Instructor Macawley Brown had two reasons for singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to the 4-year-olds in her swim class at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA last month.
First, it encouraged them to stretch out their arms and legs “like a starfish” as they floated on their backs, one by one, with her strong hands supporting them under their shoulders.
And second, a familiar tune can be a calming influence on children who might feel a little nervous.
“Some of them are scared. It’s only natural. My approach is to try to make it not obvious that they’re swimming. We might talk about favorite ice cream flavors or a song,” said Brown, a Harding resident who swims competitively at King’s College
Brown doesn’t remember her own earliest swim lessons, except that she was so very young her mom had to hold her in the water. Similar classes, for children 6 to 24 months old, are offered at the Wilkes-Barre YMCA, where instructors are eager to teach people of every age, up to adults.
“You’re never too old to learn,” aquatics director Tammy Lalli said, mentioning the benefits to older individuals include maintaining flexibility and range of motion as well as having a way to exercise that doesn’t stress your joints.
But for everyone from tiny tots to their great-grandparents, the big advantage of becoming a competent swimmer is you’re much more likely to be safe at lakes, oceanfronts and pools of every size.
“During your life, you’re around water more than you realize. It’s important to know what you’re doing,” said Brown, whose goals with the preschool/kindergarten age group are to have them “front-paddling, back-swimming, going into the deep water supported by (flotation aids) and doing the sidestroke. The most important thing is that they’re comfortable in the water.”
As moms, aunts and siblings watched the class from the vantage point of the YMCA’s balcony, they explained they want their budding mermaids and mermen to do just that — to be comfortable in the water, staying safe and having fun, knowing enough so they won’t panic if they find themselves in water that’s deeper than they expected.
“We don’t have a pool, but my sister-in-law does. And her day-care group might go to Frances Slocum (state park, to swim),” Janine Gutierrez of Shavertown said as she watched 4-year-old Adalyn practicing.
“I want her to be comfortable in the water,” Gutierrez said. “Every child should learn how to swim.”