organization that specializes in teaching swimming to children with sensory needs, developmental delays, anxiety, or motor challenges.
MORE INFO: britishswimschool.com


Sunsational Swim School

Have your own backyard pool? This mobile swim school’s Naperville chapter will dispatch a local instructor for private or semi-private lessons at your home. Children as young as 6 months old can start taking lessons to get comfortable in the water while advanced swimmers can focus on refining their technique. “[We are] all about personalized curriculum,” says Chris Monteilh, U.S. marketing manager. “For younger students, we place a strong emphasis on safety, teaching essential skills like what to do after a fall into the pool—kick to the surface, turn around, swim to the edge of the pool.” Instructors have a minimum of two years of teaching experience. Registration is rolling, so you can start anytime.
PRICING: You can buy lessons in a series of six, 12, or 18, and the price per lesson breaks down to as low as $40 depending on the lesson length, number of students, and frequency.
GOOD TO KNOW: Sunsational offers a “Learn to Swim Guarantee” for kids ages 3 and up, so if your child hasn’t mastered certain skills after a 12- or 18-lesson package, you’ll be offered additional lessons free.
MORE INFO: sunsationalswimschool.com


Foss Swim School

Founded in 1993 by Jon and Susan Foss in Minneapolis, this swim school now has locations all around the Midwest. The new outpost in Western Springs (4700 Gilbert Ave.) opened in March and is the company’s first in the western suburbs. Classes start for infants as young as 6months and span all the way up to adults. “Our pool is 91 degrees, so it’s nice and warm and feels like bathwater for the students,” says Catherine Gumila, general manager. “We have a heated floor and benches all around the pool deck for our families to sit and watch. We do also have a family view room in case people have other children or don’t want to sit in that space.” The company’s teaching philosophy is “Laughter then learning then confidence then mastery,” and instructors have up to four students in each class for their Learn-to-Swim program. “We use methods like imagery and stories to have fun and connect with the students,” Gumila says. “We also teach swim team-type classes to help develop our students’ strokes.”
PRICING: Group classes run on a seasonal quarter system and vary based on quarter length and level; enroll by May 7 for the summer quarter running June 10 to August 31. Private lessons are $99, and semiprivate lessons are $50 each.
GOOD TO KNOW: Summer swim camps of various lengths are offered to fit between family vacations and camp schedules.
MORE INFO: fossswimschool.com


Photos: Naperville Park District; Goldfish Swim School; Grace Tiesman (The Swim Academy at Wheaton Sport Center); British Swim School DuPage/Kane