Swim Lessons for Teens & Pre-Teens

Parent Q&A

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  • Swim lessons for teenager?

    Dec 25, 2023

    My son enjoys the water but never really learned how to swim properly and can not tread water, though I’ve tried to teach him myself. He needs to become a stronger swimmer before summer because of a surfing program he’ll be doing at his camp. My guess is that he needs a series of private lessons with an experienced, skilled, compassionate instructor this Spring. We are in Berkeley but are willing to take him elsewhere if need be. Any ideas would be much appreciated!

    We have had great success with Harriet Plumber in Lafayette. My child took swim lessons for years but was still afraid/unable to swim until we went to Harriet Plumber. I highly recommend them. Home - Harriet Plummer Aquatics Swim School

  • hello everyone; My 11-year-old son wants to learn to swim, he would start from scratch. Does anyone know a good place not very expensive?

    We have looked at UC Berkeley Rex and the YMCA but slots fill up fast. Friends suggested reaching out to a swim instructor from the Y or UCB and seeing if they’re available for private lessons with your kid which you can do cheaply at King or West Campus (or other public pool) during family swim hours. These lessons will be more effective than learning in a group setting. Friends suggested finding another friend/kid the same age and splitting costs among two sets of parents for the teacher to give lessons to the two kids. 

    This will sound "over the top" but....when my kids were a toddler + newborn, my neighbor, who was a gold medalist swimmer for France, told me about La Petite Baleen swim school in Half Moon Bay.  They may have more than one location now.  Because my family spent a lot of holiday time at the shore and near swimming pools, I was adamant about my kids being water-safe. At the time, we were living in SF so we chose to try out La Petite Baleen ("the little whale").  I have never for one second regretted that choice.  Both kids became "water safe" within a few short weeks.  My youngest learned to swim before she could walk (and she learned to walk at 12 months). La Petite Baleen specializes in teaching kids & infants how to swim.  For us, it became a family adventure every Saturday to go to HMB.  Either before or after swim class, we would enjoy the little town of HMB or the nearby beaches for a picnic, or nearby farms for produce, etc. It was a commitment,  and one for which we are hugely grateful.  Best of luck to you!

    Thank you very much for your advice, I like the idea of hiring a suimming instructor and find a public pool, thanks again.

    It’s a bit of a hike, and perhaps not inexpensive, exactly, but we found Patti‘s swim school in Castro Valley to be very helpful in preparing our young children for swimming. We really wanted them to be water safe and found the group courses offered at the UC and Albany pools to be ineffective. Once we did some one on ones at patties, the kids really progressed.

    If you can't find a private instructor to meet you at a public pool (that sounds unlikely, to me) check out Sherman Swim School in Lafayette. I HIGHLY recommend them, and found it absolutely worth the drive through the tunnel to Lafayette where it's always warmer and usually sunny! And they keep the pool really warm. All lessons are private, and their instructors are dedicated and have been there for a long time - not teenagers just in it for a summer or two. No pre-swimmer is too challenging for them! Good luck.

  • Looking for swim lessons for our 11 year old. We’ve tried the large group lessons at the Y but they aren’t super helpful. Ohana and Cal youth are totally booked. Open to small group or private but seems hard to find availability 

    It's incredibly hard around here to get a child to water proficiency without spending a small fortune, since lessons fill up so quickly. I have been to all the local pools from Berkeley north, but I think what finally got each of them over the hurdle to basic competence was a few consecutive summers of a week of private lessons up in my hometown (outside of the Bay Area), where we were visiting anyway and it was sooooo much cheaper. If you are going out of town this summer, work in private lessons for less! Of all the local pools, we've had meh experiences at the Berkeley Y, El Cerrito, and Canyon, and a bad experience at Albany.

    We like British Swim School, which has a location in El Cerrito. 

    Oaklantis just emailed with new spots! We are so impressed with the teaching there. 

