Home of the Innocent’s public diaper dip makes a splash with kids, parents
Story by Mandy Wolf Detwiler | Photos by David Harrison
Baby swim classes have changed quite a bit since I was featured on a section cover of the daily newspaper in my birthday suit some 40 years ago jumping into a YMCA pool and swimming to the side at just six months old.
There are a number of public and private swim classes for babies through adults in Kentuckiana, but Home of the Innocents’ Baby Splash classes may come as a surprise offering to some parents. In fact, the Home offers a number of public service events and classes, making the center much more than a facility for at-risk and convalescent children.
The Baby Splash classes began in 2013 as a way to help maintain the Home of the Innocents’ indoor swimming pool. Benjamin Snyder, who serves as the director of the Kay and Jim Morrissey Advanced Therapy Center, initially found himself heading up the swim classes, working days and weekends. He eventually talked his mother, B.J. Snyder, who has 40 years in aquatics, into diving in and helping teach the classes. Today, it serves nearly 100 students, with kids enrolled through the end of the year.
“This program is very particular,” Snyder said, watching a group of tiny tots cling to the side of the indoor swimming pool, each flanked by a parent. “It’s a mixture of ISR, which is a survival swimming program, but we also teach them how to swim. Those are incorporated. With ISR, there are typically no parents in the pool, just the little one and the instructor, and they work on life or death skills. It can be kind of jarring at times. We really focus on happy, healthy kind of learning. There’s a little bit of play mixed in, but we do focus on the skills, primarily.”
The first level is split into two groups by age, and there are just “12 students per class because it allows our instructor to move around more freely,” said Snyder. Classes start for children as early as five months old.
“Level two is less age-dependent and more skill-dependent,” Snyder explained. “As they really start to grasp the skills from level one and two and so on and so forth, they’ll move up to the next level.”
By the time the children advance to level four, their parents are no longer needed. With just four children in the pool, they have more one-on-one time with the instructor. “They’ll work on things like stroke development, stamina and it’s almost like junior swim-team prep. They start to develop their ability to swim the length of the pool.”
The last five minutes of the Baby Splash class is devoted to playtime because “the littlest ones, they usually only remember the last five minutes,” Snyder said. “If you make it playtime, they’re going to want to come back.”
B.J. Snyder says drown-proofing skills are among the most critical for babies and children. According to the CDC, accidental drowning accounts for one in five deaths in children ages 14 and younger. “The younger they are when they start, the easier it is to teach them,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 42 years, and I’m a big proponent of starting as young as you can. We are teaching the babies that when they fall into the water, to turn around and go back.”
Also important is teaching the children how to jump into a body of water and swim to the side without the aid of the parents. It’s as much teaching the parents how to deal with such situations as it is conditioning the babies to float and return to the side of the pool unaided.
“Usually within two sessions, they’ve picked up the drowning skills,” B.J. Snyder said. By their second sign-up, the children are working on “doggy paddling.”
After the age of five, children have the opportunity to sign up for private swim lessons.
“The most common calls I get are ‘We live next to X body of water. Either a pool or a pond or there’s a lake nearby and they’re starting to run. We want to be able to know that they have at least some skill,” Benjamin Snyder explained.
The younger children start in the water being held by their parents and participating in circle time. “They go under water for the first time, and we give them a nice, loud verbal ‘One, two, three!’ We blow in the center of the face, and they have an instinct to then hold their breath. It’s really pretty adorable,” he said. “Then you dip them down and bring them right back up. You’re not letting go, they’re not going all the way down to the bottom – it’s just a quick dip and it gets them used to the feeling.
“Since it’s a 92-degree saltwater therapy pool, it’s an easier transition for them. They’re used to a sink or a tub for their baths, but the open water can be very intimidating for them. When it’s open (and) when you’re there with a parent, all those things bring a certain level of comfort.”
The Kay and Jim Morrissey Advanced Therapy Center was added to the Home of the Innocents in 2010 to aid medically fragile children and those at the pediatric convalescence center. Those children had been visiting another pool in the area, but transportation and the difficulty of dressing made a local pool a luxury addition.
“The concept was deemed for this facility and it was built within a relatively short amount of time, and it’s beautiful,” Snyder said. The water temperature is kept at 92 degrees, “and it’s all catered to children with special consideration,” Snyder added. “We have a wheelchair ramp that goes all the way down into the water. We have aquatic wheelchairs here that you can transfer into. (A chair lift) was actually custom built for us … and we have one floating ventilator here, and it’s one of the only ones that we know of. We have swim time at least once a week for kids on trachs and vents. During that time, we clear out the facility from everyone else. We can’t really have them splashing or the turbulence. It’s really fulfilling to see kids who would normally never be near water with a little floating ventilator near them moving around.”
The public Baby Splash swim classes help pay for the upkeep of the pool and the instructors, but they also give kids the confidence to eventually swim on their own. The majority of Baby Splash class participants learn about the program through word of mouth, like Cara Mutka and her daughter, four-year-old Eleanor, who joined the class with fellow swimmers Allison and Maura Bryant, who had already taken one session at Home of the Innocents. The two friends hopped around on the tiled sidelines waiting for their turn with B.J. Snyder, and the allure of the water proved just a little too great as the two girls dipped their toes in and giggled.
“I like kicking!” exclaimed Eleanor (Maura was dancing at the time). Mutka says the lessons have helped give her daughter confidence on family vacations to the beach.
“I think this one just likes wearing her bathing suit,” Bryant laughed, keeping a close eye on Maura nearby. “I think (it’s important) for just basic survival skills. I think we both do quite a bit of swimming either at the beach or at the pools during summertime. The teacher is phenomenal. She’s patient.”
“I think the most exposure they have to water the better off they are and will be down the line so they’re not scared,” Mutka added.
Maura, having already taken a full session of classes, was more confident last summer around water. “Even going under the water, which I was a little nervous about at first,” Bryant said. “She has them blow on their face and dunk them under, and she’s fine with it.”
Baby Splash classes are held year-round and have been filled consistently beginning early in the program.
“People know about the Home of the Innocents, but they don’t know about all the services we offer,” Benjamin Snyder said. “And they certainly don’t know that we have a pool that’s open to the public.
“We are completely non-profit. The proceeds for this program go to the instructor and generally to keep the equipment, to keep providing programming for our residents here – not only our medically fragile residents but we have residents from abandoned, abused and neglected homes. There are kids that might not have any mental or physical considerations but they are here, so we provide this space to them, we have a gymnasium – anything that comes to us gets rolled right back into other programming.”
Baby Splash Classes
For more information about the Home of the Innocents’ Baby Splash classes, visit www.homeoftheinnocents.org or call 502. 596.1143. Cost is $55 for 5 classes and begins at 5 months of age.