Brendan Ellis grinned as he leaped into his mother's arms in the swimming pool at the YMCA in downtown Youngstown.
Soaked from head to toe, the 1-year-old looked completely relaxed as Amy Ellis flipped him over to support his back while she guided him around the water.
Brendan is one of six children in a Thursday afternoon water babies class at the YMCA. From the giggles and splashes emanating from the shallow end, it was hard to tell whether the kids or their parents and grandparents were having more fun.
The goal of the class is to acclimate young children to the water and teach the adults about water safety, explained Jason Pavone, director of aquatics at the YMCA. Pavone said that generally, the younger children are when exposed to the water, the easier the adjustment is going to be.
What's taught: The classes do not teach the children to swim independently, he emphasized. The structure includes lessons for parents on personal safety, a tour of the pool, backyard pool safety and skin and sun care.
Throughout the class, Pavone's directions sounded more like a preschool sing-along than swimming instruction. Adding a wet twist to old favorites, parents lifted their children in and out of the water to the song "Wheels on the Bus" and nursery rhymes like "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick." Each time "Jack" jumped over the candlestick, the kids took a dip in the pool.
After the children are comfortable in the water, adults guide them through a series of motor-development skills, which include paddling and kicking.
Nine-month-old Khaili Rowan seemed at ease in the water with her mother, Patrice Rowan of Canfield. Like other parents, Rowan wanted to introduce her child to the water through a class.
"We have a swimming pool," Rowan explained. "My husband and I wanted her to not be afraid of the water." Rowan said they have child guards and fencing around the pool. They plan on adding door locks and chimes on the entrance to their pool.
Playing it safe: Pavone said he includes information on home pool safety as part of the curriculum. If parents expose their children to the fun of swimming, Pavone warns, they also need to be extraordinarily attentive anytime the children are around water.
"If your kids are going to get used to the water, then you have to watch them closely," he said, adding that parents should install safety devices, including alarms that float in the pool, pool covers and childproof fences.
Quality time: Another bonus of the class is uninterrupted time with each child, many parents agreed. Pamela Lucanaski said 2-year-old Madison just loves the water. Madison also liked to dunk the basketball in the hoop on the side of the pool.
Nearby, 11/2-year-old Jesse Fire was splashing in the pool with his grandfather, Carmen Fire. "He has no trouble participating and putting his face in," Fire said.
Zane Burbick and his mother are back again this year for more classes. The 2-year-old from Austintown loves to jump off the wall, said his mother, Madgel Burbick.
However, Marissa Lellio, 11/2, clung to her father, Frank Lellio of Canfield, before she relaxed and enjoyed the class.
The class is geared to children ages 6 months to 2 years; when children turn 3 years old, they attend preschool classes. Pavone observed that children who attended swim classes with their parents seem to be more at ease in water. Otherwise, "It is a completely new environment, and the children often don't know what to think," he added.
Skills for kids: Pavone teaches the children how to climb or crawl out of the pool when parents place them on the edge. In addition, children learn how to expel water from their mouths.
He also said that children are not forced to totally submerge in the water. "I show the parents how to do it," he explained, saying that about half of the class is able to submerge by the end of the eight sessions.
Parents also learn different positions for holding their children in the water. They are taught to help their children learn to paddle their arms, kick their legs and get used to floating on their backs.
Pavone said he prefers the plastic foam noodles and kickboards to air-inflated floatation devices. "I try to keep 'swimmies' out of my classes," he noted, adding that they can deflate or come off children's arms.
"I would rather they just learn to swim on their own," he said, noting that if a child isn't old enough to hold his head up, these devices won't keep their heads out of the water. "The noodles give kids the idea of what it is like to move their arms and feet without being held. They get an idea of what it is like to float on their own. They can move around better in the water."

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