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Babies take the plunge
11:09am Thursday 1st May 2008 in At Home
BABIES instinctively hold their breath as soon as they are submerged.
That's the concept behind Water Babies, a swimming programme for babies and toddlers under a year old (and their parents) which is designed to increase children's confidence in - and under water.
It's what's called the dive reflex, which gradually diminishes after 12 months of age.
Water Babies, which has just begun sessions at Five Rivers Leisure Centre in Salisbury, is a structured 40-week programme, which encourages babies as young as two-days-old to take the plunge.
Children don't have the physical strength and lack the co-ordination and motor skills to swim until they are about three-years-old, but with careful supervision they can be taught to swim short distances underwater.
And the benefits of the sessions go beyond the pool.
The programme claims to improve sleeping and eating patterns of babies because, although the half-hour weekly sessions are of a gentle nature, they provide a complete physical work out.
Regular exercise is vital in stimulating a baby's brain.
The freedom to play in the water enables the strengthening of the brain as the body moves and adapts to a new environment.
Flotation devices are not used during the sessions in the belief that armbands create a false sense of security and the company philosophy is to encourage the parent to provide support because it encourages closeness and bonding.
The inclusion of songs and games add to the encouraging, enjoyable and beneficial sessions as a baby's confidence develops through fun.
Running since 2002 and now with over 10,000 clients attending regular weekly sessions in 20 locations across the UK, Water Babies is a rapidly growing franchise.
All its instructors have completed full mainstream swimming teacher's qualifications and are qualified life savers before undergoing Water Babies' own intensive training course.
The award-winning course, voted the UK's best swimming class 2008 by website What's On 4 Little Ones, is run at Five Rivers and at Sandy Balls Leisure Centre at Godshill by Jo Tolley and her husband Steve.
Both are qualified swimming instructors whose own young children, Stanley, 4, and Sidney, 3, swim like fish.
Water Babies sessions are run in blocks of ten and you can choose to continue or not at the end of each block.
"After the first ten weeks, you have all the skills and techniques to support your baby in the water," says Jo.
"You can go away with that - you are not obliged to do the whole course.
"It's about giving confidence and not having the fear of water that so many pre-school children have," says Jo.
Water Babies can take children as soon as parents feel they are ready to go in the water.
"The average age is six weeks old" Jo says.
"Weekend sessions are really popular with Dads."
Total immersion is part of the sessions from the outset, although Jo says the first time is more likely to be a gently dip below the surface.
She says attitudes of parents to the prospect of dunking their offspring varies.
"Parents know what the course involves," she says.
"Mums are usually nervous but excited, but Dads tend to be a bit gung-ho.
"They get very enthusiastic and we have to tell them to calm down a bit."
But she says the sessions are principally geared so that the babies can have fun and at the same time learn essential life skills.
"We try and create an energetic vibrant feel to the lesson," she said, adding that the babies are "learning something positive every week".
Mum Paula Holden, who was attending the first session with 12-week-old Euan, said she was nervous but excited.
Afterwards Paula described the session as "really good" and "positive" for the babies.
"It is a nice way to communicate with them", she said.
Another mother, Lesley Palmer, with 16-week-old Freya, admitted being "quite excited" and said afterwards that she loved the session and hopes to continue through the four stages of the course.
To celebrate a baby's achievement, Water Babies offers the opportunity of having an underwater photo taken on completion of the beginners level.
- Sessions last 30 minutes and cost £11. For more information about Water Babies classes in Salisbury or at Sandy Balls, contact Jo and Steve Tolley on 01202 692485.