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Session plans, games and ice breakers

Photo: Plan your swimming sessions to be more deaf-friendly

Preparation checklist for deaf-friendly swimming lessons

Some deaf children struggle to make progress in mainstream swimming lessons because of the reliance on verbal information, the noisy environment and the need to remove hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Make sure you are prepared to accommodate a deaf swimmer by using the handy checklist below as a guide.

Things to ask the parent or swimmer before you start

  • What level of deafness do you have?
  • How do you like to communicate?
  • If you are not looking at me, what is the best way to get your attention?
  • Do you use any equipment to help you hear?
  • Do you use any equipment at school like a radio aid?

Things to bring with you

  • Dry box for hearing aids and cochlear implants
  • Dry wipe board, pens and eraser
  • BSL for swimming flip cards
  • Coloured flags
  • Strobe light to practice race starts
  • Video equipment for stroke analysis
  • Handheld flashing alarm
  • Visual resources for games such as pictures or objects

Other considerations

  • Does the pool have an auditory or visual emergency signal, or both?
  • Does everyone know what the alarm means and what to do?
  • Do you need another emergency signal such as an agreed visual gesture?
  • Are lifeguards and receptionists aware that deaf children are attending?
  • Is your hearing loop in good working order?

Deaf-friendly pool games

Try out these deaf-friendly swimming games. Not all games will be suitable for all ages and abilities, but with some creative thinking, most games can be adapted to suit the swimmers in your group. Think about games you regularly play in the pool and how these could be adapted to be more deaf-friendly.

Simon says 

  1. The teacher gives instructions, for example: ‘jump up and down’.
  2. The swimmers only follow the instructions if the teacher uses the phrase ‘Simon Says’ before giving the instruction.
  3. Use a visual signal for the phrase ‘Simon says’ such as holding a float up or waving a flag. The visual signal can be anything, as long as everyone recognises it and understands what it means.

Underwater signing 

  1. Swimmers take turns to go underwater and sign. The rest of the group has to watch to see what they say.
  2. The signing could be an animal, a colour, a hobby or any word at all.
  3. Make it harder for older groups by using fingerspelling.

Singing and dancing 

  1. There are loads of visual songs that work really well in the pool, for example The Hokey Cokey, If you’re Happy and you Know it and Dingle Dangle Scarecrow.
  2. Use BSL or make up gestures to go with the words.
  3. Each week, the swimmers will get more familiar with the words and actions, and so will the teacher!

Relays and races 

  1. Make sure you have a visual signal for 'go!', such as waving a flag or an action like lowering an arm, ensuring all of the children can see you.
  2. At the end of the race, raise your hands and wiggle your fingers to applaud in BSL!

The bean game 

  1. Swimmers move in different directions around the pool and you call out the name of a different type of bean. You can show a picture of the bean instead of calling it out.
  2. When you show the picture of a bean, the children do the appropriate action.
    Each bean has an action, such as a ‘runner bean’ running, ‘jumping beans’ jumping or ‘broad beans’ stretching.
  3. Do a visual representation of the action before the game starts – this could be a demonstration by the teacher jumping/running on the spot, or a picture on a whiteboard that is held up for the group to see.

Treasure hunt 

  1. Children collect and return equipment to a specified point.
  2. The teacher decides how the swimmers move, for example, jumping.
  3. Use a whiteboard to write down or draw pictures of what the swimmers should collect, for example ‘something green’ or ‘something that sinks’ and how the swimmers should do this, such as walking and blowing bubbles.

Sharks and dolphins 

  1. Swimmers split into two groups and face each other.
  2. The teacher calls out instructions by doing an agreed gesture for shark or dolphin and showing the number on their fingers, e.g. ‘sharks, two steps forward’, ‘dolphins, three jumps back’
  3. The teacher can call out ‘sharks/dolphins attack!’ by doing an agreed gesture for attack
  4. The attacking side tag the others, who run back to their side of the pool.
  5. The ‘tagged’ swimmers join the other side.
  6. You can use gestures for ‘shark’ or ‘dolphin’, show pictures or use toys.
  7. Hold up fingers clearly to show numbers and leave them up for enough time so that all children can see. Maybe consider not shouting out the number so all the children have to look, to avoid unfair advantage. 
  8. Visually demonstrate the way the swimmers should move, for example, ‘fairy step’, ‘giant leap’, ‘hop’, or use a whiteboard to write instructions.