Goldfish Swim School Vs. Aqua-Tots: Finding The Best Swim Lessons

When it’s time to get your kids into swim lessons, two major nationwide swim school chains stand out: Goldfish Swim School and Aqua-Tots. But with different teaching methods, class structures, and pricing, how do you choose what’s best for your family? This comprehensive guide covers all the key factors to consider when comparing Goldfish and Aqua-Tots.

A Brief Comparison Table

AspectsGoldfish Swim SchoolAqua-Tots Swim Schools
Founded2006, Birmingham, MI1991, Northern CA
# of Locations120+300+
Teaching StyleSongs, gamesSafety-focused
Class Lengths30 or 45 min30 or 45 min
Student:Instructor RatioUp to 4:1Up to 4:1
Classes OfferedBy days/weekBy lessons/week
Monthly Fees$159-$199$168-$216
Trial Classes1 free class2 week trial
Make Up Policy2 per 8-week session2 per month
Withdrawal PolicyBefore 2nd classWithin 14 days

A Brief Background on Goldfish and Aqua-Tots

Goldfish Swim School was founded in Birmingham, Michigan in 2006 by former competitive swimmers Chris McCuiston and Jenny McCuiston. It has over 120 locations across 35 states today. The chain emphasizes a holistic approach that goes beyond just swimming skills.

Goldfish Swim School
Goldfish Swim School

Aqua-Tots originated in Northern California in 1991 created by former swim coach Fernando Puerta. With over 300 schools in 29 states, it also uses a comprehensive swim instruction method focused on water safety and confidence.

Both Goldfish and Aqua-Tots have grown rapidly nationwide due to their success teaching kids as young as 4 months old how to swim and be safe in the water using age-appropriate techniques.

Their structured curriculum keeps kids progressing across different skill levels as they get older.

Also Read: Comparison Between Emler Swim School And Aqua-Tots

Teaching Philosophy and Methods

Goldfish and Aqua-Tots have some similarities and differences when it comes to how they approach swim lessons:

Goldfish Swim School

  • Uses the SHARK Method – Safety, Happiness, Aquatics Readiness, and Knowledge
  • 4-level curriculum: Water Discovery, Water Exploration, Water Acclimation, and Water Safety
  • Upbeat songs and games reinforce skills
  • Focuses on water safety, stroke technique, and swimming properly

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools

  • Uses 5-phase Proprietary Learn-to-Swim Curriculum
  • Structured advancement through developmental milestones
  • Safety-focused with emphasis on proper kicking and breathing
  • Uses original music, games, and equipment for engagement
  • Teaches lifelong aquatic skills beyond just swimming

The core methods are aligned – a safety-first approach with structured advancement through age-appropriate skills. Goldfish appears to incorporate more music, songs, and games to keep kids motivated and having fun in the water.

Class Structure and Offerings

You’ll find similarities between Goldfish and Aqua-Tots when it comes to class structures as well:


  • Both start as young as 4 months up through age 12
  • Grouped into similar age groups: 4-36 months, 3-5 years, 6-12 years

Class Length

  • 30 or 45 minute lessons depending on age
  • Instructors will recommend appropriate class length

Student-Instructor Ratio

  • 3 or 4 students per instructor maximum
  • Allows for individual attention

Group or Private

  • Main offerings are small group classes
  • Private lessons available at added cost

The 30-45 minute small group lessons segmented by age are the standard at both swim school brands. This ensures age-appropriate teaching techniques and safety for different developmental stages. Private lessons allow for 1-on-1 coaching.

Pool Facility Amenities

The pool areas and facilities also stack up closely between Goldfish and Aqua-Tots:

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools
  • Indoor heated pools maintained at 90 degrees
  • Separate pool space for babies and toddlers
  • Showers and changing rooms
  • Viewing areas for parents
  • Upbeat, lively decorative themes in facilities

The main differences would be slight variations in decorative themes and branding. For example, Goldfish locations use bright, colorful fish and underwater creature designs. Aqua-Tots locations lean more towards beachy, tropical designs.

But the core amenities of heated pools, changing areas, and parent viewing spaces are consistent. Both chains aim to create a fun, warm, inviting environment for toddlers and young kids.

Pricing and Membership Options

When it comes to cost, here’s an overview of what to expect from Goldfish and Aqua-Tots:

Month-to-Month Membership

  • Goldfish: $159-$199/month for 1x or 2x per week classes
  • Aqua-Tots: $168-$216/month for 1x or 2x per week

Enrollment Fees

  • One-time fee around $100-$150 for both chains


  • Sibling and multi-class discounts at both
  • Promo offers for first month or enrollment specials


  • Auto-pay from credit card required for monthly billing

Private Lessons

  • Around $60-$70 per 30 minute session

The monthly membership fees align very closely, averaging $150-$200 across both brands depending on class frequency. Enrollment, discounts, and private lesson rates are also in the same range. So not much difference in overall affordability.

Making Up Missed Classes

Given unpredictable kid schedules and illnesses, both Goldfish and Aqua-Tots have make-up policies for missed classes.

Goldfish offers two guaranteed make-up classes per 8-week session that can be scheduled based on availability. Aqua-Tots has a similar policy, also allowing two make-ups per month if needed. For both brands, make-ups cannot carry over session to session.

