Training in art of splash

July 09, 2007|By CATHERINE SUDUE

HAGERSTOWN - Sitting at the desk in her YMCA office, Karen Meinelschmidt, who teaches swimming lessons, recalled a telephone conversation she had in October. A mother described how her 4-year-old son rescued himself when he fell into their backyard swimming pool while trying to get his toy boat.

"When I heard that story, that made it all worthwhile," Meinelschmidt said.

Meinelschmidt, the aquatics director at the YMCA in Hagerstown, has been teaching parent-to-child swimming classes for 40 years. The class is designed to teach children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years how to swim and become more comfortable in and around water. Parents accompany their children in the water as Meinelschmidt coaches both the children and the parents on different swimming techniques.

"What we're going to do is just get them used to having them in the water. Having them put their ears back in the water ... ," Meinelschmidt said. "We teach them how to splash. They splash the water and if it gets in their face, we show them how to shake it out because they can do those things. And we'd like them to just be comfortable in the water."


On June 26, Meinelschmidt led the first parent-to-child class of the summer session.

Among her pupils was 11-month-old Riley Troxell.

"This is the first time she's been in a pool at all," said Troxell's mother, Andrea Kerslake. "It was interesting because she's not used to having water in her face. So she was definitely surprised by being splashed."

Grayden Scibilia, 2, was not surprised or intimidated by the 4-foot-deep water. Scibilia was used to the water because the summer session began his second series of swimming classes.

"He seems to be doing good. He likes it. He jumps in. It just seems like he's learning to swim already," said Al Scibilia, Grayden's father. "He's not afraid of the water at all ... He doesn't have a fear of it."

Like many of the children, Grayden, decked out in a safety flotation device called a "bubble," jumped into the pool over and over.

The bubble "keeps them (the children) upright in the water with their heads out of the water," Meinelschmidt said. "We do put them underwater usually one time each time they come swimming and all the way underwater just so that if they ever fall in they don't panic and get even more scared."

Meinelschmidt mentioned the strategy she uses to get children swimming on their own.

"As the child gets stronger kicking and using their arms, all we have to do is let a little air out of the bubble ... The youngest child I have had swimming independently was 13 months old, and that person swam probably half of our swimming pool, which is maybe 15 feet."

With a few weeks left of the parent-to-child evening swim class, parents will have a chance to gain confidence in their children's swimming abilities.

"We have a swimming pool, my parents have a swimming pool, and we wanted to get her more acclimated to the water," said Nan Guthrie of her 2-year-old daughter, Abigail Guthrie. "We want her to be more confident getting into the water and not be afraid of ... going underwater."

Contact information

For more information about swimming programs at the Hagerstown YMCA, go to

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