By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Children are diving into swim lessons at the Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center. Class registrations are open for children 4 to 12 years old. The sessions last two weeks, Monday through Friday.
Each group of 25 kids has six instructors. In each group, the children are evaluated and then split into groups of five with one instructor.
“In the beginner group, out of the 25, you’re going to have them ranging from ‘don’t let my toes hit the water,’ to ‘I can kind of already swim.’ That’s how big the range is. We put then in small groups based on that,” said Opelika Sportsplex Aquatic Director Bobby Poer.
There are also the Parent and Me classes. “They are designed for parents to learn how to be safe in the water with their very small children, 3 months to 3 years old,” Poer said. “In these classes, the instructor is teaching the parents how to be safe in the water with their child and how to teach them the movements that will help them learn how to swim.”
One mother said her son has never been in a pool. “My son, Stamati, doesn’t know how to swim, and has never been exposed to a pool. He’ll be three soon, so we wanted him to be around water,” said Amy Kapaniris of the ‘Parent and Me’ class. “We have a pool at our apartment complex, and he’s been wanting to go in. We are moving back to Florida soon, and family members have pools, and there is the beach. We want our son to be safe.”
Head lifeguard and Director of Swimming Classes Ali Sanders teaches the ‘Parent and Me’ classes. She said the children aren’t only scared of the water but are afraid of drowning. “Once they realize they aren’t going to drown, we teach them to float and swim and let them know that someone is there for them. They’re usually good with that.”
Sanders said there is one skill all infants to 5 years old need to have to survive in the water. “The best thing to learn is to blow bubbles. That seems like one of the hardest things for young kids to learn. They don’t understand that they can’t breathe under water. Yes, they need to learn to float and get back to the side of the pool, but if they go under and swallow a lot of water, they panic. Once they learn to blow bubbles, they’re swimming across the pool.” Sanders added that the child, with the help of the parent, can practice blowing bubbles while in the tub. She said they can even practice floating while taking a bath.
“We want everyone to take swim lessons, if not with us, then with someone,” Poer said. “Mom and dad can be standing there grilling and turn their back and in one second, all the sudden the toddler is in the pool, doesn’t know how to swim or float. Then you’ve got a disaster. You know when you see or read a story it always starts – the child was right here and then he wasn’t.”
To sign up for swim lessons, visit the Opelika Parks and Recreation website at opelika-al.gov. For a two week swim class it’s $60 for Opelika residents, and $66 outside the city limits.