Catherine Bell
Helping Your Child Overcome a Fear of Water

Helping Your Child Overcome a Fear of Water

Overcoming a fear of water can be hard on the student

Seeing a child afraid is hard on any parent. Seeing that same child suffer from a fear that could turn into a lifelong obstacle – is downright terrifying. Fear of the water, though a normal behavior in many kids, is one that is particularly important to overcome to keep them safe throughout their lives. Drowning prevention starts with learning how to manage fear and anxiety around water and water activities.

According to Psychology Today, two-thirds of Americans are afraid of deep, open bodies of water and 46% are afraid of the deep end of a pool. That same study sites that a staggering 37% of adult Americans are unable to swim at all.
Knowing how to swim and prevent any panic around the water are unquestionably life-saving skills. At SwimWest our primary goal is water safety. Understanding a child’s fear of water is one of the first steps in that goal.
Why is my child fearful of water?
Being afraid of water is not uncommon in young children. Sometimes, a fearful situation can prompt the fear, or it may be something that comes on without any real explanation. A lot of times swimmers who are feeling fearful will talk about how they don’t want to go near the water or even have water on them. When confronted with going in the water they will often cry or try to run away.
How can I help my child get over their fear of water?
Address the fear first. Fear stems from the unknown. Reading to your children about what they might be afraid of may be helpful. They may feel understood when shown other characters who struggle with the same concerns. If you have a child who is scared to get in the water, there are many great children’s books available including:
The Crocodile Who was Afraid of the Water by Rachel Hawthorne
This Makes Me Scared by Courtney Carbone
Froggy Learns to Swim by Jonathan London
What else can I do?
Arm your child with facts, and they’ll not only feel smarter, but that knowledge can help them conquer their fear. Find out what water is made of, how our bodies need it, why ice cubes float, etc. and get into the science of it. Learning about water can be a fun thing to do with your child. The more they know about their “nemesis,” the more likely they’ll be able to cope with their fear.
What do the experts at SwimWest recommend?
Caitlin Steiger, a SwimWest swim instructor, recommends parents establish trust before they even get near the water. “Start lots of conversation about it at home,” she says. “Including talking about how fun swimming is and remaining positive about it.” Creating that dialogue will help your child express what scares them about the water. “Playing in the tub with toys and rain shower buckets is an enormous help,” she said. She recommends getting them to adjust to having a bit of water on their face. “One great game is to count 1,2,3 then slowly pour water over their heads from the back to the front.” Though, she stressed that it should be fun, and they should feel in control and safe. “Let them take it at their own pace.”
When should we put our toe in?
When it comes to swimming lessons, don’t push but don’t take no for an answer either. After all, it is a skill that may save their life and one they will need to say safe. Luckily, SwimWest takes a unique approach by offering year-round lessons in a warm, indoor facility. Classes are always kept small so each child including the fearful ones, get lots of attention. Kids aren’t moved up to the next level until they are ready. The instructors are trained to make it fun. Caitlin says she includes singing songs, playing games and lots of other activities to create a distraction from any water anxiety her students may have.
There’s an appropriate class for every stage and every ability including those with a fear of water. SwimWest offers private and semi-private lessons for children who need extra attention. The team at SwimWest will focus on getting your little one comfortable in the water and developing a lifelong love and not a fear of the water.
Taking the Plunge

Taking the Plunge

Karen Clay says she grew up a small farm girl and in many ways is still one deep inside. A Midwest native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Karen never started out to make a lot of money but instead to educate people about her passion for swimming and the importance of water safety. With a love of kids and a genuine excitement for swimming, she turned her ambitions into a thriving business that has been teaching kids how to swim safely for over 29 years.


After graduating with a degree in exercise physiology and sports management in 1989, Karen saw an opportunity to own her own business with a franchise called, MacTay Aquatics. At that time, she was already teaching ‘learn to swim’ courses to pay her way through college, so the choice to start her swim school seemed a perfect fit.  She had always wanted to move to Madison and knew that it had a strong swimming community. She felt confident she could be a success there.


