ST. ALBANS — Question: What do you get when you put babies in a pool?
Answer: Lots of splashing, laughing and happy moms, dads and babies.
It’s a no-brainer, right?
Maybe not for everyone. But swimming has in fact been beneficial for infants, which is why Branon’s Pool in St. Albans holds a free “Waterbabies” class twice a week. Supported through a Building Brighter Futures grant, the sessions are taught by Swanton resident Laurel McWilliams in three- or fourth-month cycles and each class lasts for about 45 minutes.
During that time, parents wade around the lukewarm, aqua-blue water while holding their babies, practice going underwater with their little ones, sing and pool-dance to “The Wheels On The Bus,” catch their children as they try jumping from the edge of the pool, and perhaps most exciting of all, wait at the bottom as their kids use the water slide.
“[We make] it fun,” said McWilliams before Wednesday’s session. “They’re kind of naturals in the water.”
McWilliams, who is 26, has taught at Branon’s Pool full-time for three years, and this is her second year leading “Waterbabies” classes. Children up to the age of two can attend with their parents.
“When I was 16, I started teaching for Swanton Recreation,” she said. Once that program closed, McWilliams taught swimming lessons in her family’s in-ground pool.
When Branon’s approached McWilliams about teaching “Waterbabies” two years ago, she was a little unsure at first.
“I was very nervous when they had approached me,” she said. “It took me a little while to get comfortable.”
Now, McWilliams wanders around the pool during the sessions, helping parents and leading them all in some pool songs and accompanying baby-dances.
“It just turned out much better than I thought,” she said. She added that anywhere between 15 and 20 parent-baby pairs show up for each swimming session.
Seeing such active participation is encouraging, since McWilliams said it is
important for parents to introduce their children to water early on so they can learn to swim, especially in Franklin and Grand Isle counties where natural water bodies are nearby.
“Any exposure is good exposure,” said McWilliams. “Just expose them as early as possible. I think that prevents them from that psychological fear that forms as they get older.”
The youngest participant in Wednesday’s session, for instance, was Bryce, the 12-week-old son of Highgate resident Amy Lothian.
McWilliams pointed out that not only is the swimming class a chance for children to learn, but it’s also a place for parents and children to grow closer.
“A lot of it is like bonding for the parent and the child, which I also think is very important,” she said. In the pool, mothers and fathers smiled, laughed and played with their young ones with no distractions except the excitement of those other parents and babies around them.
McWilliams added of the swimming activity, “It’s also healthy for the baby. Stronger lungs, stronger heart, stronger bones.”
Whatever the reason parents may have for attending McWilliams’s “Waterbabies” sessions, there’s little question why little ones want to go. This reporter got to take a dunk along with the parents and kids this week and has to admit: It’s a lot of fun.
“We come every week,” said Swanton resident Andrea Bushey as she readied her 22-month-old, Olivia. “Every morning she goes, ‘Swimming pool?’”
Those who wish to attend an upcoming “Waterbabies” sessions can call Branon’s Pool at 527-7957. Sessions are being held on Mondays at 6 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:15 p.m. Pre-registration, proof of residency in Franklin or Grand Isle Counties, and waterproof diapers are all required. Parents and babies can attend only one session per week, and every child participating must have an adult with them.