Location: 6836 Race Track Road, Bowie, MD, in the Hilltop Shopping Plaza
Offerings: Private, Semi-private and Group Swim Lessons Year Round, Birthday Parties, Open Swim
Hours: Monday thru Friday 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Tuesday and Wednesday daytime classes
Pricing: Semi-private (class size of 2): $145 per child
Private instruction: $250
Group (class size of 5): $105
All classes meet once a week for six weeks per sessions
Parents who desire the provide their children an introduction to the water and develop the fundamental skills necessary for swimming need look no further than Kids First Swim School. Located in Bowie and offering a convenient schedule with 25 different classes during the week, working and busy families can be sure to find a class time that works best for them. Opened in 2009 and operated with care and precision by manager Brandon Sollars, who has built the foundations of success which the school sits upon, Kids First Bowie is the largest franchise in the area and keeps a close relationship and ties to the community.
From Mommy and Me water introduction classes through private instruction, Kids First builds their swim programs on 8 levels of skills that their handpicked, highly qualified instructors work weekly to implement, helping to create lifelong love of the water through carefully built skill. Developing the kick, Sollars shares, is the #1 priority of each level in the water, and one that many other programs, boasting fast track water safety and competency, often leave behind. The designed easy, gradual progression in the water is designed for children to move through the program in 2 to 2 1/2 years one day a week for half an hour, without wrecking a parent’s schedule. The attendees of the swim school are motivated by the desire to acclimate their children to the water and learn the basics, with a small percentage wanting to hone skills for a swim team further down the line.
Most children, Sollars says, need a week to decompress and psychologically digest the skills they practiced the previous week. The first two levels of the school’s program are psychological adjustment to the water. Teachers, who are chosen based on their patience and ability to meet children on their level of comfort with the water, reach their students just outside of their comfort zone, allowing them to experience the water safely and realize their abilities through time. While Sollars calls it a “little bit of tough love, the community embraces it”. “It’s tough for parents to teach their own kids these skills, because they need to push themselves a bit outside of their comfort zones,” he says. “Once students have the fundamentals, then they build endurance, and finally, speed.”
Focusing on the kick allows children to reach speed, if their goal is to join a swim club, with higher technique. “Many children in the water swim with their heads up, which takes energy to hold their bodies above the water,” shares Sollars. “By focusing on the kick, the swimmer can achieve great form and find that agility and speed earlier”.
For this reason, Sollars says, many children take awhile to progress past level 3 in his program, which develops that kick as a crucial skill. Sticking with lessons is important to their success. Many students regress in the winter with a skill and then regain it in the summer; taking time off from lessons early in a young swimmer’s development can backpedal them in skills development. “Taking a six-month old out of mommy and me swim classes for the winter is like taking them out for half of their life,” Sollars reminds. “Infants need the constant weekly development to increase or maintain their skills. Keeping children in lessons before 11 months helps them to maintain the instinct to hold their breath underwater.”
Sollars’ commitment to Kids First and his theory of what creates a successful community of agile swimmers is backed by great experience. A veteran of the US Army, Sollars was tasked with opening the first indoor aquatics facility during his tour in Iraq. With a team of 30 Iraqis, Sollars fixed and engineered a pool, trained staff, before turning the pool and program over to civilian contrators. He then ran a swim school in Wisconsin, before bringing his knowledge to Maryland with the opening of Kids First in 2009.
An over 20 year aquatic background gives Sollars a great forum to boast some of the greatest swim instructors on staff. Each instructor has a swim team or education background, shadowing classes and going through a grueling process to remain on staff after staff approval. “A great teacher for our school needs to explain skills in a way kids can understand,” Sollars explains. “They need to know when to push and when to nurture. We don’t take everyone or just anyone, which is why we boast such a great retention rate. Our teachers stay on average 2-3 years”. A solid background of swim instructors ensures students will be supported through each level by a philosophy that supersedes the entire school.
The ideas behind Kids First truly make a difference. My own four year old, Nate, has been in lessons there for almost six months. Prior to that entrance, he wouldn’t put his face in the water, float on his back, or develop any skill in the water. After three sessions, those are a distant memory; Nate and his semi-private instructor are floating front and back, honing his kick, and jumping into the deep end regularly. “We’ve seen so much growth in Nate, just from pushing him to his comfort limits with someone who isn’t a parent,” says Sollars. “The skills work. The program works. Parents who stick with it and understand the importance of skill won’t be disappointed in what their children emerge with; confidence, ability, and skill that last a lifetime.”
If you are interested in enrolling your children in lessons at Kids First, call the school at 301-262-7946.