    Try Sherman Swim School in Lafayette. Private or semi-private (2 kids), great instructors, warm pool, and totally worth the drive thru the tunnel. It's always sunny in Lafayette! :)

    There’s a local woman who will teach private lessons at the open swim times at local public pools. She’s super affordable and got my son to blow bubbles (huge step for a water-nervous kid). I contacted her through her Facebook group swim with bri. 

    I read somewhere that kids need about 30 hours of swim instruction to become proficient at swimming. So 1-2 times a week of 30-minute lessons will take a LONG time, and it's good to set expectations accordingly. I'd suggest summer camps where your child is swimming daily for several weeks. Oakland Town Camp + Swim Session has daily swimming (my daughter improved a lot after one month there), and may have some openings at some locations: https://cityofoakland.perfectmind.com.

    Not sure where you live, but Alameda Parks & Rec does swim lessons all summer that are really good. Group, semi-private, and private have all been offered in the past. There are non-resident rates.

    Yes, it's exhausting trying to get your kid into swimming lessons. Emeryville has relatively cheap private lessons if you can get in. Otherwise, the advice I've been given is to drive through the tunnel. Or Castro Valley/Hayward. There are lots of well-reviewed places in these locations if you are willing to make the drive. 

    British Swim School is excellent but not inexpensive. 

  • Hello,

    My son is 12 and has had many swim lessons over the years, but he has not had a lot of practice since and he has anxiety/avoidance around swimming. We feel like he needs 1:1 and/or a camp so that he's swimming every day for a week or so. Does anyone have recommendations? Are there swimming camps (for non-expert swimmers) during spring break? Or not-super-expensive 1:1 lessons?

    Thank you!!


    Hi, Alameda Parks & Recreation runs swimming lessons, including group, semi-private, and private. My son has done the group classes a few times, and I did a private lesson for a week. I think they do a great job! The costs aren't bad at all - a private on Saturdays for 3 weeks is $96 for residents of Alameda, $111 for non-residents. That is for winter and spring sessions on the weekends. In the summer they usually do the lessons a week at a time for 4 days (Mon - Thurs) and you can sign up for multiple weeks.

  • Looking for a private swim instructor for a young teen with almost no water experience. To meet us at a public pool. Everyone says private instructor is the way to go with teens, but I can't figure out where to find one!

    No public pools allow private instruction by a third party. Look into private lessons at Canyon or El Cerrito pools.

  • My teen can swim, in the sense that they are in no danger in a pool, but they want to become proficient enough to compete in Triathalons. What do people recommend for taking them from splashing around in the pool to proper lap technique? Private lessons? Swim Camp? We live in Rockridge and it would be great if they could get to this by biking but I'll drive them for the right situation.

    There are swim teams through Oakland Parks and Rec that meet at the city pools. I know that there used to be one (pre-COVID) at the pool behind Oakland Tech - dunno if there's one closer to you. Kids develop proficiency by swimming laps and the coaches teach the various strokes (including the butterfly which I believe was concocted by a drunk, vindictive swimming coach who set out to answer the question "what is the most labor-intensive, absurd way to cross a body of water?"). But, I digress. Boy, howdy. They learn, progressing through the lanes based on aptitude. There are weekend meets, which you're supposed to show up to at least a couple of - but if your kid wants to prepare for competition that might not be a bad thing. It's also ridiculously cheap. If the city website indicates that they are filled, I'd go down to the pool and talk to the coach - they're very flexible folks.

    My kids have worked with a wonderfully patient and fun young woman for a few years now. Savannah Perry I had been my four kids private swim instructor for a number of years. She is returning to the Bay Area for all of July. If you have a pool, she can give lessons. Savannah was raised in Moraga and is home to get married. 

    Three of my kids have ADHD and she has always been so patient and fun with them.  

    Savannah Perry can be reached at: +1 (925) 451-2229 via voice or text. 

    You can tell Savannah Jewelz referred you. 