She decided to approach various local pools at health clubs, hotels and outdoor recreation areas for rental opportunities. That would save the cost of building a facility right away as her new company expanded. Karen admits that lots of sweat and tears went into the growing stages. Even though it wasn’t easy, saving everything during that time paid off. She was able to build her swim center within the 5-year time frame she had set for herself. Soon after, MacTay Aquatics dissolved; so, she changed the name to SwimWest Swim School, Inc. and began fresh.


The goal for Karen has always been creating a world without drownings. Her approach is to seize the opportunity during swim lessons and teach each student while they are having fun. Before the student knows it, they’ve learned stroke fundamentals and how to be safer in and around the water.


SwimWest has always set out to include the whole family unit in its teaching philosophy. Creating a family-friendly environment is crucial in the process. The school teaches from ages 4 months all the way to adults. The teaching methods change for each level of development, but along the way, they meet the needs of every swimmer where that swimmer is at the time of each lesson. Karen uses her understanding of child psychology to understand what motivates her swimmers to want to learn and improve on their skills.


At SwimWest, they strive to hire the best which is one of the secrets to the school’s success. The teaching team has been awarded locally and nationally with many outstanding swim industry awards. Of course, a love for children is a must, but Karen also looks for people who have a professional approach. Most importantly, team members must be able to communicate with not only the students but with the parents too. “With a great staff, we can promote a love of swimming and teaching children and adults always to have water safety in mind.”


As the school grows, Karen stresses that the philanthropy will continue as well.  She has always been community minded and involves the school along with encouraging the staff to be involved in many community events, charities, and fundraisers. “We strive to improve our impact locally and globally in giving to causes dear to us,” she said.


The goal of SwimWest is to be no less than the top swim school in Dane County. Another location is also in the plan. Karen’s outreach continues and her goal to increase water safety programs and expand the school’s influence in the immediate and outlying areas will only grow stronger.

How to keep your children active in Winter

How to keep your children active in Winter

Keeping them moving in the winter

Entertaining kids in the winter months can be tough!

While it’s a little easier in the summer to keep our children moving, the winter can present some challenges. As parents, it’s up to us to encourage them to exercise even throughout these colder, winter months. When cabin fever inevitably hits during this time of year, instead of just giving up and giving in to lots of unhealthy screen time, why not turn to indoor sports instead?

Indoor sports can be a lot of fun and provide great ways for your kids to stay healthy and energized, no matter the season. Below are some excellent indoor activities that are available for you and your family right here in the Madison area.

Indoor Swim Lessons

There are plenty of ways your child can improve their swimming skills while the temperatures stay cold.

“It’s a fantastic community and a great place to have on the family calendar as a regular place for your children to not only learn and reinforce water safety but to work out some of that pent-up energy and make friends,” Karen Clay, SwimWest owner says.

SwimWest offers high-quality year-round swimming lessons in Madison and Fitchburg for everyone from infants to adults with a focus on keeping children safer in and around the water. The large indoor pools are heated to provide a comfortable environment for babies, children and teens to excel.

Besides offering regular swim lessons for children of all ages, SwimWest offers open family swim time too – keep in mind that parents must accompany children in the water within arm’s reach if they cannot swim the full length of the pool.

With two locations to choose from there is sure to be one close to you.

Madison’s schedule and classes

Fitchburg’s schedule and classes

Indoor Gymnastics

A gymnastics class or an open gym play time is a great way to work that winter energy out. According to Jessie Carlson, owner of Badger Gymnastics Academy, “Kids need to have different types of outlets for their never-ending energy. Kids who have the opportunity to be active in the winter months will gain strength, improve balance, and learn new skills while having fun with friends.”

Badger Gymnastics provides a space for children from toddler age to school age giving them the opportunity to crawl, climb, jump, hop, roll, balance, flip and swing safely in a warm environment. The gyms offer a colorful, padded environment with enthusiastic instructors ready to wrangle that energy in a positive and expressive way.

Open gym

Spring Session

Indoor Martial Arts

If your child doesn’t show too much of an interest in indoor leagues but still wants to be part of a supportive sports community, then martial arts may be in their future. Infinity Martial Arts of Middleton creates an environment where your child can exercise his body and mind while getting fit and staying active.

