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There is nothing like that first jump into the pool on a hot summer day.

And while the shock to the senses is exhilarating to many, to children unfamiliar with the water it is too drastic a change from the reliable ground they are familiar with.That's where Amy Karlson, a swimming instructor at the Shades Valley YMCA, comes in.

It is Karlson's job to entice children to jump into the YMCA's pool.

"If they are afraid of the water, we try to get them to stand on the edge of the pool," Karlson said. "Then we'll splash some water up on their legs and say, `See, that's not so bad.' "

Coaxing kids into the water is usually the first step in teaching them to swim. It sounds easier than it is.

At the Shades Valley YMCA, children as young as 3 years old are putting on their "floaties" and grabbing their kickboards.

"The smaller the class, the easier it is to hold their attention," Karlson said. "The younger kids (classes) usually have just six kids in them so they can get more specialized attention. That also enables you to give more one-on-one instruction."

The program is based on gradually moving the young swimmer along.

"On day one we want to see where they start off," Karlson said. "Are they afraid of the water or do they get in the water without their parents and are just afraid to swim? We try to figure out just where they are. Are they beginners or are they ready to join a swim team? Most of them aren't afraid of the water but they just don't swim real well."

Once in the water, the instructors show the swimmers how to tread water and breathe correctly.

The youngest swimmers wear floaties, which are buoys, tied to their backs until they are able to float on their own.

"We use arm floats, too, if they need them," Karlson said. "We try to give them the least amount of floaties ... so they will have to swim to keep up.

Instructors also water games to get kids to take the plunge. The children actually are doing more than just having fun when they are playing.

"The kids enjoy the games more than they would a drill," Karlson said. "We don't tell the kids `Hey, this is what we are working on,' but we try to get them to do certain things through games that they enjoy. They don't know we are getting them to tread water but are doing it in a game. Kids don't really like being told what to do."

Swimming also helps the youngsters build strength.

"Little kids have the endurance to run around, but this is entirely different," notes Karlson.

Many parents come to the classes and really take an interest, Karlson said. Some even participate in parent-child swimming sessions at the pool.

Thomas Waters swims regularly at the YMCA. His 3-year-old daughter, Mary Kathryn, is taking lessons for the first time.

"I wanted to share the joy of being in the water with her; that's why I did it," Waters said.

"She just learned how to jump in today. That's a big deal for a 3-year-old. It has really helped our confidence. The first two nights she cried because she didn't want to get out of the water - not getting in but getting out. We go to the lake a good bit and now we can't keep her out of the water.

"They can swim the length of the pool now. They are doing the doggy paddle with floats on, but these are 3-year-olds. It's really something."