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Posted: Wednesday March 7, 2012, 1:48 PM
Sports: In the Swim
By Jan Wilson

Heading down to family swim at a local pool can provide a great diversion during those dreary days of winter, and get the kids ready for fun at the lakes and recreation centers in the summer ahead. It gets the kids (and you) moving, and can give them an opportunity to learn or perfect their strokes.

Bergen County has many places where families can go to splash around, and many of them offer swim teams as well as private and group instruction. Local instructors say one of the most important things a parent can do is to make sure their children are water safe, which starts with getting comfortable in the pool. While there's no perfect window in which it is easier to teach a child how to swim, you don't want them to lag behind their peers and then become uncomfortable participating in activities involving water. So getting out to your local community center when the weather is still a little nippy can be a great way to get your child a head start on a lifetime of enjoying the water.

"In my experience, the earlier the better for introducing swimming," says Janet Oliver, aquatics director at the Ridgewood YMCA. "At 6 months you can do a parent/child class." The Ridgewood YMCA offers family swim five times a week and lessons almost every day.

Finding a Pool

Matthew Karpinecz, director of aquatics at the Bergen County YJCC, says that when looking to join a pool, go online or call and find the one whose schedule is the best fit and whose classes will meet your family's needs. "We have a lot of family swim time on Sundays, which appeals to many families," he says. Bryan McDonnell, aquatics and multisport specialist at the Wyckoff Family YMCA, suggests taking a look at the facilities before you sign up. "Ensuring that there is adequate supervision for the pools at all times is key," he says. "We pride ourselves on the quality of the lifeguard staff." Oliver adds that lifeguards should be easily identified by what they are wearing and have safety equipment within reach.

All pools are required by New Jersey law to maintain good water quality and have their pools inspected frequently. Oliver says, "The state bathing code requires the chlorine to be checked every two hours, and in fact, once or twice a week we have a company come in and check ours unannounced." You can also ask about the water temperature if you have a child who tends to get cold in the pool. While many lap pools are around 80 degrees, family swim pools tend to be about five degrees warmer.

Staying Safe

Make sure that your child listens to the lifeguards at all times. "It's important that children behave appropriately and not bother other members," says Karpinecz. McDonnell adds that participating frequently in family swim allows your child to practice important safety skills such as getting to the wall or treading water. "It's a fun way for the kids to spend their time in a safe environment," he says. "Moving from the shallow end to the deep end is confidence building. It gives them time to spend with their friends in a fitness oriented structure and not even realize it." v

Beginners

Swim lesson tips from Rachel Newmark, owner and director of SafeSplash Swim School in Hasbrouck Heights:

• Look for instructors who are certified CPR/AED/First Aid/Lifeguarding.

• Instructors should focus on teaching water safety in a fun and methodical way.

• Starting lessons by age 3 can potentially decrease risk of drowning, as the child becomes comfortable in the water and learns safety skills.

• Continue lessons year-round and especially in winter and spring to get ready for the summer swimming season.

What about a swim team?

Some local community centers and Ys have highly competitive swim teams for children as young as 5. This might be a great experience for your child if:

• Your child gravitates toward the pool and is eager to participate in lessons.

• Your child is willing to participate in one primary sport per year, as swim teams practice virtually year-round.

• Your child is willing to spend several days a week – up to 5 or 6 when they are teens – practicing the sport.

• Your child has the mental grit and focus to constantly work on improving his skills in a sport.

• You have the time and ability to devote to driving your child to meets.

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