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Lessons go swimmingly for children of all ages

Sat., July 21, 2012

A circle of parents holding babies and toddlers take part in a parent-child swim class at Valley Mission Pool. Lessons for babies and children age 6 and older are available at the three pools in Spokane Valley. (Jesse Tinsley)
A circle of parents holding babies and toddlers take part in a parent-child swim class at Valley Mission Pool. Lessons for babies and children age 6 and older are available at the three pools in Spokane Valley. (Jesse Tinsley)

On the list of things you can do to help protect your children from some of life’s dangers, teaching them to swim is perhaps the easiest. And in the Spokane Valley, it may just be the most fun – especially on a hot summer day.

In a locale so defined by picturesque bodies of water just begging to be dived into, learning to swim and enjoy the water safely is just plain necessary.

In the U.S., for each child who drowns, six more are taken to emergency rooms for treatment of near-drowning and nonfatal submersion injuries.

Of the leading causes of unintentional injury death, drowning ranks fifth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a lack of swimming ability as the leading risk factor, along with a lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, and failure to wear life jackets.

The city of Spokane Valley offers a variety of swim lessons at all three of its public pools: Park Road, 906 N. Park Road; Valley Mission, 11405 E. Mission Ave.; and Terrace View, 13525 E. 24th Ave. The two-week sessions (Monday through Thursday) start with parent-child classes for kids as young as 6 months, with six levels for children 6 and older, from introductory water skills through a proficiency class that helps develop all six swimming strokes: crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, sidestroke, dog paddle and butterfly.

“We stagger our sessions throughout the summer so the lessons don’t all fill up at the beginning of the season,” recreation coordinator Jennifer Papich said. “We have several sessions left in the season. We post the schedule on the city’s website, but we’re not high-tech about signing up. You still have to go to the actual pool in order to sign up.”

Experts agree that it’s good to introduce children to the water early. It’s a great way to teach the child to enjoy the water and begin to teach water safety.

“Our Mommy and Me swim classes are very popular with kids who are at least 6 months old,” Papich said. “They teach basic stuff like blowing bubbles and how to submerge. I think we’ve all seen videos of the little ones and how quickly they learn in the water. It’s a fun class.”

When it comes to teaching swimming strokes, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that formal lessons wait until the child is at year 4 – an age when the child is developmentally ready.

Studies show that kids who begin swimming lessons at a younger age don’t necessarily learn swim strokes sooner. With the front crawl, for example, most learn to swim well at about the same age: 5 ½.

Last year, the three Spokane Valley pools taught 1,241 kids to swim, or to swim better. Swim instructors all are certified through the YMCA.

A two-week session costs $30, and the city offers scholarships.

“Basically, if a child qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch at their school, they qualify for the scholarship program at the pool,” Papich said. “That cuts the price of lessons in half, and additionally kids get seven passes for open swim sessions as well. Not only do they get to learn how to swim, they get passes to enjoy the pool as well.

“We have a program called Make A Splash that raises money with some of our local service organizations and local donations to help make lessons available to everyone.”

Safety is just one reason Spokane Valley youngsters should learn to swim. The three pools are a reason unto themselves.

“We renovated all three pools in 2008,” Papich said. “Each one of our pools has a separate water feature that are very popular. At Park Road we added a water slide. At Terrace View we put in a lazy river feature that’s a lot of fun. And at Valley Mission Pool we put in a zero-depth entry feature that makes it much more accessible for kids with special needs.”

For those with a competitive streak, each pool has a swim team that practices Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with swim meets every Wednesday through the summer.

“All three of our pools have been really popular, especially with hot days finally here,” Papich said.

The city will stagger pool closures this season. Park Road closes for the summer Aug. 19. Valley Mission will close Aug. 26, with Terrace View remaining open until Sept. 3.

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