Dutch Language Blog

Swimming lessons Posted by on Jan 25, 2009 in Dutch Language

Today, a topic about ‘zwemles’ (swimming lessons) in the Netherlands and why it’s so important.

The Netherlands is one of the countries with the highest percentage of people who can swim. Since years and years and years, parents bring their young children to swimming lessons so they can learn how to swim.

What I can remember of it, it was horrible! But, truth be told, it is necessary.

Memories arise of strict instructors, yelling from the side of the pool with – oh horror – their large iron hook (just in case some kid threatens to drown, they could use that hook to pull the kid up again… I’m not kidding… it was a large hook…)

Luckily, the system has changed over the years and more and more you see instructors guiding and teaching the kids, among the kids. Still, they are very strict about the exercises the children have to do, whether they are afraid or not. I got that first hand when my daughter had her swimming lesson last Tuesday!

Anyway, children can receive a swimming diploma when they are good enough in the different swimming strokes. They can get an A,B and C diploma, but most kids stop after the B-diploma.

The most ideal age for children to learn to swim, is 5 years. At this age children start playing outside without constant supervision of their parents. Children need to be able to swim, especially during emergency situations and in Holland there are A LOT of brooks and ponds for a small child to fall in to. Also, research showed that children at age 5 have the right ‘motoriek’ to be able to learn swimming well. I’m not sure how to translate ‘motoriek’ but it means the level of control over the muscle system. Besides, usually kids love to learn how to swim (my daughter does J )

The downside, swimming lessons are expensive. Before a child reaches the level of the A- diploma, as a parent you spent 400 euro’s, a monthly fee of 20 euro’s . In dollars that would

$ 518, monthly fee of $ 26.

In Holland, swimming lessons are so important, that schools also have a swimming program, but not until the children are 8 and that is pretty late to start from the beginning.

Now, the reason for all this fuss about teaching children to swim, is a sad one.

The Netherlands is a country with a lot of lakes, brooks, ponds, rivers… we have a ‘wet’ country. And unfortunately, still every year young children drown, having escaped the supervision of their parents.

Where I grew up, there was a harbour and a beach in the old part of the village. Though many accidents involved children falling in the harbour (horrible stories plenty of how older sisters lost control of a baby carriage and it rolled straight into the water)… most accidents happen to small children living near a small brook or pond.

Last year, a mother lost the attention to her seven year old daughter at the beach, while she was reading a book or chatting with the neighbour next to her. When she no longer saw the girl, all people present started a search… but it was too late… they found the little girl in the water… she couldn’t swim.

Now, truth be told, knowing how to swim won’t always save a kid.

There are former neighbours of mine, who I never really liked because especially the wife could be quite arrogant. The husband was okay I guess, sweet tempered though maybe a bit misguided. Anyway, they were dealt a rotten hand of cards in life, the recent years, so I can’t help but feel sorry for them. First they lost their main source of income, their nightclub burned down, though some believe it was insurance fraud. They built a new club, right outside the village and rebuild their home (which was adjacent to the nightclub) for A LOT of money… until the Havana club started doing poorly and it had to be sold, later the wife barely survived cancer and she still had to work, just like her husband to makes ends meet… something she never had to do before… But I’m digressing from the actual story…

In the years when they were still living their life of arrogance, they were on vacation to God knows where… a luxurious camping no doubt… and there was a small pond nearby.

Mum and dad ordered the two big sisters to watch after their baby brother while they were drinking and smoking and having fun. Of course the two sister got caught up in their own leisure time and games and forgot all about their brother… A cute little boy, between the age of 3 and 4, knew how to swim because mum used to swim with him since he was a baby (there’s a special baby water program)… Roeltje was very curious and got to close to the pond and fell in. Now, the sides were too high and Roeltje swam around, looking for a way out… but there was none… He probably yelled for help, but was too far away from his parents and sisters… nobody could hear him and he probably just swam there until fatigue weighed his body down… and he drowned…

If the sides hadn’t been so high, he could have climbed out, because he was a good little swimmer, a regular water rat.

Then again, had his sisters done what their parents had asked, or better yet, had the parents kept a better supervision themselves… this never would have happened…

These are just two of the many, many, many, tragic drowning stories… And with all the water and dangers around, parents keep bringing their children to swimming lessons… awful strict teacher with a gruesome hook or not… it’s important to give your kid the benefit of knowing what to do and how to act when it accidentally falls into deep water.

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  1. swimventure:


    Great post. Thanks for giving us so much important information about swimming lessons. We are also giving swim lessons to children in USA. Please check it.

  2. els:

    P.S. – totally opposite! hier almost nobody can swim – so called “schoolstroke” is not swimming, it is bathing..
    “The Netherlands is one of the countries with the highest percentage of people who can swim. Since years and years and years, parents bring their young children to swimming lessons so they can learn how to swim”.
    P.P.S.The one to avoid is the Netherlands. – lowest of the lowest. I am sure Afghanistan has better swimming facilities.

  3. Brandi Belle:

    I learned to swim through a free class offered by my local park’s swimming pool session. Some learn it quick while others are slow learners.

  4. SwimBee:

    Your story is pretty good. Most expats living in Holland do not understand this ‘need’ of swimming lessons. Also most children in Holland start at the age of 4 to 5 but as a expat the kids are mostly a little older. And this means a beginner of 8 years will be put in a dutch swimming group of 4 years old kids. Thats why we have special expat programms where lessons are given in Dutch and English. Just check our our website and you will get a free trial lesson! Regards, Anne

  5. Julia:

    It is so important to teach kids to swim and especially in colder countries. The kids don’t get used to water, as much as the kids in say here in Australia, so need to be taught to be waterwise and safe. Julia

  6. Opblaasbare jacuzzi:

    Agree with this article. When Dutchies are still kid, parents bring them to the pool to learn swimming.

    Greetings from the Netherlands!