“Martial arts is great way for kids and adults to stay active year round,” Mike Welsh, Owner and Master Instructor of Infinity Martial Arts says. “Kid’s love our classes because they are high energy, and challenging. The dynamic drills and skills taught build confidence as they improve and achieve with each class. The parent’s of Infinity Martial Arts love the character and leadership skills their children learn in a a safe and positive environment.”

Right now, they are offering a web special for a limited time: buy a uniform for $49 and get a FREE month of karate.

Other Indoor Winter Activities to keep them moving and engaged

We are lucky to live in a community that not only offers fantastic indoor sports opportunities but has a great selection of indoor community events and activities too.

The Madison Children’s museum offers free family night for you and your children to explore; the Henry Vilas Zoo’s indoor Discovery Center is another great place to get to in the winter time. Our own University of Madison campus offers many indoor activities that your children might like including: the Arboretum Visitor Center where they can learn about ecological restoration; the Space Place that holds a Saturday Children’s Workshop for your budding astronaut; the Dairy Cattle Center  where your child can watch cows being milked or maybe try out the Geology museum and let them explore a huge collection of rocks!

No excuses . . .

Don’t let your kids waste away the winter months in front of the TV. Indoor sports and activities give kids a safe place to stay active, have fun, and make new friends. Even in the hottest months of the summer indoor activities offer a lot and you don’t have to worry about sun screen!

When to Push Your Young Swimmer

When to Push Your Young Swimmer

. . . and how to know if you’re pushing too hard

One of the great parenting decisions we all face at some point is when to push our kids and when to back off. For each child there is a different answer and for each family a different story. However, with a little help from some industry experts and your SwimWest instructor, you may not have to push too hard for your child to not only enjoy swimming and swim lessons but to excel at it for years to come.

When is it okay to push?

We all want what’s best for our children. But our idea of what is best for them might not always be what they want or what is really good for them at the time. Finding that delicate balance between encouraging and pushing too hard is never easy especially when it comes to learning an important life skill like swimming.

As we talked about in our blog post Conquering Anxiety in Your Young Swimmer pushing our kids a bit out of their comfort zone can be a good thing as long as it’s not too fast or too soon. We know that being able to tolerate a certain level of discomfort is a necessary life trait that everyone goes through as they grow up.

But when is it too much? According to a study for the National Alliance for Youth Sports 70% of children quit playing sports by age 13 because it isn’t fun anymore and a recent Swimming Science article reports that specializing too early increases the likelihood of burnout and maybe even giving up.

Know your child

The most important factor in knowing when and how much to push is thinking about your child’s personality.

Amy Horvath, one of our most experienced SwimWest Swim Instructors, says that parents should push as far as they feel comfortable based on what they know about their child. As an instructor, she’s learned that each child is different, and works with parents to find that balance.

“When a parent pushes too hard they usually get the exact opposite of what they are hoping for,” she said. “Instead of an excited and more proficient swimmer, they end up with a resistant non-swimmer.”

How to help

Pushing your child to do something doesn’t mean throwing them (metaphorically and literally speaking) into the deep end of a pool and hoping they swim. According to Amy, when a child is not provided with clear expectations, it is confusing and frustrating for them. They can feel like they are floundering, trying to figure out which direction to go since they have been given no guidance. This does not make for happy and confident swimmers.

Instead, there are ways parents can encourage their young swimmers to help ensure they feel successful during lessons.

  • Prep your child by sharing your expectations before their lesson
  • Pay attention during their lesson and let them know you notice
  • Reward positive behavior and choices
  • Get really excited for successes!

The love of water and water-based activities is a wonderful passion to nurture in your child. If you help them gain swim skills at a young age, they are far more likely to feel empowered and confident in not only swimming but in many other sports. Pushing your child to do their very best during swim lessons is the right thing to do – how hard and how often you push, is ultimately up to you but talk with your child’s swim instructor, and together, you’ll get the best possible results.

Swim Safe!

Conquering Anxiety in Your Young Swimmer

Conquering Anxiety in Your Young Swimmer

Confidence around the water makes for a fun lesson!Anxiety in your young swimmer

Dealing with anxiety in young swimmers is something every swim parent runs into from time to time. And though feeling a certain amount of nerves around the water and before a swim lesson can be normal, persistent anxiety that prohibits your child learning is something that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

When parents understand what to look for and how to deal with their young swimmers’ anxiety, with the help of their child’s SwimWest instructor, they can help them overcome it and learn to love the water!

