Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Recently, my 12-year-old daughter Iris decided to take on wild swimming as an activity. It’s the term used in the United Kingdom for any type of open water swimming in a natural body of water, uncontrolled and at its most natural. No chemicals, no wildlife control, no temperature control either. Like me, she’s become a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club in London, and that’s her go-to swimming spot close to home. She’s also swam at the Ladies Pond in Hampstead Heath and enjoyed the beautiful setting (as well as warm showers at the end). Below, she talks about wild swimming rom a child’s point of view. Note that she’s neither a champion swimmer nor in a swim team. She really does enjoy swimming outside. These are her own words of advice to parents who enjoy wild swimming and would like to introduce the activity to their kids.
For a very long time I refused to go swim at the Serpentine in Hyde Park with my parents, but eventually I saw how much fun they were having and so I decided to try it for myself. The first time that I swam in a lake, I found it freezing and not very fun in the water but once I was out of it, I felt very relaxed and happy that I tried it so I continued swimming alongside my parents on short distances such as 100m to 400m. And now, I go about once a week in autumn, spring and summer when the temperature is around 15C or more.
Wild swimming always seems cold and often quite icky, as it’s swimming in ponds or lakes or any place that’s natural. Most kids would never want to do it and would rather go to the pool or the sea instead. Sometimes it’s hard to enter the water because of the temperature and how the water looks, sometimes there’s even plants or weeds and that can be disgusting. I started wild swimming about a year ago and can say from personal experience that it’s very fun and I actually enjoy it, which is why I want to share my experience. So I put together a few tips to encourage your own children to come swimming with you.
If you bring up the subject too often, your child will just get annoyed and your efforts will have a negative effect. I’d recommend bringing your kids along when you go swimming and take a swimsuit just in case, but don’t try to force them to swim. Also, maybe, try to initiate them before the age of 13+ because teens are often less willing to try out new things while younger kids tend to be more open to suggestions and more enthusiastic.
Also the best season to encourage kids is summer because they will be more relaxed and the water/air temperature will be warmer. Another important thing is that the cold is mostly in your mind, so sunnier days will make you automatically feel warmer.
If you can get a friend to come along, the perspective of swimming will seem more fun and less like something you are forcing yourself to do. This will be encouraging and your kids might also feel the need to impress their friends so will go swimming to prove in a way that they are cool and capable of doing extraordinary things.
Often if the swim is in a really pretty area and after a hike, your children will probably be quite warm and will feel the urge to go cool down in the water especially if the water is clear and in a nice shade of blue.
If you managed to convince your kid to come swimming but he or she cools down before they even get into the water they might give up and not swim so I’d recommend staying warm until you enter the water and having a little treat at the end, like tea and cookies. And right after exiting, it’s very important to change as soon as possible into warm clothing to avoid shivering in your wet swimsuit.
When I started swimming I never swam more than 100 meters but later on, I started swimming over longer distances around 300-400 meters. I’d recommend starting out with small distances and warm temperatures and then later on, build up on distance and temperature range. Just don’t try to start out with too big of a distance and don’t try to make it grow too fast. Let your kids decide how much they want to swim and at what temperature too.