Program gives tots head start in swimming Classes also teach parents water safety


Some of the swimsuits around the Western Maryland College pool this summer are covering the bodies of real babes.

No, that's not a sexist observation. For half an hour each weekday morning, the diaper set -- 6 months to 3 years of age -- takes to the water to splash, play, learn not to be afraid and gain a foundation for swimming lessons later.

The "Water Babies" program runs in two-week sessions through Aug. 22. The fee is $25 per session.

"Even those who are too young for swimming can enjoy the water," instructor Cara Ober said. "We get them used to the water and get parents to understand [water] safety with their kid."

Safety was a major reason Lauri Schmidt of Westminster brought 11-month-old Alexander to the class. The Schmidt family has a boat and goes swimming often, she said.

Alexander took to the water like the proverbial duckling, playing with his inflatable black and white dolphin and floating on his stomach with a supporting hand from his mother or instructor Mike Fuggitti.

Water Babies is part of Western Maryland's first venture into a summer swim program.

The Carroll County YMCA had used the college pool for swim classes but moved into a new building with a pool at the end of last summer, leaving WMC with unused pool time.

"We have this resource available, and we'd like to generate some money with it," said Barry Bosley, WMC director of facilities management and auxiliary services.

The swim program began June 21. Classes have been small so far, which Mr. Bosley said is desirable at the beginning.

"We haven't done a lot of marketing," he said. "We wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with the program and that the instructors could get a feel for what works and what doesn't."

The program also includes a preschool phase in three progressive levels for ages 3 to 5 and an elementary phase in four progressive levels for children 6 to 12.

A planned adult water aerobics class was canceled because of lack of enrollment, but is being offered again to see if it attracts the minimum 15 registrants.

For the Water Babies classes, parents bring favorite water toys from home to help the youngsters feel at ease. Inflatable animals, balls and even a yellow plastic duck float in the shallow end of the pool during the lessons.

Kimmie Howell, 2, of Eldersburg, bounced up and down in the water like a veteran aquanaut and eagerly jumped off the side of the pool into her mother's arms.

But it was quite a change from when Kimmie came to her first session of the Water Babies program three weeks ago, said her mother, Debi.

"She's not a risk taker and she's not good in new situations," Mrs. Howell said. "The first week, she clung to me."

Kimmie's mother praised Ms. Ober and Mr. Fuggitti for helping the little girl feel comfortable in the water.

"It's a wonderful program," Mrs. Howell said. The instructors provide ideas that parents can use in playing with their children, such as rolling them over in the water from stomach to back, she said.

Nicole Segala of Westminster made her swimming debut in a green bathing suit with ruffles, but the 21-month-old wasn't having any part of the Water Babies program. She spent the half-hour crying and clinging to her mother.

"My husband and I were both water safety instructors at one time, and we just wanted her to understand a little more about it," Wendy Segala said.

From the safety of the pool apron after her lesson, Nicole eyed the water warily. But she didn't say she wouldn't try again.

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