Caitlin Steager, one of SwimWest’s most experienced instructors, is no stranger to the signs of a bit of anxiety in her young swimmers. She’s been working with swimmers ages 4 months all the way up to those in their teens for the last 18 years. As a certified water safety instructor, she prides herself in helping them feel safe in the water and even overcoming their fear enough to master a skill they never thought they could.

We sat down with Caitlin and asked her advice on how to deal with children’s anxiety in and around the water.

What are some signs parents can look for to recognize anxiety in their young swimmer?

A lot of times swimmers who are nervous will talk about how they don’t want to go into the pool and will cry or try to run away. This is common for young swimmers who have never had a lesson before. After all, parents are always telling kids not to talk to strangers and not to go near the water and then they are putting them in the water with a stranger. It could be very confusing.

How should anxiety be approached before a lesson begins?

A lot of time it helps to talk about swimming lessons before they get to the pool. Parents should find out the teacher’s name or if they are a male or female teacher. (Some kids have anxiety for either male or female teachers) An example of that would be to say we are going to have so much fun with Ms. X in the pool. Sometimes it helps to bring a toy from home, as long as you don’t mind it getting wet – such as a favorite bath toy.

How should anxiety be approached during a lesson?

The teachers should remain calm. The thing I think works best is to distract the swimmer. Sing a song, ask them questions. What is your favorite color? What did you do today? Also, Have them look at something in the pool area, animals on the wall or something in the pool.

How can a parent work with the swim instructor to manage their child’s anxiety?

Talk to them about how they will be safe in the water and how they won’t leave them. Just general encouragement before, during and after the lesson is great practice.

How do you get the most out of all of your students, including the anxious ones?

Pushing them to do their best. If they are very nervous, start slow. Have them get to know the instructor and give them time to trust the instructor.

What other tips or advice can you give to a parent of an anxious swimmer?

Parents always think their child is the only one who has ever cried during a lesson. Believe me, they are not. We have had plenty of swimmers who were very nervous at first and now they are swimming laps in the pool without a problem. But it takes time. Sometimes it takes a month before they are completely comfortable in the lesson. Encourage them and don’t be stressed. If you or they have questions or concerns, please ask our staff we would be happy to assist them.

You and your over-scheduled kid

You and your over-scheduled kid

How much is too much?

Football practice, dance lessons, soccer games and yes, swim lessons – how much is too much for your child? At SwimWest we encourage balance for our swimmers and their parents. Easier said than done though, right? So how can you tell if your child has too much going on after school and/or on the weekends? Not all kids have the same attention spans and interests so, it’s up to you to evaluate your child’s personality and the time she can realistically devote to structured activities, but some signs you have an over-scheduled child are:

  • Acts grouchy, mopey and/or irritable (more than normal)
  • Has a hard time winding down at night
  • Doesn’t have time to finish homework
  • Often breaks down when you’re heading out the door
  • YOU feel overwhelmed from driving back and forth to all the activities

Is being busy really so bad? Aren’t extra-curriculars healthy for kids?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics your child needs a good mix of scheduled activities and some time that is not governed by the clock. Dr. Michael Yogman, a Harvard Medical School pediatrician who led the drafting of the academy’s recommendation to pediatricians, emphasizes that unstructured physical, social or pretend play, create important lessons for kids and give them the chance to make things up as they go. This is beneficial to not only their growing bodies but their developing brains.

How should a parent prioritize their child’s activities or strike a balance?

Know it is okay to say no and be selective in the organized activities you do pick. Also, involving your child in selecting his activities will make him feel listened to and give him some ownership in those choices.

How does SwimWest work with parents so their young swimmers don’t feel over-scheduled?

Listening to parent feedback and paying attention to any concerns our instructors may have on individual children are some of the ways we learn what we can offer our families and how we can help strike that balance between scheduled activities and free-time. Because swim lessons help children master a crucial skill and have fun doing it, it is easy to make it a priority. We offer a lot of flexibility so you can fit it in your child’s calendar including:

  • Year-round, continuous lessons
  • School Schedules
  • Summer Schedules
  • Ability to enroll at any time throughout the year
  • Easy class transfer (no advance notice needed)
  • Simple withdrawal form for when you need a break

Go to our FAQ area at for specific information on scheduling your child for a swim lesson that works for you and your family.