  • Does anyone know of a swim center where my 10-year-old could take one week of swim lessons during the summer (as in, daily instruction for a week)? I’d ideally like private instruction but am open to a camp. She can do the basic strokes but is not a solidly strong swimmer yet. 

    Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante. They did a great job teaching my son to swim and it’s worth the drive if it’s doable for you. Many of their swim sessions run Mondays-Thursdays for a week or two, and you can sign up for as many or as few sessions as you want.

    City of El Cerrito Swim Camp is super fun! My daughter went for several years. It is a mix of lessons and games and a weekly field trip. If your daughter is not a strong enough swimmer for Swim Camp, the Classic Camp also has a couple days per week of regular swimming lessons. http://www.el-cerrito.org/summercamps

  • Hi, we are looking for recommendations for indoor swimming classes for kids 10 year old) preferably private lessons in indoor pools. Most outdoor pools are closed after December. What do other parents do? Stop lessons until spring?

    Berkeley YMCA has indoor pools and private lessons. 

    City of El Cerrito outdoor pool is open during the winter for lessons. The winter lesson schedule is not posted yet but you can probably call to get an idea of the dates and times, http://el-cerrito.org/451/Swim-Lessons. I always signed up my daughter for lessons in January because they were not as crowded, the water temp is the same no matter the outside temp, and winter here is no guarantee of cold weather (just as summer is no guarantee of warm weather).

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Private swim class for 11YO

May 2013

Our 11 year old son needs to learn how to swim. We have done group classes in the past and they simply do not work for him. We are looking for private (one on one) classes once or twice a week on weekdays at 6pm or later (working parents). Anywhere from Richmond to Berkeley would be fine location-wise. mom of a wanna-be swimmer

Alameda has some fabulous swim class and private session opportunities. -Alameda Park & Rec offers private swim lessons at a great price -Aquatech Swim School -more options with a curriculum and kid friendly incentives -Harbor Bay Athletic Club -more flexible scheduling Momma of initially reluctant little and big swimmers

Swim lessons for 16 y.o. almost-beginner

May 2010

Each of the past two summers, my teenage son has taken private swim lessons at King Pool. He is a very reluctant student - has no interest in learning to swim, but we are insisting. The first summer, he made some progress, getting to the basics of how to swim. Last year he pretty much stagnated. He can get into position and swim a few strokes, but then either fear or something makes him stop and put his feet down. At King, there was always a different teacher, and they didn't really have a consistent plan to help him attain our goal: being able to swim well enough to be fairly safe around water. He seemed to work on something different each time, with the result that he really got no further than the previous year. He hates doing this, but for safety, we really need to get him into a program that will help him learn to swim this summer. Our schedule is pretty flexible and I'm willing to drive for the right situation. Private teacher? Adult beginner classes? (joining a little kid class is definitely not an option). His perspective is that he wants to go as little as possible, and not every day (but we might override that preference if that's best). Any suggestions are welcome, especially if your teen has succeeded in a similar situation. R.K.

I have a 14 year old son in the same situation. What's worked best for him has been private lessons. (You can do this through Strawberry Canyon rec or any public pool.) He's now at the point where he can actually swim, but he needs practice to have more confidence that he can make it across the pool without stopping. He doesn't want to be embarrassed when there's the swim unit in PE, so he's been motivated to work out it (finally). It really has to be one-on-one at this age though and it might only take a few lessons for the basics. After that it's just time in the water. mother of reluctant swimmer

My experience as a swimmer, former lifeguard, parent of kids-learning-to- swim is that private lessons with the same person are the most efficient way to teach a kid to swim. And given your sons age and not wanting to be with little kids (completely understandable) probably the way to go. (I'm not clear from your post if the lessons at King were private.)

My kids are younger but they've had a great experience with private lessons at the Berkeley Y with Miranda Boon and Shelley Prater. The Y also has male swim instructors (UC students?) so that might feel better to your son. I think you can do lessons at the Y without being a member. You could probably also arrange to do at least 2 or 3 lessons a week so that his learning builds on itself.

