The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 30, 2013

Parents can help kids with first steps to swim lessons

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Swimming pools are open and staffed with lifeguards. The weather is warm enough for adventures in creeks, rivers and lakes. But the best place to start teaching kids to swim is in the family bathroom.

"The tub is a great place to start," said Samantha Burdette, aquatics director for the Neosho Freeman Family Y. "When kids are younger, there are things you can do in the tub that are easy to learn."

Swimming lessons are important for children, she said. The structure of swim lessons helps children retain the information, from learning how to float to how to recognize someone who needs help.

But parents can start their kids' swimming success with some simple steps.

Tub training

When kids are 3 or 4 years old, swimming lessons can start at bath time. Have kids try to hold their heads underwater, then eventually, have them blow bubbles from their nose.

"That's something we encounter a lot," Burdette said. "Kids are afraid to put their heads under water. But that's something that parents can work on right at home."

That is a good age to start swimming, she said -- the earlier a child starts, the sooner he will get acclimated to moving around in water.

Next steps

After children are OK with water on their face, they may be ready to hit the pool with a parent. The basics to practice are kicking and floating, she said.

"Kicking is the biggest thing, and the easiest thing to learn how to do," she said. "That's what will get them to the wall."

Kicking can be done while holding onto a parent's arms or the side of the pool. The action is taught before anything that uses arms, she said.

When a student has a command of both kicking and floating, he is more than ready to start swimming lessons. Depending on the business or organization offering them, lessons are organized according to skill level and age.

Burdette said the classroom atmosphere of lessons at the Y include a set curriculum that teaches through questions and explorations. Advanced classes include instruction on racing and synchronized swimming.

Stay vigilant

Even the sharpest swimmers need attention, she said. In recognition of National Water Safety Month, she recommends parents pay attention to several things while children are swimming:

One of the biggest things to watch out for happens away from the pool. If a trip to a lake or river is planned, the importance of a swimming buddy doubles, even for grown adults.

"In a lake, you can't see the bottom," she said. "If you're out on the lake, you need someone aware of where you are."