The ability to swim is a very important life skill, yet for various reasons quite a lot of people reach adulthood without ever having been taught to at least float in water. Having observed friends in this situation, it’s been clear that it’s a lot more difficult to learn at a later age when you’ve lost that total fearlessness of youth. We felt it was important to foster a love of water early in our son’s life. It’s also reassuring to know that your child has some familiarity with water should something unfortunate happen. Just knowing not to panic at suddenly being underwater could provide him with a few extra life-saving seconds. Neither of us are going to be winning medals for our swimming prowess any time soon, but I can at least stay afloat in water, and Lee would be a stronger swimmer. Ideally we wanted the Rascal to be comfortable in the water from an early age so that he would be able to learn the basics of swimming early in his life. The fact that it’s an excellent form of exercise is a big bonus considering the obesity epidemic. Once he masters the basics of keeping himself afloat, how strong a swimmer he becomes will be his choice as he grows older and develops his own interests.
There are various swim programs for babies around Dublin, but by far the most recommended (and also the most expensive!) was WaterBabies. This franchise has been around in the UK for a long time, and new locations have been popping up all around Dublin. A bit of online research indicated that the lessons are very well structured and are designed to teach water safety from a young age. The negative side of having such organised classes is the expense. You have to sign up for a full term of 10 weeks at upto €20 a class. It’s quite a commitment to make as you can’t cancel a class if you can’t attend it. We decided to enroll baby the Rascal for a term and see how it went. Getting out the door on time with a baby is no mean feat. Getting them out the door and into a swimming pool is more challenging. But getting them back out of the pool, and doing the balancing act of drying and changing both yourself and them is a herculean feat. And all this for the sake of a mere 20 minutes actually in the water.
At just over 12 weeks old, baby the Rascal had his first encounter with a swimming pool at Harolds Cross Hospice. It’s a nice, bright, open pool with natural light and plenty of space for a partner to sit and observe. If all the parents sign off on it, you’re free to take some photos of your baby doing the lesson, which were a nice memento for us to have. Classes of parents and babies file in and out of the water for their lessons, ranging from the very young who may have to be coaxed into the water, to the older and more advanced children who are raring to jump in. Our class consisted mostly of babies a little older than Rascal. Some of them howled at the strange environment and didn’t seem comfortable being in the water at all for the duration of the term. Between massage classes and baby yoga every week, the noise and crowds of people weren’t new to Rascal which helped. In fact, taking him into the pool for the first time was a bit of an anti-climax. He seemed mostly oblivious to what was going on around him. No real reaction to the fact that he was in the water and surrounded by other babies. The first time he was dunked under the water he merely sneezed three times and looked slightly confused. As many older babies wailed their way through the weekly lessons, our son seemed fairly indifferent to the whole experience. We couldn’t say he was particularly enjoying the lessons for sure, but at least they were relatively peaceful up until it was time to get changed afterwards. That, he protested very loudly. Then would conk out in the car on the way home, exhausted.
We’d chosen to take Saturday morning lessons so that he would learn to ‘swim’ with his mother and father. Swimming can be a great bonding experience, and it’s also nice for the whole family to be familiar with getting into the water. We made it to every single lesson except for one where the Rascal was miserable with a nasty cold. Missing one class isn’t a big problem apart from paying for a class you didn’t do. You can easily catch up the following week. By the end of term we could see a steady progress as the lessons slowly but surely built on each other. It’s not much fun dragging yourself out of the house every week and getting a wriggly (probably screaming) baby changed and in and out of the water. But you can’t argue with the quality of the lessons as you see your baby progressing throughout the term. What we didn’t sign up for though, was the optional professional photographer session. That’s astonishingly expensive, and tempting as the beautiful pictures are, we really didn’t need to spend more on a couple of images than we were on the entire term.
It’s made very clear when you sign up for Waterbabies that they will automatically rebook you for the next term unless you notify them that you no longer wish to attend. As there’s often a waiting list to join the classes, this is a reasonable way of ensuring that no one accidentally loses their place. We got plenty of advance notice of the deadlines for opting out of any further classes. However we were very happy that Rascal was doing so well and felt that he would really benefit from a second term. We were probably lucky to have started him early enough that the water wasn’t too strange to him, beginning at a later stage might well have been more traumatic for him to deal with. We went ahead with a second 10 week term, but in the Kilmainham Hilton on Friday mornings.
This was really different to the previous term, as the pool was in the bowels of the hotel. No natural light. The pool itself was quite cramped and very dark compared to what we were used to. However the routines and rhymes were all the same, and baby the Rascal adjusted quickly to the change in scenery. The babies in this class were all experienced and comfortable about being in the water. Not many parents will willingly sign up for a second term if their baby has screamed through the previous one. By the end of the second term we were submerging him several times during a lesson. He was just starting to really react to the lessons as the term was ending. Now at 8 months old, he was well aware of his surroundings and growing more and more enthusiastic about being in the water. The last few lessons he chatted to himself and splashed about merrily. He never really took well to floating on his back, but everything else was just another fun game to him. Finally we were seeing a positive reaction to the weekly adventures in water.
We didn’t continue with lessons at this point though. We had moved house, and felt we couldn’t really justify the expense of another term right then. Instead we started to bring him to the swimming pool regularly ourselves to practice what we’d learnt so it wouldn’t be forgotten. His face lights up now when he realises he’s about to get in the water. The bonus to not doing a lesson is that we can both get into the water with him and run through the exercises in a much more relaxed manner. We have definitely achieved our primary goal of making him comfortable and very happy in the water. I have mixed feelings about ending our WaterBabies adventure. The cost and time commitment were heavy, but he progressed so much during the lessons. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a term to anyone with a young baby. It’s a great bonding experience for mothers and fathers to have with their babies, and the start of learning a valuable skill that they’ll have for life. Perhaps we’ll yet find ourselves back to class to continue our water baby journey.