This ensures some flexibility to avoid losing lessons when things come up. Make-up policies are very similar between the two swim school chains.

Trial Classes and Refund Policy

Goldfish and Aqua-Tots allow trial classes so your child can test out the experience before committing:


  • One free trial class
  • Refunds before second scheduled class


  • Two week trial period
  • Refund if cancel within 14 days

The free trial class or two week trial window gives you a chance to see if your child enjoys the experience and instructors before paying monthly fees.

Both chains offer no-questions-asked refunds up until your second actual class. This allows withdrawing your child easily if it’s not the right fit. The trial period policies provide assurance when enrolling your child in either brand.

Reputation Among Parents: Key Considerations

When examining parent reviews and testimonials for Goldfish Swim School and Aqua-Tots, a few key themes emerge:


  • Warm, engaging instructors get rave reviews at both chains
  • Their patience and experience with young kids sets parents at ease


  • Both score well on clearly structured lessons helping kids develop skills
  • Progression system keeps kids moving up through levels


  • Parents highlight the focus on water safety and preparedness


  • The indoor, heated pools appeal to parents for year-round lessons

Customer Service

  • Staff friendliness and flexibility rated highly for both

Based on parent feedback, Goldfish and Aqua-Tots are well aligned when it comes to the quality of instructors, curriculum, and facilities. The biggest differentiation may come down to individual location experiences. But both excel in key categories like safety and customer service.

Which Brand Is More Prevalent Nationwide?

With over 300 swim schools, Aqua-Tots has a slightly larger geographic footprint than Goldfish’s 120+ locations. Aqua-Tots has schools spread across 29 states, while Goldfish is present in 35 states.

However, Goldfish may dominate some markets with more locations concentrated regionally. For example, Goldfish has 40 schools in its home state of Michigan versus 16 for Aqua-Tots.

So while Aqua-Tots has a roughly 100-location advantage overall, the distribution is fairly comparable between the two brands. Goldfish leads in certain metropolitan areas while Aqua-Tots has the edge in other markets.

Availability will depend on your particular area. But most regions have access to locations from both national chains.

Key Differentiators: How to Choose What’s Best

When it comes down to making your swim school decision, a few key considerations:

Classes Offered

  • Goldfish separates classes by number of days per week (1x, 2x, etc).
  • Aqua-Tots sells classes by number of lessons per week (2, 3, 4)

So Goldfish packages align better if you only need or can make one specific weekday. Aqua-Tots may be preferable if you want maximum lessons spread across different days.

Teaching Style

  • Goldfish emphasizes fun through songs and games in the water
  • Aqua-Tots takes a safety-focused, skills-based approach

Depending on your child’s personality and learning style, one method may appeal more than the other.

Facility Experience

  • The specific amenities, cleanliness, and staff at your local swim school location will make the biggest impact.
  • Trial classes allow you to compare locations before committing.

While the teaching approach matters, the execution by your local swim school ultimately determines the experience. Try out locations from both brands to see which you and your child like best.

Availability and Convenience

  • Look at locations close to your home or child’s daycare/school.
  • Match class times to your schedule.

Optimal swim lessons happen when the location and class timing work for your lifestyle. So proximity and convenience may dictate the best choice.

By weighing these key factors – classes, teaching style, facilities, and convenience – against your child’s needs and your own preferences, you can determine if Goldfish or Aqua-Tots is the better fit. Try out trial lessons at each to experience the differences first-hand.

Also Read: Comparison Between Cupshe And Beachsissi Swimwear

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Still evaluating Goldfish Swim School vs Aqua-Tots? Here are answers to some common questions parents have:

What is Goldfish schooling?

Goldfish schooling refers to the teaching method Goldfish Swim School uses to instruct kids on swimming skills across progressive levels. This includes the SHARK principles, 4-level curriculum, songs/games, and emphasis on safety.

How do you withdraw from Goldfish?

To withdraw from Goldfish Swim School, simply inform the location management in writing before the next billing cycle. As long as it’s within the trial period, you will receive a refund of fees paid minus any classes taken.

Which age is best for starting swim lessons?

Both Goldfish and Aqua-Tots suggest ages 4 months to 5 years gain the most from early swim lessons. But kids can start at any age. Matching your child’s readiness and comfort level in the water is most important.

How do you swim safely in a pool?

Key tips for swimming safely in a pool include swimming with an adult present, avoiding diving in shallow areas, following pool rules, and wearing a lifejacket if needed. Listen to lifeguard instructions and always enter feet first when unsure of depth.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to providing kids a safe, engaging, skill-building swim lesson experience, both Goldfish Swim School and Aqua-Tots Swim Schools excel. They take comprehensive, age-appropriate approaches to developing comfort and skills in the water for babies as young as 4 months all the way through age 12.

Pricing, class structures, and amenities are very similar across both brands. The biggest differences come down to teaching style, facility experience, and availability of locations and class times that fit your family’s needs.

With trial classes and refund policies, there’s little risk in trying out your local Goldfish and Aqua-Tots to see which is the best match. Given both brands’ excellent reputations and results, you can trust your child will get a top-tier swim lesson at either school. The key is finding the right instructor and schedule that brings out your child’s progress and confidence in the water.

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