As soon as infants are able to hold their heads up, they are ready for swim class. So says Nikki Gyenese of Royal Oak, who is the general manager of Goldfish Swim School of Birmingham. That means babies as young as 4 months of age are regulars at the pool.
"Swimming is a child's natural response in water," notes Gyenese, who in addition to her role as manager also gets in the water to instruct. "Kids start kicking as soon as they enter the water. Starting a child in swim lessons at such a young age helps with coordination and instills a healthy appreciation for water. Kids haven't yet developed a fear of water at that age. They respect it."
Gyenese should know. On a daily basis, she is surrounded by babies, toddlers, kids and tweens – all at various levels of skill when it comes to navigating the water.
"I'm not a mom yet, but now I can see why parents are so in love with their kids," she says. "They're so witty. They say the darnedest things. Not a day goes by when I don't laugh."
Gyenese feels like a big kid herself getting to use her imagination all day, every day.
"When practicing back floating, an essential safety skill, we have the kids look up at the ceiling and tell us what they see," she says. "They'll see Thomas the Train, aliens or make up long elaborate stories. It's so fun to witness their imaginations at work."
Despite the fun, it's not always all smiles and laughter at the pool. Separation anxiety and fear are common among newcomers.
"Once I was working with this 2 1/2-year-old boy who just couldn't stop crying. We tried everything to calm him down. Finally, it was food that got him to stop. I asked him what he had eaten for breakfast, and that was all it took. Then we geared all of our activities around food. We floated on our backs like pancakes. We kicked our feet like a blender making a smoothie. We scooped our arms like we were forks."
For those parents still hesitant to enroll their child in swim lessons, Gyenese offers two incentives any mom or dad can appreciate: a hearty appetite and sound sleep.
"Swimming makes kids hungry, and they also tend to sleep better after swimming," she notes. "Bonus for mom and dad!"