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KID STUFF : Teaching Kids to Love the Water

August 09, 1993|THE WASHINGTON POST

Kieren Perkins, the Australian gold medalist in the 1,500-meter freestyle, told an NBC reporter he was a reluctant swimmer as a child: "I hated putting my face in the water."

That's a feeling shared by a number of children.

"Generally when kids have a fear of water, it is a learned fear," said Mary Carter, who has taught children to swim for 17 years at the YMCA in Silver Spring, Md.

The greatest fear of the water is often seen in children who have not learned to swim by age 7 or 8, Carter said. "The optimum age to learn to swim is between 4 and 5," she said, when children have enough coordination to learn to move through the water.

At the YMCA in Beverly Hills, swimming instructor Aman Bedi finds that many children dislike putting their faces in the water because "it makes them feel unsafe and they fear drowning," he said.

Forcing children to go under water or to put their faces in the water is not recommended by most swimming teachers.

One trick Carter uses is to ask children to touch the bottom of the shallow pool. Another way is to drop a brightly colored object on the pool's bottom for them to pick up.

The idea is to get kids to feel comfortable in the water. "Once they are," she said, "they put their faces in all by themselves."

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