January swim: Come on in, kids, the water's fine

News-DemocratFebruary 2, 2014 

Water temperature, 86 degrees.

Not bad for a cold January day, and great for young swimmers in Danielle Wildermuth's downtown YMCA swim class.

"Noah, go ahead and grab a bubble belt," she called to the 3-year-old.

He joined four other preschoolers sitting on the edge of the pool, waiting for their 45-minute class to begin. They're in week three of a seven-week course.

"This class is the Pike class," said Danielle, 18, a full-time student at Lindenwood University and swimmer ever since she can remember. "It's the first level for preschool students. We start working on kicks, the front paddle, blowing bubbles in water, the back float. ..."To advance, a Pike has to be able to swim on his stomach and back a distance of 5 feet without a flotation device, and go 10 to 15 yards with a flotation device.

The kids dangled their feet in the water as Danielle guided one at a time to the swim lane divider and back. Late afternoon sun, coming in through windows, created bright stripes in the 3 1/2-to-5-foot-deep pool. Parents sat nearby in the warm, humid room.

"We live in the water," said mom Sarah Gass, of Belleville. "We water ski. We're in pools all summer. Water is our life."

Her sons Nick, 4, and Jacob, 3, are in class together.

"I want them to be safe in the water. I took swimming lesson at the downtown Y since I was 6 months. I was a lifeguard. I managed a pool."

The boys started lessons at 6 months. Their sister, Hailey, 1, is in the moms-tots class.

"They go through stages," said Sarah. "They like the water, then learn to be timid. They get through that, then get excited about it."

Amy Jung, of Shiloh, noticed that son Redmond, 4, had an interest after her family joined the Y.

"He always wanted to watch the swimmers," she said, "so we decided to put him in. He loves it. He gets done with school on Friday and is ready for a swim lesson."

Amy likes watching as much as Redmond likes swimming.

"I'm normally videotaping to show Dad or just put on Facebook for grandparents, too," she said. "He tries stuff in the bathtub at home."

Noah Nesbit is a first-timer, too.

Mom Angela, of Belleville, said he's used to wearing a life jacket when swimming at her husband's grandparents' pool.

"I think he would like to be free of that," she said. "He wants to learn to swim on his own.

"I like that they are actually learning skills instead of just playing games. The teacher is nice. He looks forward to it. It's kind of refreshing getting to do something in the winter that usually is reserved for the summer."

Moms agree there is more to the class than swimming. Preschoolers learn to listen, handle a different environment and be patient when it's not their turn.

Danielle keeps them involved.

"Are you blowing bubbles for me?" she said to one, then a little later, had them all raise arms over their heads. "Who knows what we are doing?"

Danielle also learned to swim at the Y.

"I remember I really liked the water, but wasn't very good at floating," she said. "I started with the Mommy and Me class. I think I was about 10 months old."

Now, she teaches one class of each level, from ages 6 months to 12 years.

With five minutes left, Danielle gathers the swimmers on the pool steps and tosses balls or lets them squirt her. With a delighted smile, Aurelia Scarbrough, who just turned 3, took aim.

"This is her first class. She likes it," said mom Maria. "It's a lot about getting her comfortable, especially on her back. That's a big deal.

"We love the water. Safety is our biggest issue. ... One of the developmental milestones, along with walking, is learning to swim."

Maria remembers always knowing how.

"I lived at the pool when I was young. I was on swim team. He'll do swim team this summer. He's 5," she said of son Parker, waiting for the next class.

"He can get back and forth. He's learning independence and strokes."

Parker's favorite thing to do in the water?

"Jump in," he said.

Interested in lessons? Contact the downtown Belleville YMCA at 233-1243. Cost is $41 for members; $76 for non-members. The next 7-week session, Feb. 24 to April 13, is enrolling now.

Are some kids naturally better swimmers? "It depends on their comfort level," said Danielle. "The more comfortable they are, the quicker they can move up to the next level. Some may need a lot more work but will turn into good swimmers. It's best to start as young as you can to get as comfortable as you can." She suggests starting with the Mom and Me classes.

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