It’s never too soon to start kids swimming

  • Simone Roth-Katz,3 swims with her mother, Esther Roth -Katz at the YMCA in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Simone Roth-Katz, 3 swims with her mother, Esther Roth-Katz at the YMCA in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Esther Roth -Katz holds her daughter, Simone Roth-Katz,3, while they watch a group taking a lesson at the at the YMCA in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Esther Roth-Katz says it is the safety, but also the recreational benefit that prompted her to sign her daughter, Simone, up for lessons at the YMCA. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Elizabeth Emerick,3, swims in a class with instructor Nicole Seligman at the YMCA in Northamtpon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “The earlier they become comfortable in the water, the better (their) results when it does come time to learning the skills,” says Nicole Seligman, left, a swimming instructor at the YMCA in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Seligman gives a hand to Elizabeth Emerick, 3, during swim class. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Elizabeth Emerick chases floating balls and ducks as part of her swimming lesson. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 5/22/2018 3:43:10 PM

A fleet of five preschoolers grasping white foam swimming noodles, flanked by swimming instructor Nicole Seligman, splashed their way down the length of the Hampshire Regional YMCA’s kiddie pool in Northampton on a recent Thursday morning, enthusiastic cheers from adults in the poolside bleachers urged them on.

“I think she has progressed,” said Juliette Mooers of Easthampton watching her 5-year-old daughter, Sierra, in the learn-to-swim class. “This is her third session, and today she was swimming without a noodle.”

During the half-hour class, Seligman, who is the Y’s aquatics director, led the children through a series exercises that included jumping into the pool and grabbing the edge, blowing bubbles and swimming with foam kick boards. The idea is to help the kids get used to the water while learning basic swimming movements.

Teaching children to swim should be something that every parent considers, said Rachael Yaseen, 30, of Hadley, a front-desk employee at the Y and mother to 15-month-old Amir, who has just begun swimming classes.

“We would go to the pool, before, but I was uneasy with it. I (enrolled) so I’d feel better in the water with him.”

The earlier the better

While professionals say there’s no best age for children to start swimming lessons, kids who are introduced to water early have a better chance of becoming proficient swimmers, said Seligman, who has taught thousands of people to swim.

“The earlier they become comfortable in the water, the better (their) results when it does come time to learning the skills,” she said. The youngest child she’s ever seen swim independently was about 3, she says.

Classes at the Y start for children as young as 6 months old with parent and child classes intended to acclimate kids up to 3 years old to water. Private lessons and open pool time is also available for swimmers of all ages.

Emergencies can happen within seconds, Seligman says, and a child who is not used to the water tends to react with panic. As a result, any amount of water — even just a foot deep — can be dangerous, such as in a small kiddie pool.

“When they fall down they don’t understand that all they need to do is stand up,” she said. “The water isn’t above their head, but they panic.”

A bad experience like that can result in a lifelong fear of water, something that is hard to overcome in adulthood, she says.

Jennifer Butler, aquatics coordinator at Roots Aquatic and Fitness Center in Westfield agrees.

”It’s so important to get kids in (water) at a young age so that fear isn’t there.”

Many children find water scary, she says.

“If we can get parents and children in the water together, they can learn to be safe.”

Butler, who has taught swimming for 15 years, introduced a swimming class at Roots Aquatic and Fitness Center for children starting at 3 months old. Instructors at Roots encourage parents to make swimming fun for their kids, even if they themselves aren’t comfortable in the water.

Babies are introduced to water at the Roots in a special pool that slopes gradually from a dry edge into four feet of water.

“It really gives them a place to stand. They’re able to sit and roll around, it’s a great place for them to float on their back. It helps them learn at their own pace,” Butler said.

Students at Roots also are introduced to dangerous situations that could happen outside of the pool such as falling into a body of water or breaking through ice. In order to simulate those situations, children also have lessons in their street clothes, and experience what it’s like to face a water emergency in a controlled environment with instructors nearby.

“We want them to be in an environment where they’re comfortable, so they never experience it alone. We also teach them what to do if they ever fall into the ice, or cold water,” Butler said.

Life-long fun

That’s what the Yaseens are seeking for their baby at the YMCA. Rachel Yaseen swam occasionally growing up. But her husband, Nesser Yaseen, 32, a physical trainer at the YMCA, never learned. Both join Amir in the water in his class.

The Y’s learn-to-swim group session, which are seven to eight weeks long, are tiered and progress through six skill-based courses beginning with the parent and child classes held in the Y’s 3-to-4-foot deep heated kiddie pool. Classes for older children are held in the Y’s regulation-size pool.

Once students have learned to swim well, the YMCA has a competitive swim team, the Dolphins, where students can put the skills they’ve learned in classes into practice.

Abigail Murphy, 15, a swimming instructor who is also on the swimming team, learned to swim at the Y and progressed through the tiered program.

Now in high school, she says, she’s glad she learned how to swim as a young child because of the health and social benefits she has enjoyed. Murphy points to increased endurance and strength as benefits in a low-impact physical activity that doesn’t pose a risk for injury.

“It’s not an impact sport. It’s not like running. It’s not bad on your knees at all,” she said.

Learning the basics

Esther Roth-Katz of Northampton, who was practicing in the kiddie pool with her 3-year-old daughter, Simone after a parent and child beginner class, says it is the safety, but also the recreational benefit that prompted her to sign her daughter up.

Roth-Katz swam often when she was a child.

“We always start out by practicing getting in and out of the water,” she said. She notes that children also are instructed to listen to their parents at all times around water.

In addition, she says, young students also are taught what to do, such as calling an adult, if they see someone else in the water who is in need of help.

Parents are shown how to hold their child in the water in a way that encourages them to float, with one hand supporting the head and another under the back, helping the youngster to achieve buoyancy.

Lessons like these promote safety and fun when the environment is less controlled.

“Maybe it’s something you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of exercise,” Seligman said. “It’s something that could help prevent a drowning or save your life.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at

How to connect

For more information on the Hampshire Regional YMCA’s swimming programs visit

To find out more about Roots Aquatic and Fitness Center in Westfield visit

Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy