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Our History

Our History


La Petite Baleen began in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid’s Half Moon Bay home in 1979. As public school teachers, they were looking for a creative outlet for their love of children and the water. With three young children of their own and several local families, they developed an in-depth curriculum and ribbon level system for their AQUATIC CLASSROOMSM program. John and Irene’s developmental aquatic program emphasizes a balance between love and discipline, thus teaching not only swimming, but also self-esteem and coping skills.


Teaching life skills through swimming in our AQUATIC CLASSROOMSM is one of our philosophies at La Petite Baleen swim school. Through progress reports, phone conferences, newsletters and our knowledgeable staff, we educate and inform parents as an important part of our teaching team. We believe that aquatic child development extends beyond our swimming pools and into the heart of our families’ homes. In addition to physical swimming skills, our students learn emotional skills such as:

  • Listening to and following directions
  • Social interaction and teamwork
  • Respect for oneself and others
  • Overcoming obstacles and facing fears

Learning to swim is hard work, albeit fun, and requires much effort. How much a child enjoys this work and how rapidly they progresses depends greatly on the attitude of the parent(s). It is not only rewarding, but also contagious when children master goals in the swimming pool (and in life!). By working as a team with our parents and swimmers, our staff takes great pride in guiding children through the peaks and valleys of swim class.


Our motto at La Petite Baleen is “Pace, Pattern, Compassion, and Fun!” These four components keep us focused on very important teaching ideas, which are essential to our vision and program.


We know that movement actually helps the young brain absorb information more readily. Pace keeps the child engaged and is part of a good physical fitness program. La Petite Baleen wants to be a part of your child’s physical fitness for life. Children who are not physically moving get bored easily and lose concentration. Pace and energy excites and invites children to learn.


Orderly progressions make sense to children. Skills are quickly assimilated especially when children see a beginning, middle, and end. Children respond particularly to patterns and sequential drills. When they know what is expected from them, they spend their energy on learning, not wondering what will happen next. Patterns allow for repetition, which is the best way for children to learn.


A good teacher is kind, but an excellent teacher knows when to push and when to hug. Empathy, balanced with love, and discipline is instilled in our teaching staff. Our teachers are highly trained to read body language and open up the line of communication with their students. We believe that feelings matter, good teaching matters, and children matter.


For children, fun is a serious matter. It keeps their spirits open, which invites creativity into the classroom. This makes learning fresh and fun. Learning and accomplishing new skills is better than candy to any child. Making learning playful and exciting is key to accomplishing our goal of teaching children to love swimming.


Wiggle-butts & Up-faces: A Child’s Primer for Beginning Swimming

Written by La Petite Baleen co-founder Irene Madrid and published in 1989. In Wiggle-butts & Up-faces, Alex, who is almost three, feels a little apprehension but a lot of curiosity about going with his four-year-old sister to take swimming lessons, and he decides the experience is fun.


Wiggle-butts & Up-faces: A Child's Primer for Beginning Swimming


Listen to Wiggle-butts and Up-faces, read by Irene Madrid:



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