Robyn Glass swims with her 20-month-old son, Ian, at Camp Zama's Yano Fitness Center Pool on Friday. Glass took swim lessons as a child and wants her son to learn at a young age as well.

Robyn Glass swims with her 20-month-old son, Ian, at Camp Zama's Yano Fitness Center Pool on Friday. Glass took swim lessons as a child and wants her son to learn at a young age as well. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Bath time used to be a headache for Debbie Borno and her toddler, John Murphy, who once hated water on his head or face.

So when Borno took John to his first infant/toddler swim class at Camp Zama’s Yano Fitness Center pool, she wasn’t surprised when he acted nervous and clingy in the water, she said.

Ten months later, Borno, a spouse from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, thinks her 28-month-old son may be a fish.

“He’s a little bit too comfortable,” she said Friday after class, while trying to keep John away from the pool’s edge.

The Yano Fitness Center started its infant/toddler swim program in the summer of 2002 for children ages 12 months to three years.

Aquatics Director Kimberly Bailes says the class helps youngsters become ready to swim when they’re old enough.

“It all works in to building a good foundation so when a child is physically able to learn swim strokes, it increases their comfort level in the water,” she said, noting the average child is ready to swim recognizable strokes for a certain distance between five and six years of age.

In the arms of their parents, with an American Red Cross-certified instructor leading the way, children learn how to reach and pull with their arms underwater while flutter-kicking to propel themselves forward, Bailes said. They also learn how to roll over on their backs and take a breath before being submerged.

“Getting them to go underwater isn’t a problem,” she said. “It’s getting them to come back up for air. That’s a developmental skill.”

Parents are taught how to safely swim with their children — who may be unaware of their limitations.

In class, the child gets in the pool only at the command of his or her parent, who first counts to three.

“The child knows when at a pool, in a recreational sense, the child can’t just go in unless the parent is cueing them,” Bailes said.

Borno said her son can go underwater, doesn’t mind being dunked, climbs in and out of the pool with ease and can blow bubbles in the water.

“Now, it’s so easy to do the simple stuff, like wash his hair,” she said.

Army Capt. Tong Smith, a project manager with the Japan Engineer District at Camp Zama, takes an early lunch to swim the 35 minutes with his 3-year-old son, Jaehoon. Friday was Jaehoon’s third class.

“He was scared of the water when he first got in,” Smith said, but the father already reports seeing much improvement. “I’m just trying to get him used to the water at an early age.”

Added Borno, “They need to feel secure in the water and feel safe.”

The infant/toddler swim class meets for three weeks, from 11 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Cost is $35 per parent-child pair for the three-week session. The Yano Fitness Center also offers swimming lessons for a variety of ages, from preschoolers to adults. For more information, call 263-5656.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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