North Hills Pool instructors teach children to swim

Instructor Analisa Vann kicks away from the side of the pool doing a backfloat as students move against the wall. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

NORTH HILLS — It’s summer. Date wise, yes. Temperatures? These are starting to climb near the 90s. Summer for children usually involves lessons for those who can’t swim or spending time in the pool if one can.

For the younger child, the initiation into the second stage of life involves learning to get your face wet intentionally in a swimming pool.

They arrive at North Hills Pool this week as a couple of weeks before, usually mother alongside, digging for sun screen in a pool bag. Maybe a brother or sister joining them or participating in their own advanced lessons.

Parents take a seat on the outside of the fence. “It keeps them from running to the parents when they’re scared of the water,” said Linda Alt, who has been directing swimming lessons at the pool since the 1970s. “With the parents on the outside of the fence, they have no one to cling to. The child then focuses on the water and eventually gets in.”

Analisa Vann walks to the side of the pool, a towel wrapped around her waist and her arms full of kickboards. The beginning swimmers gather around her to practice strokes out of the pool and breathing techniques with other instructors.

Kole Biddle has water fall off his face after practicing breathing exercises during swim lessons at North Hills Pool. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

These are levels one and two swimmers. They are confined to three feet of water. Approximately 10 yards out is “the rope.” It is not a punishment, this rope is the goal of all swimmers in levels one and two.

“The whole goal is to get to the other side of the rope,” said Erin Metz, the general manager at the pool. “The kids progress at their own speed. Every day of lessons, they progress. Every morning of lessons, they have more confidence.”

A swimmer may attempt to move from one level to the next any day of the lessons at any time, according to Vann. “Levels one and two are beginners. At level one, they will get in the water but they’re not comfortable. At level two, they can float and they are comfortable with the water.

“The goal is the streamline,” she continued. “They’re more in control and more confident. We teach the pull, bend, reach. That’s the freestyle method. The freestyle is the base of everything else. After they have that down, then we start fine tuning with the breathing to the side.”

“What we want at level one is to get them orientated to the water,” said Alt. “Level two is to actually to get them to prone kick and level three is to get them to swim freestyle and backstroke. We have lots of instructor assistants helping. We try to have as many as possible as the young swimmers get a lot of individual or small group attention.”

Analisa Vann, center, helps Kenzy Biddle, left, and Kole Biddle with their back float exercise as they rest their heads on the steps of the North Hills Pool. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

Alt said she has had children as young as 18 months in swim classes. “I have had babies that young where parents bring the children in just to get them used to being in the water. Usually at two, they’ll jump in and three, they might be able to start doing a stroke,” she said. “The little slide we have at the edge of the pool, it helps them get used to being in the water because they have to put their feet down in order to get their heads above water.”

Vann has been teaching swim lessons for six to 10 years old for three years at North Hills and has worked there for six years.. It’s her personal preference to teach that particular age group. “They seem to be able to hold attention better,” she said, “which makes them easier to work with. When we teach them to swim, it just opens up so many things for them. “

Metz added, “These kids look up to the lifeguards and want to get their approval as well as their parents’ approval. The instructor gets down on their level. They develop a comfort level with each other. The swimmers develop a trust with the instructors as they are challenged to progress in their learning,” she said.

“Then you’re going to see kids who are more comfortable in their water encouraging those who aren’t. It’s that ‘I’ll do it with you,’ encouragement. And eventually, they both go off together.”

“The confidence these kids gain in and out of the water is amazing,” she added. “They’re learning to swim and they are so excited to show their instructors, present and past, their new skills. Especially if they see that instructor in a (lifeguard) chair. It’s that confidence the child gains when they see an instructor’s approval and knowing they can perform what they’ve been taught. The confidence they gain here will carry over to many other aspects of their life. They learn they can swim, they know they can learn other life skills.”

Taylor Foster helps Gabby Schall float on her back during beginning swimming lessons at North Hills Pool. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

Analisa Vann keeps an eye on a swim student while she moves plastic rings onto one arm after a breathing exercise where kids held their breath while putting their face underwater to gather the rings. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

Jake Boardman splashes as he practices his kicking while using a kickboard at North Hills Pool. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)