If you're willing to travel through the tunnel, there are swim schools over there that would also be worth a look. (They're in BPN archives.) Their lessons might also be daily or 4 days a week. Good luck, Rachel

Hi, I think your son would do better with private lessons. Its always hard to be a beginner when your 16 and others are watching. I recommend either Erin Lucas or Claire Donaldson at the Mills College pool . They are both experience teachers who teach children and adults. They are aware of their students, when to push and when to back off. Also, the Mills pool is great because they have a large wide area (about 4 lanes wide) that is all shallow enough that your son can stand up any time he needs to and the lap swimmers are in a different area. Tyler

I think you're on the right track with private lessons, but need to find a situation where he can work with the same person every time. Working consistently with a 'coach' a couple days a week would probably work well. What we did with our (younger) child is find someone who was giving lessons at a public pool and then work out a private arrangement directly with her. That way she built a rapport and trust with our daughter and could track her progress. Good luck!

You need to try Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante. It is probably a hike from where you live, but they are THE BEST! We commuted from Rockridge daily for the past two summers. A 16-yr old would definitely want to be in an adult class. They have them at Canyon. My extremely-resistant children have all learned to swim there. One huge draw (in addition to the excellent instruction) is the VERY warm water! Canyon Swim School is the best

I would recommend the adult beginner classes at the City of El Cerrito pool . My daughter's kid class followed that one and I noticed how the adults, including older teens and young adults, really progressed and seemed to enjoy the class. Contra Costa College also has swimming classes. -- a mom

You might try Aquatech Swim School in Alameda. They do private lessons and are great with beginning swimmers. http://www.aquatechswimschool.com/ My son took private lessons with them for a year and they gave him the same instructor every week so that he had consistency. They offer group lessons as well, but those are primarily for little kids. Your son would probably be more comfortable in a private lesson. good luck!

Scuba certification class for 14 year old

Feb 2009

I am interested in a beginning scuba/certification class for my 14 yo boy which is local. Ellen

I HIGHLY recommend Nautilus Aquatics in Concord (Willow Pass Road exit from highway 680.) Both of our sons were certified through them around age 14. The instructors are very good. They have an indoor pool on-site for classes and do certification dives in Monterey Bay. They also sponsor fun dives once a month--some from boat and some from shore--mostly in Monterey Bay. If you don't have a dive buddy they will find someone from the group for you to dive with. They also have a Scuba Rangers program (in the pool) for younger children. See their website: www.bayareadiving.com. Janet

Swim classes for 14-y-o who hasn't learned to swim

May 2008

At 14, my son still hasn't learned to swim. We've decided that this must change this summer. He is not into it, but we are insisting, so we need a place and instructor that will engage him, respect (and help him overcome) his anxiety, and make the experience a good one. This is a priority for us this summer, so anywhere in the east bay (though the closer to Berkeley the better), and any time or day will work for us. mom of landlubber

My son (age 10) was, until recently, also a non-swimmer. We also wanted private lessons for him, as he was older than most beginning swimmers and wouldn't have been comfortable in a group. We found Aquatech Swim School in Alameda (just through the Webster tube, only 20 minutes from our house in South Berkeley) and have been thoroughly delighted. My son started lessons in March and is now comfortable in the water and can swim at a very basic level. The teachers are kind and willing to let the kids progress at their own speed, but at the same time are very encouraging. I wholeheartedly recommend their program. Their website is www.aquatechswimschool.com and their phone number is 337-0200. Mom of New Swimmer

Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante does private lessons. They also do adult beginners. The teachers there are so nice and effective. There is no judgement, no nastiness. One thing, though, it is a small pool and the kids who take lessons tend to be younger than 14. But I think you would find the age issue pretty much anywhere. I really think Canyon has a very effective program and great teachers. It would be totally worth it to give them a call and ask what they think. I would suggest you call and ask for Julie... she is usually there between 4 and 7 pm, and she is really helpful, honest and knowledgeable about their program. They have a website www.canyonswimschool.com. Good luck. Mom of another late swimmer

Swim lessons for anxious 12-year old who barely swims

May 2006

My 12-year-old daughter can barely swim - she can make her way across a pool but that's about it. She has been afraid to swim for years and is now determined to learn - but still afraid. Group lessons haven't really taught her much in the past. Are there any private teachers in Berkeley or Oakland? Or if we have to go to the Other Side of the Tunnel, is there someone really good (worth the drive)? Or any other recommendations? Ann in Oakland

In the past I have seen private (and semi-private: two students per teacher) lessons offered at the Berkeley Downtown YMCA . It's great that she is interested in improving her skills here! Cheryl

My 15 year old son is working as as swim aid at a Berkeley pool this summer. He says that they do have individual lessons at the Willard Pool. David

Lessons for teen who fears water

Feb 2006

Hello, I have a 14 year old daughter who never got comfortable in the water and never took to swim lessons, and now refuses to consider lessons. Although she has some basic skills, she's not adept enough to actually swim across a pool. She is self conscious about going to local pools where she might run across kids she knows. I would like to find a pool somewhere that is not super crowded where she and I could review basic swim and water skills. Does anyone know of pools that are close but a little way outside of Berkeley, Albany, and El Cerrito where we could give a try? Ideally a place that would not be too crowded and she could practice and get more comfortable without being run into and constantly splashed. I hope for her to know the basics before graduating high school. Thanks!

My son took lessons at Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante last summer. You didn't say specifically that you were looking for lessons for your daughter, but I mention this pool because there were several non-swimming teens there getting lessons, as well as adults, and since almost everybody else milling around the place was relatively young, the chances of being spotted by friends would be small. Also, I was pleased to find that the drive there was only about 10 minutes from our Albany house. MF

I would suggest calling the city parks and rec and maybe Golden Bear at UC Berkeley - look for private lessons. A good swimming teacher can have your daughter swimming in no time with one on one lessons. At this point just being in the pool is not likely to be enough. I learned to swim in graduate school. I could barely swim the length of the pool, so I was chosen to be in the ''slow'' group. There were four of us that were taught by the instructor while the teaching assistants taught everyone else. I was swimming by the third class. A good instructor one on one or in a very small group makes a huge difference, helps you with your ''flaws'' and really makes you feel safer and less awkward. been There

Try Canyon Pool on San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante. It's been around for years; I took lessons there (decades ago) and my kids learned to swim there. It's very good with well-trained teachers, both younger and older. It's great that you're doing this for your daughter. Good luck, Norma

The Transpersonal Swimming Institute, www.conquerfear.com, is located in Albany. It was recently featured on the Today Show and in the Berkeley Voice. It is specifically for people with a fear of water. Melon Dash runs it and has years of experience teaching swimming. Susan

Lessons for 11-year-old beginner

Feb 2003

I am looking for a private swim instructor or private lessons for my 11 year son who is just learning to swim. Brad

I know Haufler Aquatics offers private swim lessons. Their phone number is 510/446-7946. You could also call Strawberry . They also have offered private lessons in the past.


  • Lakeridge Athletic Club El Sobrante
  • Piedmont Swim Club

    Other suggestions:

    For an older child who is afraid of the water I'd suggest private lessons. I dealt with this when my son was 7. He took private lessons in Lafayette at Harriet Plummer Aquatic School and was over the fear and having a good time by the second lesson. The instructors were excellent. It was expensive and a major schlep, but well worth it. We wasted a lot of money trying to do group lessons at Albany and El Cerrito and learning nothing but major fear, but he made astonishing progress in one week of private lessons. Now we're back to group lessons and he's happy in the water. swimming mom