In a country where statistically, families have even greater access to swimming pools than local grocery stores, it is incredibly important to make sure your children are not only water confident, but also water safe.
We admit, we learned that lesson the hard way. Several bouts of chronic ear infections prevented our two older children from taking to the water regularly until they were past the age of two. By that time, they were both wary of the wet stuff, and it took a further two years before they both learned to swim independently. We didn’t want our baby daughter to follow in her big brothers’ footsteps to be nervous around water, hence our first foray into baby swimming classes aged eight months.
Upon arriving at The Lakes Club poolside, just one of three locations around town where you can take your little ones for a BabySplash class (you can also go the Dubai Ladies Club and The Meadows) it’s immediately clear that this is probably one of the noisiest sessions we’ve ever attended. Seven babies, aged between four and 10 months, are already in the water enjoying themselves as we wait for the earlier ToddlerSplash class to finish. Helen Bone-Knell, founder of BabySplash, is happy for the fun and games to continue once the class begins. While the purpose of the class is a serious one, it’s very much about everyone enjoying themselves, too.
The lesson starts with a thumping rendition of Old MacDonald had a pond, during which the babies are encouraged to splash gently, while mums sprinkle water over their heads and faces. Surprisingly, not one baby makes a fuss.
Next up is the duckie chase, It’s seems Helen has come with an inexhaustible supply of bathtime ducks, balls, fish, watering cans and more. What fun!
The group sings a noisy, splashy version of The duckie on the bus and after that there’s some serious leg work, assisted by colourful balls. Like a donkey following a carrot on a stick, the babies are encouraged to chase after their ball while ‘swimming’ supported on their tummies, all the way across the pool and back again. Then, they have to do it all over again while lying on their backs and kicking, while the mums try to keep them interested by singing more watery nursery rhymes.
After that, we move on to a game called pass the parcel. It’s a fairly radical move that involves actual, facial submergence. Each mother passes their baby to Helen, who in turn, passes the baby back, but only after she’s gently submerged them under the water. Predictably, there are a few surprised coughs, squawks and outraged leg-kicks once the babies come up again, but it is all swiftly forgotten. One alpha mum, who has clearly been practicing in her home pool, puts the rest of the class to shame by calmly ducking her little boy while passing him to Helen, so he goes under twice when she gives him back. And he doesn’t even gasp. We all feel a bit inadequate and vow to do more baby-dunking before the next class.
‘One of the best things about this is how well they sleep afterwards – and how hungry they are,’ fellow mum Katelijn Van Asch tells me. I note her son Cedric, aged nine months, looks remarkably calm and collected. ‘Oh, he loves the water – he’s very relaxed in the pool. A bit too relaxed actually. He fell asleep in last week’s lesson,’ she explains.
By now, the babies are completely at ease, not even noticing if they are splashed. Pudgy hands enthusiastically slap the water, while others take sneaky sips from the pool while their mums aren’t looking. We do a few more songs – The Grand old Duke of York is a good one for bouncing the babies up and down in the water, and soon after that, it’s time to get out.
While the mothers are keen to get dried off (all that dunking, singing, bouncing and duck chasing is quite exhausting) the babies are not so happy, and a couple of them protest loudly when removed from the pool.
Marianne Garnaud lets her six-month-old daughter Serena enjoy an end-of-session paddle. ‘I’ve been coming here for a month now, and I’ve really noticed a difference in Serena’s water confidence,’ she tells me.
‘She loves the water – although she didn’t like the dipping bit at first – now she’s used to it, and she holds her chin up much better too. I’ve also met new friends through the class, which has been lovely.’
We leave feeling much more confident about taking our little one in the pool – especially now we’ve learned a few tips about getting her to kick properly and to hold her head up. It will all be worth it, not just because she’ll be learning a new skill, but because she’ll hopefully sleep for ages afterwards, too.
Helen’s top pool tips
Babies shouldn’t start swimming in public pools until their first vaccinations are completed at three months.
The pool should be 29-30 degrees all year around so that bub doesn’t get too chilly.
Babies know when parents are stressed out. smile a lot and be encouraging when they first start swimming.
Get them used to being in the pool by dripping water on the back of their head, and slowly moving your hand forward so the water gradually drips onto their face.