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Born To Swim


I first heard about baby swimming when I saw an article in the local paper.  As an experienced coach who loved working with toddlers, it came as no surprise to anyone that I had soon joined the company and started teaching Water Babies classes in Leeds and Harrogate. 


What did come as rather more of a shock Ė to me more than most Ė was that, less than two years into the job, my own baby, Frankie, had become one of my youngest clients.  When he was a mere nine days old his proud dad, Mark, took him to his first lesson Ė although, I hasten to add, at that stage I wasnít the one in the pool teaching him.


I managed to keep working through nearly all of my pregnancy, which was actually a great way of staying fit.  Given that most of Frankieís first nine months were spent suspended in fluid surrounded by warm water, itís really not much of a surprise that heís always been as confident in the pool as he is on land. Iíd imagine not many one year olds celebrate their first birthday with a swimming party - and insist on remaining in the water the whole time.


Thereís something pretty magical about teaching babies to swim, but itís even better teaching your own.  New parents love the excitement and stimulation of bringing their newborns to classes and itís also a great way of meeting other like-minded people.  I teach on Saturday mornings and I always look forward to the point when Frankie and his dad will appear at the side of the pool, Frankie champing at the bit to enter the water.  As a teacher Iím constantly extolling the virtues of teaching your baby to swim, but seeing Frankieís confidence and sharing in his enjoyment first hand, now Iím even more evangelical than I was before.


Babiesí brains grow more rapidly in their first year of life than at any other time.  Any movement they make stimulates this growth Ė thickening up the nerve fibre bundles that connect one side of the brain to the other and making it function more efficiently.  Some of the most beneficial movement is that which also stimulates their balance (which, again, is important for developing the brain), which is why nature instinctively has you rocking, bouncing and swinging your baby.  In baby swimming we do countless exercises that involve bouncing your baby across the pool, swishing them from side to side, twirling them around.  Babies also benefit from gentle kicking and reaching movements, skin to skin contact and the mental stimulation of learning to respond to voice commands.


Thatís just some of the theory Ė and Frankieís highly developed co-ordination skills, verbal dexterity and general state of advancement would, of course, all imply that the theory works!  But more importantly, what strikes me time and time again is something much simpler: namely the rock-steady confidence and delight that children gain from having been exposed to swimming from birth. 


Before I started teaching baby swimming it was a constant bug bear of mine, seeing so many children exposed to water for the first time when they were far too old and risked being immediately terrified by the experience.  Many of my original babies are now toddlers and older.  It never ceases to thrill, seeing them moving about in the water Ė dipping above and below the surface with no apparent distinction between the two.  Iíve got lots two year olds who can already swim two widths of the pool Ė admittedly doing as much time under the water as on the surface.  And talking of two year olds, thereís one little girl who can do an entire length of the pool (and throw in some near perfect backstroke too).


Little Anna is definitely the exception to the rule Ė and baby swimming isnít about hot housing your baby to become the next Ian Thorpe.  Something that people sometimes worry about is that it will be too demanding, imagining perhaps that weíll take a Ďsink or swimí attitude with your precious newborn.  The activity did admittedly start off in a somewhat extreme fashion.  Russian pioneer, Igor Tjarkovsky, kept his own premature daughter in a warm water tank for the greater part of two years and then became known for literally chucking naked newborns into the pool.  However, baby swimming in the UK today is a far gentler discipline.  Apart from anything else, all babies make it very clear what they are prepared to do, and if, for instance, they donít fancy going underwater on any given day then thatís absolutely fine.


Far from complaining, Frankie clamours to go under, and a recent photo shoot showed that he spends most of his time underwater laughing.  Again, it can be a really special experience, hovering beneath the surface and watching your child serenely glide towards you.  Alternatively, itís just as much fun to take a step back and watch a line of six-month-olds, all independently holding onto the rail at the edge of the pool and proudly looking back at you.  Bet they think it beats trying to sit up without falling down any day.


Kim Bennett is soon to start running her own Water Babies classes in Norwich and surrounding areas.  To contact her and find out about other Water Babies classes look up

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