Founder of AQUATOTS

Nell White, founder-director of AQUATOTS® Swim Program, is a pioneer in infant swimming. Her swim teaching career dates back to 1958 which was long before her home country, South Africa, offered any form of accreditation possibilities for swim teachers. It was not until 1970 that it became possible for her to be acknowledged as an accredited swim teacher by what was then the Transvaal Amateur Swim Association (TASA). But there was absolutely no guidance with regard to infant swim teaching.

Nell was a born swim teacher by nature, driven by a compulsive need to share the sense of freedom and exhilaration she experienced when in water with young and old at every turn from the time she could swim herself. However, she attributes her infant swim teaching career as starting with her own children in the mid-1960s. She had watched intrigued at how her sixteen month old daughter reacted to falling under water while playing on a shallow step in the pool with a child not much older than only twice her age. She would be put back on her feet by the older child and promptly fall over again as if in a game, squealing in delight as she became increasingly adventurous. In no time at all she was simulating a doggie paddle while submerged. Nell was fascinated that this was all happening so naturally. Neither child showed any distress.  

Nell remained intuitively cautious in handling her daughter in the water and found herself constantly turning to nature for her answers. Following close on his sister’s heels, her son was as at home in the water as a dolphin by the time he was two years old repeatedly swimming down to a depth 2.5 metres and exploding to the surface spouting water. He was a phenomenon and great draw-card for her suburban swim school. She took on increasingly younger children. Allowing herself to be led by them, she proceeded to adapt their natural behaviour patterns to water shaping them into immature swimming skills. In this manner experience led her to find that infants were potentially able to swim by the time they could walk if their swimming lessons or practice sessions followed closely on each other and were not interrupted for months on end.

          Genevieve 1991

          Genevieve 1991

The starting age for children to have swimming lessons had got younger over the years but there was a gap of several years between teaching babies and three to four year olds at the time. Although Nell focussed on ever younger children over the years it was not until 1985, when her first grand-child was born, that she decided to specialize in infants ranging from birth to 30 months of age.

The AQUATOTS Swim Program way of learning to swim through playing in water drew widespread attention. Throughout her career Nell has always believed in the positive consequences of using a gentle manner in getting young children waterborne. This, together with her commitment to the recommendations for Infant Aquatics issued by what was then the American Academy of Paediatrics, ultimately led to AQUATOTS Swim Program making its mark on the world of Infant Swimming at the 2nd World Aquatic Babies Conference (WABC), Los Angeles in 1993.

Virginia Hunt Newman Guiding Light Award

Virginia Hunt Newman Guiding Light Award

For the following ten years Nell was a sought after infant aquatic educator both locally and abroad invited to speak at international conferences and lead several successive workshops most notably in Australia. She was inaugurated in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1997 as the WABC representative for South Africa. In 2003 she was one of the 10 international infant aquatic educators to have been awarded the prestigious one off Virginia Hunt Newman Guiding Light Award in Honolulu, Hawaii for their efforts in advancing baby swimming, and for being a guiding light to those involved in aquatic programs in their own country and around the world. Today AQUATOTS is one of the foremost infant swim teaching methods in the world.

Nell White continues to develop the program within the parameters of research, science, recommendations of the AAP and the medical profession in general in pursuit of her mission to have AQUATOTS a benchmark for infant swimming. With her team of professionals, Marinda Linde BA (Biokinetics) and Leanne McLaren BSc (Physiotherapy), recently come on board as Directors, she has firmly positioned AQUATOTS in that direction.