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FAMILY: in and around the Valley | FOR THE KIDS

Testing the Waters

YMCA classes provide parents and toddlers with lessons in pool safety.

January 29, 1998|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whenever Bridget Dumont, a Studio City mother of two small boys, attends a "swimming birthday party" with her kids, she notices something: "All the other kids have water wings [on] except mine."

It's not because she's lax about water safety--quite the opposite. Cedric, 2, and Julien, who is 10 months old, are veterans of a training program in water safety offered at their local YMCA. The one they attend is called "Baby Skippers" and is offered at the North Hollywood "Y" on Saturdays and some weekdays.

Intended for kids ages 6 months to 3 years old, accompanied by a parent or trusted caregiver, the program is, as a YMCA announcement puts it, "an introduction to water appreciation and safety."

"I wanted my kids to be safe immediately and learn that there are certain rules" about water, said Dumont. So she has been showing up regularly in past months--getting right in the pool with the kids because that's required of the accompanying adult--and achieving fine results.

Julien is able to make it on his own from mid-pool to where he can grab the edge. (Toddlers do this by swimming under water.) Cedric has graduated to using swim fins and "dives to the bottom and swims back up--he's completely water safe," mom says.

The Red Cross-certified instructor for this program at the North Hollywood YMCA is Zulay Arroyo. She exerts the calming influence that is necessary to handle anxious parents and impressionable toddlers in what can be an emotion-charged situation. "Some parents are afraid of water--and they can transmit that fear to the child," she said.

That wasn't the case with the Dumonts, but with some families, Arroyo said, "We need to work through it."

"Children's progress varies," said Arroyo. Some 2-year-olds swim like a fish, some [stay] clinging [to the parent]." Instruction is carefully paced to fit the individuals involved.

In the pool--which is covered and kept heated to a comfortable 86 degrees--she uses water toys, games and songs to ease kids from stage to stage of water safety.

One of the songs, entitled "The Engine Goes Brrrrr," encourages the kids to put their faces in the water and blow bubbles. This procedure is part of learning to exhale, rather than inhale, while they surface from under water.

In the early classes, parents hold the child 90% of the time, then it moves to 50%, then to 10%, while the children are taught to "always reach the [pool] wall and to climb out on their own."

But it is important to remember that with babies and toddlers, swimming and pool safety must be constantly reinforced. "From my experience, if a parent doesn't continue practicing with the child at home or by coming to some classes, the child will forget everything," said Arroyo.

An important matter with kids this young is the diaper problem. "We require tight-fitting swimming underwear--which is easy to find at Target or Kmart and we even sell it here at the YMCA for about $8," Arroyo said. "Otherwise, if we get a little accident in the water, we have to close the pool for 24 hours for (restoration of) health conditions."

BE THERE

* "Baby Skippers," YMCA classes in water safety for kids, ages 6 months to 3 years, accompanied (in the pool) by parent or trusted adult, East Valley YMCA, 5142 Tujunga Ave., North Hollywood. Saturday fee for four sessions: members $25, nonmembers $35; three-day-a-week sessions, $51-$71. Call (818) 763-5126. Similar programs are offered at YMCAs in Burbank, Crescenta-Canada, Glendale, Reseda and Valencia.

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