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Young Swimmers

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Young Swimmers

Resolutions can help motivate young swimmers

Creating a New Year’s Resolution for your child’s swimming lessons is a great way to motivate them measure their achievements during the year and empower your young swimmer. Here are some great resolutions to keep in mind:

1 – Help them set swim goals

Do they want to just feel safe around the water or maybe they have their eye on a more competitive path? Thinking about and discussing the goal of swim lessons for your child can help them meet their resolutions faster.

2 – Trust the instructor

Our teaching team has been awarded locally and nationally with the Guiding Light Award, Outstanding Teacher Awards from the United States Swim School Association and several Top Notch Teacher Awards in Madison. They work hard to make sure their students get individual attention that makes sense for each child’s learning style.

3 – Get Some Sleep

Isn’t everything better after a good night’s sleep? Your swimmer’s swim lesson is no exception! A child who is bright, well-rested and excited to get into the pool will get the lesson off to a great start and create a much more productive experience for them.

4 – Come regularly

We recommend that a swimmer goes to swim lessons once a week all year round for learning essential swimming skills.   Practicing these skills once a week or even a couple times a month during open swim is a great idea to get the best results. Little swimmers can practice in the bathtub as a helpful way to develop new swimming skills.

5 – Go with the flow

Like every learning process, there are good days and bad days. It’s important for your young swimmer to know that one bad day doesn’t mean that the next day will be the same. Learning to relax and ride the learning “wave” to better swimming will make it more fun every day!

SwimWest 2018 – a Year in Review

SwimWest 2018 – a Year in Review

It was a very good year

Swimwest 2018 a Year in Review

2018 was an eventful year for SwimWest students, staff and even our dolphin mascot, Finn. With end of the year fast approaching, it’s a good time to look back at some notable events that defined us in 2018.

Among the many highlights, it was a year of:


We were a very charitable group this year. Our giving community embraced a local collection of events and organizations including: Toys-for-Tots, Reach Dane County, Badger Prairie Needs Network, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Gio’s Garden just to name a few.

The Dolphin

Our 2-dimensional dolphin logo came to life in 2018 as a full fledge dolphin mascot! Finn, the dolphin, made his way around our community spreading fun and water safety tips all year long, and rumor has it, he plans on traveling even farther in 2019.

Facility improvements/upgrades

A new water fountain with a water bottle filler, updated changing room area, a much-needed bike rack, new safety equipment, and the addition of more evening and daytime classes were just some of the updates at both Deming Way and Fitchburg locations this year.

Staff growth, hires, promotions and appreciations

We had several promotions and hired many new key players to our family. Our staff appreciation week brought in a huge array of complimentary notes, coloring pages and “way to go’s” for our hard-working crew from their grateful students and parents. Regular in-services for the whole team, teacher training days and industry conferences kept us focused on core values and swim safety for everyone this year.


2018 found us very active in our community. Between the Mount Horeb parade to the Police Crime Prevention Picnic in Fitchburg and the Good Neighbor Festival in Middleton along with many, many places in between, we were out and about in our area promoting community causes and healthier living through swimming.

Swim Safety

The most important thing we do at SwimWest is promoting water safety. We set out to accomplish this every day, every year. Some of the ways we achieved that goal in 2018 outside of our everyday swim lessons included: ongoing lifeguard training; weekly focus tips for our swimmers, Water Watcher promotions, Swim Safety Week/Day, CPR and First Aid demonstrations and of course emphasizing to everyone to swim safer, swim smarter, SwimWest!

See you next year!

Know Your Swim Instructor

Know Your Swim Instructor

SwimWest talks to Nikki Luhm, Aquatic Director at SwimWest Fitchburg

Your child is excited to learn to swim. Now comes the tough part – finding a swim instructor that will foster her excitement and teach her the valuable skills she needs to be safe around the water for her whole life.

