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Baby splash: Learning to swim can start early

By: LINDA NAVARRO
February 18, 2013
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photo - Seven-month-old Ejijah Flack floats back to the surface of the pool after being pushed underwater by his mother and swim instructor Melissa Flack Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the Mermaid Cove Swim School. Starting out in the bathtub, Elijah has been learning to love the water almost since birth. He can now float by himself and handle being underwater in the pool. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO/THE GAZETTE
Seven-month-old Ejijah Flack floats back to the surface of the pool after being pushed underwater by his mother and swim instructor Melissa Flack Saturday, February 2, 2013 at the Mermaid Cove Swim School. Starting out in the bathtub, Elijah has been learning to love the water almost since birth. He can now float by himself and handle being underwater in the pool. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO/THE GAZETTE 

It was a typical day at the lake for a local family. Some fun and some sun.

But as their boat cruised along, the 5-year-old boy leaned over the side and fell into the water. The boat circled quickly as the boy wasn’t wearing a life jacket. But there was no reason to panic. The little guy was calm, floating carelessly in the water.

Like the little water babies peacefully floating on their backs recently in the salt-water pool at Mermaid Cove Swim School, the boy had been prepared for a potential accident with infant water-survival-skills training and then more advanced classes.

How early can babies learn those water-survival skills, moms on Facebook regularly query.

“Six months old or a pediatrician’s recommendation, depending on the child’s developmental level,” said Renita “Ren” Stanton of Mermaid Cove.

Other organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, lean more toward the 1-year-old time frame.

Why can’t kids just use floaties (inflatable arm bands)? is one frequent question for instructors such as Stanton.

“If your child doesn’t know how to float or swim, floaties can be dangerous because they can come off or the floaties can flip the kids over into the water,” Stanton said.

An exception is swimsuits with sewn-in floaties, but they’re expensive, she said.

Ask Stanton when she was first in the water and she laughs. Because her father was a competitive swimmer, “I could swim before I could walk,” she said.

Fellow instructor Melissa Flack started her swimming career when she was 3 months old and went on to compete for Cheyenne Mountain High School.

Now the mother of three boys, Flack helps her babies start floating “as soon as the belly button cord falls off,” she said. Baby Elijah is 7 months old and a regular at Mermaid Cove, as are his older brothers, Noah and Evan.

The tiniest students are taught to flip over onto their backs and float when they fall into the water. After age 2, they can immediately roll onto their backs and float to the side of the pool. They also learn to kick in the water.

Safety is a major factor for parents who sign up their kids for classes. As spring break and summer vacations approach, swim schools become busier.

Maddie LeVan is 2 and started learning infant survival skills last May, when the family was planning a trip. The vacation house had a pool, and “we didn’t want to worry,” said Maddie’s mother, Sarah.

Blake Hilyard is not quite 3, yet no stranger to the deep end at the pool. His mom, Maria, said she took him to class “for safety reasons” when he was almost a year old.

“If we go traveling and there’s a pool, he can go in by himself while we watch him,” she said.

Baby sister Abigail, due this month, will learn the basics when she’s 9 or 10 months old.

Working with Blake, instructor Flack held him above the water and then dropped him straight down.

“The vertical position is the drowning position,” said Flack, “so if they can get out of that, they’ll be safe.”

Blake came right up to the surface and rolled over onto his back.

The Lockett family is headed by two triathletes, mom Sally and dad Casey. Sally has taught swimming, “but infant survival is a whole different thing,” she maintains. She watched son Cai, 17 1/2 months old, as he was free floating on his third day of infant survival class.

“I want him to have a head start,” she said. “The sooner they start, the easier they pick it up.”

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