Longtime swim teacher writes children’s book ‘Callum Takes Swimming Lessons’

The "Callum Takes Swimming Lessons" book.
(Courtesy Dayton Publishing)

Over many sunny summers since she was a teenager, Carmel Valley’s Marcia Stanley has taught hundreds of children how to swim. The swim instructor recently published her first book, “Callum Takes Swimming Lessons.”

Much like real life, in the book Miss Marcia uses her skills as a lifelong swimmer, her caring personality as a longtime preschool teacher and fun pool toys like Fred the Fish to turn a water-resistant young Callum into a confident swimmer.

“I wanted to share the techniques I use because they are so different and I wanted it to be fun,” she said of the book, published by Solana Beach’s Dayton Publishing.

Marcia Stanley
(Ryan Gonsalves)

The back of the book includes tips for parents about swimming safety and Stanley’s goal is to reach a wide audience, including getting the book into schools, hospitals and fire departments. No child is ever “drown-proof” but the goal of swim lessons is to make children safer in and around water.

“While most people look at swimming as a recreational activity, it’s also a safety measure,” Stanley said. “All children should learn how to swim.”

Marcia has always been a swimmer, growing up splashing in backyard pools and swimming laps at the Santa Monica YMCA. She swam on her high school swim team and in college at San Diego State University, a freestyle and backstroke specialist.

When she was a junior in high school, her parents told her that she needed to get a summer job. Taking advantage of the large number of kids in her Los Angeles neighborhood, many of whom she had babysat for, she started her own swim school in her backyard pool. For the months of June, July and August, she would be in the pool 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with a half hour lunch) teaching students to swim every half hour. After she went to college in San Diego, her parents were still fielding phone calls from interested parents: “Is Marcia teaching swimming?” She was able to continue lessons over her college summers.

Stanley earned her degree in child development from SDSU, got her teaching credential and was hired for her first job in Los Angeles at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School, teaching PE and social studies. For about six years she worked in human resources in the hospitality field, eventually landing at a Doubletree Hotel in San Diego.

After having her son Ryan, she found a job where she could be with him every day at the Gluck Child Care Center, a childcare for employees of Scripps Health and the Scripps Research Institute. When Ryan started kindergarten at St. John School in Encinitas, she got a job teaching first grade and stayed there until he graduated. When he went on to attend Carmel Valley Middle School and Canyon Crest Academy, she became a teacher at the San Dieguito Adult School’s Parent Participation Preschool at the Encinitas Community Center, where she taught for 25 years before the program was discontinued.

“When one door shuts another one opened up for me,” Stanley said. “I feel grateful and lucky that all of the things happened the way they happened.”

An illustration by Sue Ann Erickson in Marcia Stanley's "Callum Takes Swim Lessons".

Her summers remained devoted to swim instruction. But after settling in Carmel Valley, she was a swim school without a pool. She ended up making an arrangement to teach in the pool at the Homewood Suites in Torrey Hills for about five years. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with an hour lunch this time), she taught summer swimming lessons, dressed in a full-length wetsuit, gloves, socks and booties after getting advice early-on from a dermatologist back in high school (“If you’re going to be in a pool all day, take care of your skin!”) Zinc oxide was always slathered onto her face. Of her get-up, she said she would ask the kids: “Do I look scary or silly.”

“They all said I looked silly,” she recalls with a laugh.

The way Callum learns to swim in the book is similar to her methods, easing fearful kids into the water.

She develops trust and builds on each child’s interests, imagination and curiosity, including getting into conversations with Fred the Fish: “They engage with the magic of the fish talking to me,” she said. “They lose their fear of the water and it becomes fun.”

She teaches kids how to float, holding on to her or playing games like the elevator game: “If they are afraid, I tell them ‘ I won’t let go of you’ and I don’t let go, they trust me,” Stanley said.

The summers of laughter and curious kids were what kept her teaching all those years, but what was most important to her was teaching kids to be safe in the water, to learn how to lift their head and take a breath.

Stanley got the idea for the book while teaching Callum, “an extraordinarily funny little boy” and the grandson of her friend Sue. Over one summer she taught him how to swim in the pool at her condo complex. By the end of his first lessons he could float on his front and back, swim underwater with the “magic goggles” and lift his head to take a breath when he needed one. By the next summer, he was ready to learn strokes like the front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

When she sat down to write the book, Stanley said the story poured out of her.

She connected with Linnea Dayton of Dayton Publishing after meeting her in an exercise class at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Dayton found illustrator Sue Ann Erickson to bring the lessons to life, capturing Miss Marcia’s style in the pool and Callum’s excitement and pride.

“‘Callum Takes Swimming Lessons’ is the latest expression of Marcia Stanley’s lifelong commitment to making a difference in the lives of children,” wrote Linda Sundberg, a teacher in the San Dieguito Parent Participation Preschool, in a review of the book.

“It will leave you and your little ones feeling cared for, encouraged and eager to fall in love with swimming at their own pace, all while being prepared, safe and at ease,” echoed parent Genevieve Stapleton, mother of two young swimmers taught by Miss Marcia.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2018, Stanley is still in the pool swimming on her own at the YMCA. She does Rock Steady Boxing and sings with the Tremble Clefs, a free therapeutic singing program for people living with Parkinson’s in Encinitas.

She misses the energy and joy she got from the children, teaching pre-school and those water-logged summer days.

“I’m not done,” she said, noting just last week she got a call from a parent looking for a swim lesson refresher so her child could feel confident at the beach with her friends. Stanley always had trouble saying no to anyone looking to be comfortable and safe in the water.

“I’m not doing it full time like I used to but I’m finding my way to get involved with this book,” she said. “It gives me something to do.”

The book is available on Amazon and at the bookshop inside Julie’s Beach Life in the Del Mar Village at 1440 Camino Del Mar.