This month, we sat down with Nikki Luhm who has been teaching swim lessons for over a decade – 6 of those at SwimWest. Nikki is not only a swim teacher but she is also our Aquatic Director at SwimWest Fitchburg. She takes her job seriously but obviously loves what she does. She was nice enough to answer our questions and hopefully, give you the inside view on what to look for in a great swim instructor.

What is it about being a Swim Instructor that has kept you at SwimWest so long?

I love watching my swimmers grow into the incredible swimmers they become.  Sharing my passion for swimming and water safety with my swimmers is one the most rewarding parts of my job.  My co-workers and team members are also a huge part of why I have worked at SwimWest for so long. Being able to work alongside people with the same passion for water safety as I have makes coming to work every day a special experience.

What are some of the most rewarding parts of your job?

Watching my swimmers master a skill that they have been struggling with is the most rewarding part of my job.  Knowing that I played a part in helping them successfully attain their goals means the world to me.

What do you think the most important skill you teach in your lessons?

Rolling over to the swimmers back is the most important skill I teach in my lesson.  I want to be confident that if my swimmers were to fall or be pushed into a pool or fall off a dock that they can rollover to their back, take a breath, and call for help or be able to successfully swim to safety.  I practice these lifesaving skills with all of my swimmers starting from parent-tot (ages 4 months to 24months) all the way through my upper levels where we focus on survival swimming such as treading water, Elementary Backstroke, and Sidestroke.

What can a new student expect from attending one of your classes?

A new student can expect a warm welcome and a friendly experience.  They can expect that I will work with them to provide a positive experience to help grow their love and comfort of the water.

How do you measure success in your students and in yourself as an instructor?

I measure my swimmer’s success by their determination and dedication, and I measure my own success against that as well.  Never giving up and always trying our best is what makes me and my swimmers successful.

Why do you think getting kids enrolled in swimming lessons is so important?

Swimming is a life skill.  Whether you are 2 or 82 years old your body and mind will benefit from being in the water.  Not only is swimming a life skill, it is also a lifesaving skill. Even if swimming is not your thing, it is so important to be able to save yourself if you were to end up falling into a body of water.

Creative Ways to Gift Wrap an Experience from SwimWest

Creative Ways to Gift Wrap an Experience from SwimWest

Fun Ways to Wrap Up a Gift of Experience

Creative Ways to Gift Wrap an Experience from SwimWest

Fingerlings, Grumblies and yes, Baby Alive is back! All the popular toys that will come and go this year and that your children will soon forget. However, before you find yourself up to your eyeballs in too many toys, why not give the gift of an experience which will create memories, leave a lasting impression and offer a fantastic skill they’ll use the rest of their lives? Last week we made a case for giving swim lessons as a present this holiday. It’s an easy choice because confidence around the water and water safety is a real gift that most who have it…take for granted and because swimming is fun!

So, now that you’ve purchased a great experience for your little one – how do you actually gift it in a way that adds to the excitement of the season?

Some of our parents at SwimWest had some great ideas.

  • Every swimmer at SwimWest knows the dolphin mascot. Incorporate an image of our friendly dolphin in your gift, and they’ll recognize it right away!
  • Does your swimmer have a favorite bath toy like a rubber duck? How about a new one presented with a gift card for swim lessons?
  • How about a scavenger hunt leading them on clues that finally end up to the gift of swimming?
  • Who doesn’t love a puzzle? Get an old puzzle and overlay the SwimWest logo (include the dolphin!) then cut it out and have them put it together to discover their gift.

More Ways to Give the Gift of Swimming:

Stuff their stockings: SwimWest sells an array of swim related items just the right size for a stocking stuffer including Iplay rashguards, silicone swim caps, goggles, etc.

Wrap it up in a towel: You can never have enough towels when you have a swimmer in the house! A themed towel or one in their favorite color will be a wonderful surprise to go with their swim lessons.

Put in Words: Words of encouragement always sit well. Why not offer up a lovely card filled with a compliment on how great they’re doing and how proud you are?

Attach it to a new swimsuit: Who doesn’t love a bit of fashion? Presented with the promise of swim lessons and they’ll be looking and feeling great at their lesson

Regardless of how you plan to give your gift, an experience creates a lasting impression and gives back well past the holiday season. For more information on giving a SwimWest gift contact the front desk or stop by to see what will be the best choice for you and your family.