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Babies, toddlers, learn water ways

Julianne Parsons holds her son Tiger Bartlett, 6 months, during the infant swim class at the Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene on  July 26.  (Kathy Plonka)
Julianne Parsons holds her son Tiger Bartlett, 6 months, during the infant swim class at the Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene on July 26. (Kathy Plonka)

Nine-month-old Austin Barton recently entered the Spokane Valley YMCA pool with his mom, Amy Barton, for a swimming lesson. It wasn’t his first trip to the pool, and he had a lot of fun, splashing in the water and giggling with his mom.

Barton said her mother told her about swimming lessons for babies and it seemed like a good idea for Austin.

“He has always loved his bath time,” she said.

Observing the class that included about five babies, their moms, plus the instructor, was Debbie Schumacher, who was watching her daughter Malea Cook and her granddaughter, 6-month-old Deverie Cook, take their lesson. The proud grandmother was ready with the camera for Deverie’s morning in the pool.

Schumacher said she took her son and daughter to swimming lessons at the YMCA when they were babies, too. She said she noticed some of the techniques the mothers used with their babies hadn’t changed at all over the years, such as blowing air into the baby’s face before putting them under the water.

“It shows the parents what to do with the kids in the water,” Schumacher said.

The class serves children from 6 months through 18 months and involves singing songs, playing with pool noodles and throwing toys that float and mom and baby float through the water to retrieve them.

Jeff Polello, aquatics director for all three Spokane-area YMCAs, said since children develop at different rates, the ages of babies allowed into the class is just a guideline.

“We’ve had 3-month-olds start it,” he said, emphasizing that the parents usually decide when the baby is ready.

Polello said instructors coach the parents on how to hold the baby in the water – the baby must be comfortable and secure in mom’s arms.

The classes are meant to get the children comfortable in the water. Later classes will start teaching them arm movements and kicking. But Polello said that water safety is also taught, and is an important part of the learning process.

“We educate the parent on things they can do to keep kids safe around water,” he said.

He said the two largest programs in the country for swimming lessons are the ones offered at the YMCA and the American Red Cross, which are taught at the Kroc Center, 1765 W. Golf Course Road, Coeur d’Alene.

Nancy Lowery, aquatics manager at the Kroc Center, said the parent/infant lessons also teach the parents how to hold the child in the water, there are water games and kicking. The classes also teach the parents about the use of life jackets.

The class is designed to prepare the children for the preschool Learn-to-Swim courses.

Like the YMCA, the class gets the child comfortable around the water, but isn’t designed to teach the child how to swim – those skills are taught in later classes. Lowery said the parent/toddler classes teach the child to sit on the edge of the pool and wait for the parent to give the cue to get in the water.

She also said the program also emphasizes water safety.

There is also another program in the area that teaches aquatic survival to small children.

Jolene Granley is an instructor for a swimming safety group called Infant Swimming Resource. She teaches children age 6 months through 6 years to survive a fall into the pool until help arrives.

Granley said she has been teaching the class since February. She was laid off as a welder and saw a video on the Internet of a child falling into a pool fully clothed, rolling over onto his back and floating. She decided to learn the technique and teach it to children. Her classes are held at the Howard Johnson’s, 3033 N. Division St., and she also gives private lessons.

Infant Swimming Resource has been around since 1966, when Harvey Bennett, a lifeguard in Florida, saw the aftermath of a neighbor’s child’s drowning. He decided to come up with a program to teach children how to roll onto their backs, float, breathe and call for help.

Granley said she went through the training and taught the technique to her 2-year-old son. She teaches around eight or nine children now in sessions that are one-on-one and take about 10 minutes. The lessons usually take about four weeks. She sets them into the water gently so they get used to it before working on the technique.

“(Our motto is) not one more child drowns,” she said. The children are able to do this even when they are fully clothed and wearing a diaper and shoes.

No matter what kind of swimming lesson parents get for their children, Polello, Lowery and Granley all agree that it is important to get the child comfortable in the water and know how to be safe around water.

“There’s not a wrong way (to learn),” Polello said. “Different strokes.”