Floating & fun

Adam Griffiths

Students teach infants, toddlers to swim

The beat of a runner lapping the track. The whir of another running on a treadmill. The clank of completing a set on the bench. All faint sounds that echo through the almost empty Student Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday mornings.

Around 10 a.m., however, the shuffle and patter of tiny feet trickle in through the natatorium doors. A sea of brown, black and blond hair crowds around the edge of the wading pool.

Dan Gans, junior biochemistry and pre-medicine major, and Kylan Ward, sophomore psychology major, take attendance, just as they have since the first Saturday in September.

Each weekend, Gans and Ward teach swimming lessons at the rec center. In the morning, Gans teaches the preschool class with children ages 3 and 4; Ward teaches the Diaper Dolphins class with children ranging from 6 months to 3 years old.

As they finish attendance, Gans’ class follows him to the wading pool. Parents, with their infants and toddlers in arms, enter the open pool area for Ward’s class. One student in orange swim shorts tries to make a break for it, knowledgeably pressing the blue handicap exit button. His mother thwarts his escape.

Gans, who has been teaching lessons since he was 15, said his class directly prepares students for the higher levels of instruction.

“It’s all about developing a comfort level,” he said. “By the time they’re done in my class, they should be able to submerge their body, blow bubbles and have a feel for floating.”

“Do you remember how to do that?” he asks his group of students, who stand against the wall of the wading pool, paying various levels of attention.

One boy in black swim shorts spreads his arms and raises his head.

“Like this,” he exclaims, demonstrating.

In Ward’s class, many of the children are getting their first experiences in water. Like Gans, she also focuses on getting each child comfortable in the pool.

“You can’t force them to do anything,” she said. “Some are fine jumping in from the edge or blowing bubbles. Others just float around with their parents.”

One mother is doing just that with her infant daughter. Ward approaches them with a pool toy.

“Come and get it,” Ward said.

Extending her arms, the infant inches her way toward the soft ball in her mother’s arms. Upon reaching her target, she sticks it in her mouth.

Christina Gable, who has a child in each class, said she appreciates this service the rec center provides.

“We took classes at the YMCA,” she said, “but they’re better organized here.”

Melissa Newcomer, a 1998 Kent Alumna, said she enrolled her son in the Diaper Dolphins class so he would develop what she called “a healthy fear” of water.

“They learn the basics and get comfortable,” she said. “But they learn that they need to be careful.”

At the end of class, the Diaper Dolphins have a round of London Bridge. Gans’ students finish up after practicing kicking for the last part of the session.

Parents appear with towels that swallow each child. In minutes, the infants, toddlers and their parents have cleared the pool deck as the next two classes line up for attendance.

“I encourage everyone to swim,” Gans added. “I think it’s because I have such a passion for it that I enjoy teaching it so much.”

Ward said she likes teaching the beginning swimmers more than older, experienced students because she can have fun with the infants and toddlers.

“It’s like playtime,” she said. “Learning through fun is the goal.”

And if anything is obvious during the 30-minute classes, it’s that.

At one point, Gans asks his students if they have seen The Little Mermaid. One boy answers by raising his foot.

Contact features reporter Adam Griffiths at [email protected].