Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kids Swim

We have had some surprisingly hot days here in Washington, DC, this April, and the cooling system for our apartment building is on the fritz. When the temperature first crept up to near 90 degrees, air inside the building was warm and stifling. It actually felt cooler in the shade outside, especially when a breeze was blowing. Circulating fans came out of residents' closets, and parents with small babies ran out to purchase window air-conditioning units.

On the second oppressive Spring day, my husband called with encouraging news. The "Resonance" water fountain at Columbia Heights Plaza was flowing again after being turned off for the winter. Children gather at the fountain to play under the watchful eye of their parents sitting nearby.
AS and I strolled over to join them, and I was immediately reminded of old documentary photos from the 1950's of city kids splashing in water shooting from New York City fire hydrants. At the Plaza, some children are sopping wet in their street clothes, others come dressed in bathing suits and water shoes, and all are having a great time beating the heat. The fountain was designed by DC Metro Area artist Jann Rosen-Queralt, and it incorporates textile designs from cultures represented in the neighborhood. Water shoots upward from below ground, dancing across the Plaza at intervals when the fountain is running. Youngsters make a game of leaping from one spout to another, trying to avoid getting wet or intentionally jumping in. AS toddles out to the center to join in the fun, bringing to mind another sunny afternoon last summer watching teens wade in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden reflecting pool, surreptitiously gathering silver coins thrown into the fountain by tourists making wishes. Adults on their lunch break from offices nearby sat noshing sandwiches with their pant legs rolled up and their manicured toes dipped into the water.

A friend of mine who is also a new mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, on Coney Island. She and I were discussing our plans to teach our sons to swim when she revealed she had just recently learned to swim herself. Swimming had provided gentle exercise she needed during pregnancy while she rallied from a long bout with severe morning sickness. We agreed it was advantageous for everyone to learn to swim, for fun, exercise, and water safety. She told me that the DC Jewish Community Center (DC JCC) offers swim lessons for children and adults, but I had missed the registration deadline for Spring enrollment. After a brief on-line search, I discovered that DC Department of Parks and Recreation offers swim classes at aquatic facilities throughout the city at even lower cost. Classes fill up quickly, but it is worth a call to both JCC and DPR to see if there are any openings. We were on a waitlist but received a call prior to the first class that space was available.

I registered for the Learn to Swim:
Parent and Child (Level A, ages 6 months to 2 years) class which met 5 times for the low fee of $30 for DC residents. Classes were held at Takoma Aquatic Center on Van Buren Street, NW within 15 minutes walking distance of the Takoma Metro Station. I have also heard good things about the Turkey Thicket and Wilson Aquatic Center locations. The facility and pools at Takoma are very clean, with two large adult pools used for laps and competitive swimming and a separate graded play pool with fountains for kids. The locker rooms are spacious, and there is a separate, smaller family changing room directly off the pool deck. We used this room to change into our suits so that I didn't have to chase after AS in the locker room while attempting to get dressed. Other parents brought strollers down to the locker room via an elevator, left their kids buckled in while they changed, and parked the strollers by the kiddie pool during class time.

Only three children were enrolled in my son's class, so we all got plenty of attention from the instructor. Parents work one-on-one with their children in the water under the direction of the instructor. She had a gentle approach with the kids, respecting their individual comfort levels and praising them as they attempted a new skill. We were encouraged to bring bath toys from home to acclimate our kids more quickly to the unfamiliar environment and to develop positive associations with the pool through water play. The instructor blew soap bubbles which floated on the pool's surface to help the children relax as they were introduced to very basic skills like floating and gliding, stroking and kicking, and becoming accustomed to the feel of turning from front to back in the water. She also led us in a game of "Ring around the Rosie" in the pool, encouraging the children to put their faces under water and control their breath by blowing bubbles at the end of each round of the song. Other sessions included information regarding how to safely enter and exit the adult pool or deep water with your child and using personal flotation devices (life jackets). Each session was 30 minutes although we were invited to stay as long as we liked afterward.

If you want to spend more time at the pool, there are a few options. The DPR's Aquatic Centers (indoor pools) are open year round. Some are closed weekends or Sundays, so check the DPR website for days and hours before you go. Outdoor pools and children's pools open for weekend use by the end of May and throughout the week by late June. Admission is free to DC residents, so bring your ID. Non-residents can purchase daily or seasonal swim passes. More fee information for non-residents is provided here. A number of DPR spray parks also begin operating at recreation and community centers throughout Washington's four quadrants at the end of May. Water features at playgrounds offer another way for children in the District to play and cool down.

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