It's never too early to teach your baby to swim

July 01, 2011|By AMY DULEBOHN |
  • Sarah Conway with daughter Lilly, 2, splashes her way around the pool in her first swimming lesson at the Hagerstown YMCA Babies Learning to Swim class.
By Chris Tilley/Staff Photographer

Some people say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. And, when it comes to learning to swim, parents just might agree with that adage.

That's why local YMCAs start lessons for babies at the tender age of 6 months.

At Hagerstown YMCA, at least one parent must accompany each young swimming student in the pool at all times.

"We even allow grandparents (in the pool), if they aren't too skittish," said Karen Meinelschmidt, aquatic director at the YMCA.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in this arrangement is dealing with the parents, rather than the children.

"We have a lot of people who want their kids to learn to swim, but they don't want their babies to get wet," Meinelschmidt said.

Instructors at the YMCA tell parents that if they are smiling and laughing, their baby will be more relaxed, Meinelschmidt said.

"Mommy and Daddy, you must put a positive foot forward," she said. "If we ask you to do something that you are uncomfortable with, you must hand your baby to an instructor."

When an infant first gets into the pool, Meinelschmidt said she observes, "a lot of wonderment in (the kids') eyes." While kids that age are used to being in the bathtub, this environment, with Mom and Dad in there, it's different for them, she said.

The small pool at Hagerstown YMCA is 88 degrees, compared to the regular pool, which is kept at 82 degrees.

Another way to get babies acclimated to swimming is to encourage parents to fill their bathtubs with two to three inches of water, and have the children lie on their backs. This will get the kids used to having water in their ears, and teaching them that it doesn't hurt.

"It just feels different," Meinelschmidt said.

 And one way to help babies become even more familiar with swimming techniques, is to have fun with them while they are in the tub on their backs, doing things such as tickling their toes and tummies, anything to make them laugh and feel comfortable.

It's important for parents to reflect laughter and warmth back to them, she said.

YMCA parents must be "down in the water" during the lessons so that they are at eye level with their children, which is another technique for encouraging young children to be comfortable in the water.

At age 3, children start the Pikes class, when they must be in the water without their parents; in fact, parents aren't even permitted in the pool area while the lessons are going on.

"We try to do basic and simple things so (the kids) can get comfortable in the water," she said.

Donna Gerhold, swim lesson coordinator at Waynesboro, Pa., YMCA, said teaching swimming skills and water safety "is such an important thing for babies to learn."

The facility offers three 30-minute waterbabies classes, each with 12 spots, and often, there is a waiting list.

Waynesboro YMCA offers seven-week waterbabies classes from fall to spring, and a five-week summer program. Gerhold said class participants do not have to be YMCA members in order to enroll in the swimming programs, but the fees will be slightly higher for families who are nonmembers.

If you go ...

To find out more information on swimming classes


  •  For classes at the Hagerstown YMCA, call Karen Meinelschmidt at 301-739-3990, ext. 4221.
  •  About Waterbabies classes available at Waynesboro YMCA, contact Donna Gerhold at 717-762-6012.
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