"Each time a kid goes up a level they are being challenged on new stuff to make them better swimmers," said Ben F. Marshall, pool manager at the YMCA of Southeast Missouri.
The YMCA offers two sessions of swimming lessons - one in June and one in July. During the two-week sessions, 45-minute lessons are offered to all age groups in the morning and evening.
"It just gives parents a variety of times they can choose from," said Chris Hodgkiss, program director at the YMCA. "We offer all levels both in the morning and in the evening to try and accommodate everyone."
Swimming lessons are offered to children beginning at age 3, when a preschool program helps them get used to the water. "We're basically trying to get them comfortable with being in the water," Hodgkiss said, adding the preschoolers don't learn a lot of swimming strokes.
Once a child is comfortable in the water and ready to start learning more techniques, he or she advances to different levels, learning different skills and strokes. Children are evaluated daily and at the end of each session, with recommendations for whether they are ready for the next level or need extra practice, Marshall said.
The classes try to teach children to swim without any help "so they don't have to rely on their parents the whole time," Marshall said. Skills like floating and treading water helps children remain more calm in a crisis, he added.
"We want kids, whether they're swimming in our pool at the Y or at their own personal pool at home or a neighborhood pool, to be safe when they're swimming," Hodgkiss said.
Norma Miles, whose children Joe, 3, and Allison, 6, have taken lessons at both sessions this year at the YMCA, agreed that safety is number one. "It's the most important thing," she said, adding that it isn't always stressed in other sports like T-ball and soccer.
Safety extends to proper pool behavior, learning basic CPR and how to help fellow swimmers in trouble, Marshall said. In fact, knowing the pool rules is a must to pass swim lessons.
That makes parents like Miles happy. She recalled a day when Marshall told a rowdy group to calm down, explaining why they needed to behave. "I really like that," she said.
Although both of her children have had private swimming lessons, the YMCA program has helped them excel, especially 6-year-old Allison, Miles said. "She has really made great strides," Miles said. "It gives her confidence."
Allison advanced levels after the June session and has learned to swim and dive. And for the first time this summer, with her teacher's recommendation, Allison has been taking off her inflatable armbands, Miles said.
Unlike most young children, 3-year-old Joe loves the water. That makes it "even more important that he starts early because he is very confident around it," his mother said. "It's pretty scary for us having him around the water with him not able to swim well enough to save his life."
For parents like Miles who want their children to learn safe swimming, Marshall offered a few tips.
"It's never too early to start learning how it swim," he said. Although children must be 3 to take YMCA courses, he recommended using a baby pool, spending time in a bathtub or taking advantage of water baby classes to help their child become accustom to the water.
Parents should be sure their children know what to expect and be ready for water mishaps, like swallowing water, and always keep an eye on their kids, even when a lifeguard is on duty.
Most importantly, children should practice what they learned by taking refresher courses and practicing at home, Marshall said.
"After lessons, we try to go to some other pool and practice what we learned," Miles said. "Just getting your kids in the water and letting them practice what they learned makes a good difference."