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New swim school takes a different approach to child lessons

Sarah Carson is a spinning instructor and stay-at-home mom; her husband, Matthew, a computer software engineer. The Williamsville couple also run a travel blog,, and take at least five or six trips a year.

Their sons, Dylan, 4, and Christopher, 2, each have visited more than dozen destinations, and expect a new sibling any day. The family also recently moved into a house with an inground pool.

It all explains why Carson last month enrolled her sons in the new Goldfish Swim School in Amherst.

"My hands are going to be full and I want them to know water safety, so they will be ready for the summer, and know survival skills should anything happen. I don't care if my kids can score a goal or a basket, they have to know how to swim."

The new school – buoyed by a 60,000-gallon pool in a former Dave’s All-Season Store in the Premier Place Plaza, 7950 Transit Road – is among 85 locations in the Goldfish chain. The nearest others are in Toronto, Pittsburgh and Ohio. Most of the sites are family-owned franchises, including the one in the region.

Goldfish swim schools are known for their colorful artwork, tiki-style family changing huts, low instructor-to-student ratios and classes that children aged 4 months to 12 years can join anytime of year. “Shiver-free pools,” set at 90 degrees, also are a big draw, said Courtney Richardson, manager of the new school.

"It's great for the instructors, and me. I come in here just to thaw out sometimes," said Richardson, a Canandaigua native who holds a human resources degree from the University at Buffalo. She left an aquatics management job at Darien Lake Theme Park to lead Goldfish.

Courtney Richardson, manager of the new Goldfish Swim School in Amherst, says "perpetual lessons" like those offered at the Transit Road school build stronger swimmers.

Q: What are the lessons like?

Students are separated by age and, in most cases, skills, too. They’re a little different from most swim lessons, where you're trying to get little ones used to freestyle. It works on progressions. When they're not strong enough to do a side breath, the instructors are able to work on rolling over and safety-related skills. As the students get stronger, we work toward competitive strokes.

One of the things we base our curriculum around is called the “Science of Swim Play.” We know that children learn best through play, so we're teaching them swim and safety skills but we're doing it in a way that's fun and engaging, so they enjoy coming to swim classes and want to come back.

Q: Talk about some of the other special features and services?

We have hair dryers so you're not going out into the Buffalo tundra and getting frozen hair. Parents can sit in the viewing area and watch lessons. One of the nice things, too, is there is a lot of communication between the instructors and parents. Here, the parents can go on deck at the end of lessons and the instructors show you a skill that you can work on with your child, and give you updates, something like, "Grace is doing really well on her pulls and kicks; two of the things we're working on is independence and back float."

Sarah Carson reads to her-2-year-old son, Christopher, while his older brother, Dylan, takes a swim class. The Goldfish Swim School viewing area allows parents to watch lessons as they unfold. (Matthew Carson/Special to The News)

Q: Talk about “perpetual” class lessons?

Families can start lessons whenever they want and end whenever they want. They have the same day and time until they want to change or put their membership on hold. Lesson times are available any day but Mondays. The model helps develop stronger swimmers because they're not having big breaks in the middle of swimming. It's also really nice for swimmer development because as you master skills you can move up without waiting for an end to a session. Students develop at a different pace.

We don't have a Swim Force team - it's basically an introduction to swim team - because we're small and growing, but eventually we will. That would be seven swimmers with one coach.

Q: What are the rates like? Any discounts?

Monthly group lessons cost $88 and advance baby swim, $117. Individually priced casual lessons cost $22 each. Family swim costs $5 a swimmer, with a max of $15 per family. Two-hour parties cost $450. If you have multiple swimmers in the same family, a second child gets a 7 percent discount each month, a third student gets 14 percent, and so on. We've been offering trial lessons for anyone interested in trying our program. For more information, go to Parents can register there. or we can do it over the phone at 427-6200.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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