Swimming is considered very important here in the Netherlands, probably because most of the country is below water level and everywhere is surrounded by canals, rivers and dikes, as well as the sea. So there is alot of water around and alot of emphasis on all children learning to swim.  There is a set of national qualifications for swimming, which are called the ABC diplomas.  And when your swimming teacher sees you’re ready you are invited to a special event to take the test and show how much you can swim. Parents, siblings, and anyone else who want to watch can come too and sit round the side of the pool watching.

Rocket boy did his A diploma a few weeks ago (many of his friends already have their C diplomas) and in order to pass he had to swim five lengths and five widths of the pool. He had to swim clothed (including shoes). He had to do breaststroke, front crawl, back crawl and simple backstroke. He had to tread water. He had to float on his front and his back. He had to swim through a hole underwater. And all of this is for the lowest level swimming qualification possible. Here is an English translation of the requirements. I would struggle to pass, and it’s certainly more comprehensive than any swimming qualification I did as a child. There’s no certificate for swimming five meters here!

If you don’t have a swimming diploma then it is compulsory to wear a flotation aid in the swimming pools at all times. Our local pool has a bin of arm bands at the entrance for anyone to borrow if they need it. Whether a child has a swimming diploma or not is also used in other places to decide on how they are treated. Once you have your A diploma you can go to the Friday night discos at our local pool, and with your B diploma they also offers lessons on swimming with a mermaid tail. This doesn’t just apply in the pool, but wider; for example: certain slides at this waterpark are restricted to those who have a diploma, and when we went to the zoo recently we went on the pedal boats and they gave out life jackets to those without a swimming diploma. So these qualifications are integrated into any Dutch activity that relates to water.

Rocket boy is now continuing his lessons, for his B diploma, and starry girl had her first swimming lesson earlier this week. Fortunately for me I’ve arranged it so they have lessons at the same time. At least for now! I do look forward to the day that I no longer go to the pool every week. Well, actually I sit in the cafe twice a week as the children have their judo lessons at the same place.

It is an important skill to learn, especially when there’s so much water around.


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