Children in Holland: the importance of swimming lessons

Playing in water is lots of fun for kids, but here in Holland, where canals, lakes, rivers and the sea are so prevalent, and easily accessible to children, making sure they know how to swim is a priority. Standardized swimming certificate programs are readily available throughout the country.

kids in boat sailing Kralingse Lake

One way to find a swimming class is to simply ask around. Parents at school, neighbours or fellow members of the international community can give precious hints. Be aware that more affordable swimming courses can have lengthy waiting lists. Swimming lessons given at municipal pools usually fall into this category. While you can’t beat the €4-5 per lesson cost, depending on your child’s age, a wating period of a year or longer until your child can be accommodated is not uncommon.

Beginning 10 June 2014, the Municipality of The Hague is applying a new policy for swimming lessons. Now it is only possible to register a child for swimming lessons when they turn 6 years of age (children under the age of 6 who were already registered prior to 10th June will still be allowed access to swimming lessons).

Parents who want their pre-school aged children to learn how to swim will need to do so through private instruction or through a swimming club.

The vast majority of swimming classes for children here in Holland are given in Dutch (with a few words of English thrown in), but you can also find a few options for swimming lessons available in English.

Swimming lessons during school time (schoolzwemmen) are supported by the government and were historically offered at most schools. In fact, the Dutch translation for the breaststroke style is schoolslag (schoolstroke)! However, in recent years, many Dutch towns have had to abandon school swimming in order to cut expenses. The percentage of schools offering swimming lessons has dropped from 90% in 1991 to 42% in 2012. Nevertheless, “every child leaving the junior school (basisschool) should have a zwemdiploma“, according to the Waterdicht from VSG (Vereniging Sport en Gemeenten). This is supported by the Ministy of Education, Culture and Science, which believes children knowing how to swim is “primarily the responsibility of the parents.”

Eva Zwemdiploma B
Eva Zwemdiploma B (Photo credit: Gerard Bierens)


A-B-C and 1-2-3 diploma

The three key national swimming diploma’s are referred to as A, B and C. They teach water safety to children and aim to instill confidence and enjoyment in recreational swimming and water sports. Most swimming schools offer the diplomas with more advanced swimming lessons to follow, called Zwemvaardigheit 1, 2, and 3 diploma.

For the first diploma (A) the children go through 4 different levels;  ‘bad A1’ for beginners, then ‘bad A2’ and so on up to ‘bad A4’. When children earn a passing grade for each element through level A4,  they receive an invitation (usually by e-mail) for the practise session for the A diploma and in one of the following weeks the children perform the official swimming exam to earn their certificate. Once a child has earned his swimming diplomas, he or she can take part in water sports such as synchronised swimming, surfing, diving and water polo.

During swim lessons children learn such things as swimming with their eyes open. Diploma exams require children to swim with their clothing and shoes on and they’ll need to perform such exercises as a forward-roll into the water followed by getting out by lifting themselves onto a large floating mattress unaided.

As most accidental drownings occur after a person has fallen into a canal, the exam tests realistic scenarios. For children (and adults for that matter), it is vital for them to to be able to handle underwater disorientation while dealing with the additional weight burden of clothing. During swim lessons children are taught not to panic and to react in a calm, controlled manner to maintain a safe environment while in a water setting.

The certificate A program requires a child be able to swim 50 metres using both breast and back strokes, and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole in a canvas panel. The parameters increases to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming in swimsuit and clothing with additional obstacles, the forward roll, and finally 9 meters underwater.

Eva Zwemdiploma B
Eva Zwemdiploma B (Photo credit: Gerard Bierens)

Children who have not earned a t least a diploma A are required to wear inflatable armbands in all public swimming pools  until they have earned the required certificate. Most school and children’s sports clubs in the Netherlands will not let children take part in water activities until they have achieved the A, B and C diplomas.

To find outdoor swimming locations, lists designated natural swimming spots which have been been checked and approved for water quality by the provincial water boards and the Rijkswaterstaat.



Related information…