Each week I oversee hundreds of children as they learn to swim.
As the years have passed I have learned to see more than just a young swimmer.
I see the quiet child, who struggles in the busy pool.
The exuberant child, who bounds out with the biggest smile.
The child who likes their own world, and spends longer under the water than above.
The hyperactive child who struggles to wait their turn.
The nervous child, who fears water, noise, and everything new.
The dyspraxic child who struggles to move arms and legs separately.
As the weeks, months and years pass, we become very well aquantainted.
We know when they lose teeth, fall off bikes and have birthdays.
Often we are privy to events that happen at home also,
as they compete to tell us their “news”.
However one part of teaching swimming I really enjoy
is when I ask my young swimmers to use their imagination for a swim drill.
As they become carried away with my story, the fun begins.
This is often how it goes.
I line the group of seven to ten year olds up, and say we are going to do some jumping in.
This is always greeted with great delight.
Then I line them up at the wall and explain the task.
I want them to look straight ahead, walk off the edge and fall into the water.
As they get all excited I usually say,
“Imagine this as you are walking.
You are staying in a hotel. Its the middle of the night.
It’s pitch black and you decide you are going for a walk.
But you do not know that the hotel is up on a cliff.
As you walk forward, you do not know where you are going,
and you walk over the cliff and into the sea miles below”.
Many of them get very excited with the idea of this game.
But occasionally one of them needs more.
“Is the hotel in Ireland?”.
“Where is my family?”,
“Why am I walking so late at night?”.
“Are there sharks in the water?”.
When the other children hear these imaginings they too become inspired.
They often then join in, “Is my brother with me?”.
“Am I sleep walking?”, “Where’s my mom and dad?”
When I hear these questions, I often think, what is ahead for these children?
Such vibrant, brilliant imaginations.
I do not know what education is like in other countries,
but I do see a worrying trend in my own.
Lessons are now learned not taught.
Poetry is not explored, but instead the answers to questions are pre learned.
English and Irish essays which were barely written by the students,
are also learned by heart, to be regurgitated for an exam.
As I teach my many little ones every day, and listen to their wonderful open minds,
I wonder just what will be left by the time our “education system” is finished with them.
I ask myself “Can an imagination that is never fed really survive?”