Babies and toddlers splash happily under the watchful gaze of Water Baby mascot Bubba the Whale. It looks like fun and games, but these children are learning crucial safety skills necessary for life in a water-bound country where the ability to swim is essential.
A Lifelong Sport
At Water Babies, swimming is a safety issue and a life skill. Children learn to jump in only with a grownup present to keep it fun and safe. “Swimming is excellent exercise and a great life skill, it's a fantastic early sport that can be enjoyed for life,” says Water Babies director and teacher Willemijn MacDonald. Since 2014 the international franchise Water Babies has been teaching children in the Netherlands their first swimming lessons in a cozy, family-oriented atmosphere. The lessons are designed for parents and children together, in such a way that family bonds are tightened and friendships are made while children learn to swim.
Potentially Lifesaving Skills
Sadly, drowning is the third cause of death of children under five years old worldwide, so the sooner a child learns to be safe around water, the better. Very young children usually respond well to such instruction, which makes sense as they are closest to the water environment of the womb. Potentially lifesaving skills such as how to get to the side, how to hold on, get out of the water, or swim are possible to teach from birth. Water Babies is extremely proud to have contributed to saving a large number of children's lives. Former students who have fallen into canals, fast-running water, private pools, have survived thanks to skills learned at Water Babies.
Water is everywhere in Holland, and you just want to know your child can save themselves in the water ~ Willemijn MacDonald
Willemijn loves watching children learn to swim. Classes are divided into chapters catering to children from newborn to four years old and based around basic numeracy and literacy to incorporate those skills as children learn to swim. “We consider each individual's needs, and we are ready when your baby is ready. The youngest children are supported the most with a parent joining them in the water and through sign language communication. It doesn’t matter if parents love swimming or are nervous because everyone is equal in the water and lessons are adapted according to needs. The chapters are aimed at every level to prepare children to learn the four major strokes: front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly,” she explains. Water Babies chapters prepare children to attain their swim diplomas as they get older.
Benefits of Toddler Swimming
Consecutive but flexible chapters run from one to 17 with ten lessons each. “Levels are based on age, stage, and child development,” Willemijn explains. She stresses the benefits of toddler swimming. “The lessons provide parents an opportunity for a half-hour of skin on skin time with their infants as they learn new skills in a new environment. Learning to swim can aid children in sleeping and feeding patterns because they’re exercising, and it's good for emotional, cognitive, and physical development,” she says.
Teaching children to swim and preparing them to attain their future swim diplomas is Willemijn’s favorite part of the job. “I’m a teacher and a mentor, and it's great to see three-year-olds, who I started teaching as babies, dive right in and swim for ten meters. There is no greater feeling than seeing how proud they are,” she says.
Water Babies teaches in Dutch and English. Lessons are available in pools in Amsterdam Noord, Amsterdam West, Amstelveen, Blaricum, and Huizen. Classes are available to join until the end of February. The new term starts in May.
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Photo credit: waterbabies.nl