Little Water Wonders

Splashing and playing in water is a joy for most babies and toddlers. Parents can put this natural love of water to use by starting swimming lessons, even before their children begin to crawl.


Two San Jose swim schools that welcome babies at 6 months and up are Maki Swim School and Almaden Valley Aquatic Center (AVAC).


“Infants have been in the water (in utero) longer than they’ve been out of the water, so it’s important to grab on to this comfort at this early age,” says Sonsie Zamora, office manager at Maki. “The earlier a child begins swim lessons, the sooner he or she will develop the vital skills needed to be water-safe. Infants … do possess the ability to learn these vital safety skills.”


Until 2010, the American Association of Pediatrics recommended that kids wait to start formal swimming lessons until age 4 because little evidence existed to show that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swim skills among younger kids. Pediatricians worried that parents would be less careful supervising a child who had learned some swimming skills. 


However, last year the AAP relaxed its policy in light of new research indicating that kids who take lessons from ages 1 to 4 do indeed learn techniques that can prevent drowning. 


Parents who want to introduce their child to swimming at an early age usually find that it’s easy to do, say Zamora and Sue Davis, director of AVAC, although some children do need a bit of coaxing.


“Every infant or toddler has an individual reaction – everything from clinging to mom to ready to splash and play,” says Davis. After a few months, most little ones are “happy and excited with each lesson.”


One of the first goals of schools like Maki and AVAC is to help children feel comfortable in water. Each little one must have a parent or caretaker in the pool with him, and that helps. 


Next, AVAC and Maki focus on teaching real skills. Some of these look like play on the surface, but they can help a child stay safe, Zamora says. Blowing bubbles, for example, teaches breath control. Rolling over to float on the back is a recovery skill, as are “monkey walks,” where a child pulls himself along the pool edge with his hands. Moving arms and legs simultaneously is a step to learning swim strokes later on. 


However, these youngest students may be gaining even more than swimming skills. A study published in Child: Care Health and Development in 2010 showed that babies who take swimming lessons use muscles they don’t use on land, gaining better balance and coordination than non-swimmers. To gain the most from lessons, and to keep their child from developing a fear of water as an older child, parents need to bring their children fairly consistently, Zamora says.


Kids aren’t the only beneficiaries of swim lessons, proponents say. Mom and dad are, too. 


“Our parents are our primary students,” says Davis. “We are teaching them how to teach their little one.” Most importantly, they’re learning how to create a safe swimming environment for their kids outside class.


If the parent doesn’t know how to swim, they can complicate the process for their kids by passing on a fear of water, Zamora says. Maki instructors and the facility’s shallow indoor pool help parents feel at ease. 


“We also teach adult classes, and many of the parents end up taking swim lessons with us also, so they can feel confident with their kids in the water,” she says.


Angela Geiser is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.



Happy Campers at an Early Age Toddlers get a summer pre-preschool experience

For some parents, packing a 3-year-old off to day camp may seem unthinkable. However, many area day camps do welcome preschoolers, and some families find that the experience can be a boon to little ones when they start school come fall.


Many city recreation departments offer a few camps for preschoolers. San Jose, for instance, features half-day preschool art and sports camps. However, more often the places to look for these camps are at preschools themselves.


Bethel Lutheran preschool in Cupertino offers summer camp in one-week periods with whimsical themes and a more playful, relaxed atmosphere than the main school year. Camp is less formal “but still developmentally appropriate and in keeping with (National Association for the Education of Young Child) guidelines,” says Marion Abney, Bethel Lutheran’s principal.


Fun, summery themes at Bethel include Action Attraction, when youngsters play parachute and outdoor games, and Fantasy Fairytale with “imagination stations,” face painting and fairytale stories. Other themes include Construction Junction, where preschoolers build cars, planes and trains and “travel” the world; and Splash Zone week, when they explore the powers of water.


“They love to make rivers and waterfalls in our big sand area,” Abney says.


While the kids are having fun, they’re gaining exposure to school life, many for the first time.


“Some of our kids have never been away from home,” says Abney. “They have never been introduced to a schedule or to circle time. They’ve never being exposed to making appropriate choices within schedule and structure.


“We help the child get more confident through play, so that he’ll be ready for a more formal experience in the fall,” says Abney.


Habitot Children’s Museum in Berkeley enrolls children as young as 2.9 years old into a morning day camp with a weekly theme.


We “give kids a pre-preschool experience,” says Gina Moreland, Habitot’s founder and executive director. “It’s a really great way for kids to see what it’s like to be away from mom and dad.”


Developing a sense of independence is a major aspect of preschoolers’ camp experience, and camp directors say parents can help ease the process.


Tell your child in advance what to expect and keep your goodbyes brief and upbeat. Communicate that they will do just fine. You may also want to tell your kids that you’ll be at home while they’re at camp. It may not be entirely accurate, but it gives kids something that they can easily visualize. Usually, a clingy child will adapt within a few days.


Sometimes, however, it’s the parents who experience separation anxiety, says Moreland. They may hover around or drop the whole camp experiment if their child shows resistance. 


“The whole thing is learning to let go for the parents. If you’re comfortable with that notion, you’ll have a much easier time,” says Moreland. “There’s a certain point where teachers will say, ‘Your kids are going to be just fine.’”


– Angela Geiser and Millicent Skiles 

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