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Of Swimming & Schooling
How Unschooled Kids Learned to Swim
By Rachel Gathercole

swimming and unschoolingI have three children – an eleven-year-old, a seven-year-old and a baby. In our family, this will be remembered as the summer they all learned how to swim. On their own. When I was barely looking.

There I stood on that fourth day, dripping and watching silently by the side of the pool, where I was once again reminded of the simple beauty of allowing my kids the freedom to learn at their own pace.

And that’s no small thing. For starters, my eleven-year-old, Saul, hates getting his face wet. Oh, how he hates getting his face wet. How does he hate it? Let me count the ways. Showers, baths, sinks, the ocean, lakes, rivers, pools. Sprinklers. Rain. Tooth brushing. He did not swim for eleven years because for him there was (it seemed to me) nothing worse in the world than water on his face. He’d rather sit on the dry ground and watch.

Sadie, my seven-year-old, was fine with getting her face wet, but was small and scared. You know, not wanting to drown and all that. And the baby, Luke – well, he just hadn’t been around very long yet. Six months, to be exact.

Now, I will admit, the older two have been working on it, in their own ways, for years. They have long been able to scoot about in the water in life vests that they could not survive without. And last summer when we got an above-ground, three- foot-deep “junior” pool in our yard, they began playing in that water without vests (since they could always reach the bottom.) Sadie accidentally discovered during that time that she could float; Saul learned how to “doggy-paddle.” Still, they were far from true swimmers.

But then came baby Luke. Luke loved the water. He adored it. So, in June, I did the unpredictable, at least for me. I signed my baby up for lessons. Yes, my six-month-old. It was a mother-baby class, and it was definitely an anomaly for us, neither of my other two children having ever taken swimming lessons except for one day, two summers ago, which amounted to nothing beyond the realization that they weren’t ready. But this baby wanted to be in the water, and I was interested in learning what fun, non-traumatic things I could safely do with him, or let him do, in the pool. During our lessons, my other two kids had nothing to do but play in the other end of the pool and stay out of the way. I knew they were safe in that pool, which was shallow and supervised by several life guards, and I paid little to no attention to what they were doing there. We were there exactly four times. On the fourth day, I found out what they had been doing: learning to swim.

Here is my understanding of how it happened . . .

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Rachel Gathercole is the mother of three beautiful, delight-driven, self-starting children, and the author of numerous articles on homeschooling, unschooling, parenting and children. She is also the author of the book The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, which addresses the question of homeschoolers’ socialization in the depth that parents need. Look for Rachel’s book online at or your favorite online bookseller, or check out her website at

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