written by
Team Propel

Curriculums Compared: Lifesaving, YMCA, Pedalheads, K&K, and More

Learn Teach 4 min read

As a tech company aiming to simplify the aquatics industry, we understand how overwhelming the wide range of swim programs in Canada can be for both learners and instructors. With varying skills, age groups, and levels named after random aquatic creatures, these programs often feel deliberately confusing – almost as if they’re designed to be difficult to switch between.

Is an octopus a better swimmer than a whale? Who's to say?

Our team at Propel enables swim lessons between instructors and their students regardless of the curriculum they choose. Thus, we are uniquely positioned to provide this unbiased analysis of the most popular learn-to-swim curriculums. As a bonus, you will also find valuable links to program comparison charts, worksheets, and report cards – perfect for referencing anytime your learn-to-swim journey requires it.

Lifesaving Society: Swim For Life

Utilized by city-run public pools and private companies such as Pedalheads, the Lifesaving Society’s Swim For Life curriculum was widely adopted after the Canadian Red Cross Swim Program folded in 2023. Prior to this, the Lifesaving Society was mainly focused on teaching lifesaving skills to lifeguards, so it’s no surprise that their swim program also emphasizes water rescues and emergency care alongside progressive swimming instruction.


Just like the Village People who sing the song, the YMCA’s programs emphasize community and inclusivity. Unlike other curriculums on this list, the Y has unique optional sections that allow for customization based on the needs and interests of the participants. These optional components can cover advanced techniques, specialized skills, or additional safety training, providing flexibility and adaptability within the program.

Propel Instructor Custom Curriculums

Instructors who teach their own private lessons often combine techniques learned from multiple programs or develop new approaches to meet specific learning objectives for each student. This flexibility enables a more personalized swimming education, addressing individual progress and development of fundamentals in a way that larger, standardized programs may not.

Canadian Red Cross Swim (deprecated)

While this program was shut down at the end of 2022, it’s 80 year legacy cemented it as a pioneering curriculum across Canada. Many people, this author included, fondly remember their coloured badges as the ultimate prize for passing each level.

Curriculum Comparison Charts

Propel does not host or distribute any of these documents. These external resource links are made available for educational purposes, research, commentary, comparison, and historical documentation, in line with the principles of fair use.

Is whale, seahorse, or octopus the higher swim level?

Other Programs

Smaller local swim schools often create their own curriculums focused around a specific niche or audience they serve.


Inspired by a mother’s bonding moments with her baby in the water, the program focuses on mindfulness, and a relaxed approach to learning at your own pace. Lessons are designed to be gradual and reflective, encouraging swimmers to develop a personal relationship with the water.

Canada Swim School

The founders initially started the Montreal Institute for Swimming Institute before establishing this new swim school and program. The curriculum focuses heavily on identifying swimmers' strengths and weaknesses, aiming to build confidence and competence before quickly moving towards competitive swimming techniques.


This curriculum is structured around a series of animal-themed levels, including Tadpoles, Minnows, Ducks, Frogs, Seahorses, Starfish, Sharks, and Stingrays. Each level represents a step in the learning progression, from basic water safety to advanced stroke techniques and preparation for competitive swimming. They also provide non-competitive and competitive Swim Clubs and a Special Needs Aquatic Program called S.N.A.P.

Water Babies

Water Babies claims to base its swim lessons on science, emphasizing a developmental approach for babies and toddlers. The program introduces little ones to water through gentle, play-based activities and repetitive techniques. Lessons are designed to foster water confidence and safety, progressing to basic swimming skills and strokes. The curriculum is divided into intimate, 30-minute weekly sessions, featuring quirky elements like "Oceans of Imagination" and characters called "The Swimvincibles." The school also emphasizes bonding, underwater photography sessions, and the use of proprietary swim gear like the "Happy Nappy."

British Swim School

British Swim School offers a structured swimming curriculum with an emphasis on water survival skills and stroke development, using a series of whimsical animal-themed levels. The program begins with water acclimation for infants and toddlers in the Tadpole and Swimboree levels, focusing on water comfort and safety. As children progress, they move through levels like Starfish, Minnow, Turtle, and Shark, each building on the last with more advanced techniques and survival skills. The school promotes a strong safety-first approach with catchy phrases like "No tears, no fear," aiming to create a comforting and encouraging learning environment.


Navigating the world of swim programs can often feel like you’ve hit your head at an aquarium gift shop and awoken under a heap of sea animal plushies. Whether you or your child swim like a duck, octopus, or a whale – I’m still not sure which is better, what’s most important is finding an instructor who helps you make progress towards your own goals. This is something we Propel at :)