Two-year-old Renee Figueroa of Chandler is at home in the water. The toddler took her first swimming class with her mother, Alisa, when she was 4 months old.
Now on her own in a class at SwimKids USA in Mesa, she bends down, touches her toes, stands up stretching her arms over her head, and jumps fearlessly into the water all by herself. Then she kicks like a professional.
When her swimming teacher, James Brocki, shouts “Airplane!” Renee flips over and floats, a huge grin on her face.
The airplane move is one that young swimmers learn early. When an adult shouts it out, the children know to float on their backs with their heads above water.
Alisa Figueroa says she enrolled her daughter in swimming classes because Renee loves the water.
“The way I see it, she’s around water all the time,” says Figueroa. “It would have been irresponsible of me not to put her in lessons. Now, if she’s in the pool and she senses I’m out of range even a little, she will go into her airplane and scream for me.”
The teachers at SwimKids say floating is one of the most important swimming skills kids need to know.
“A lot of kids don’t know how,” says SwimKids owner Lana Whitehead. “When they’re wearing water wings, they’re upright in the water, bicycling with their feet — that’s the drowning position. If they ever fall into the water without wings, they’ll go into that position.”
Whitehead has been teaching children to swim for 35 years and sees more than 2,300 children come through her doors each week.
Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that children wait until they’re at least 4 before beginning swimming lessons, she says she knows from experience that children can begin swimming much sooner. She says that all kids in Arizona should know basic water survival skills and learn respect for the water.
“The recommendations say that it’s too complicated for them to move their arms and legs and breathe at the same time,” she says. “But if they can walk, they can do all that. When they can walk, they can start swimming.”
Whitehead has children just a few months old in her pool and says that with a teacher nearby, children are safe to learn at their own pace. The first thing children learn at SwimKids is to jump in the pool and then turn around and grab the side and hold their heads out of the water.
“We do this because a lot of parents play this game where the kids jump in the pool and swim to mommy or daddy,” says Whitehead. “But that’s not a good way to learn, because one day they are going to jump in the pool and mommy and daddy aren’t going to be there.”
Two-year-old Cooper Babcock of Gilbert has been taking lessons for five weeks and has mastered holding on. Now he’s learning the “elbow, elbow, knee, knee” skill to pull himself out of the pool. He struggles, tongue out, face turning red, to pull his lower half from the pool, and, with help from teacher Jessica Jenkins, he does it.
His mother, Tammy Babcock, says she started Cooper at SwimKids because they just moved to the area and it’s the first time he’s had a pool in the backyard.
“I know he’s going to be around water, and I want him to know what to do if he ever falls in,” she says. “It’s taking him a long time, but I’ve seen such an improvement in what he’s able to do already.”
2725 W. Guadalupe Road Mesa (480) 820-9109
Tips to prevent drowning
• Never leave a child unsupervised near a pool.
• If a child is missing, check the pool first. Seconds count in preventing a death or disability.
• Teach children to always swim with an adult present.
• Keep small children away from buckets containing liquid.
• Do not use air-filled swimming aids such as “water wings.”
• Learn CPR.
• Keep rescue equipment by the pool.
• Remove toys from in and around the water when not in use.
• Always keep barriers such as fences and a pool cover around the pool.
• Enroll your child in swim lessons to learn survival skills.
SOURCE: SwimKids USA