YMCA swim instructor Olivia Beatty smiles as Claire Lawson, 4, successfully swims on her own to the wall during Swim-a-palooza, a free swim lesson session, at Mill Creek Family YMCA on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

YMCA swim instructor Olivia Beatty smiles as Claire Lawson, 4, successfully swims on her own to the wall during Swim-a-palooza, a free swim lesson session, at Mill Creek Family YMCA on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Splish splash! YMCA hosts free swim lessons around Snohomish County

The Y is building a “whole community” of water safety. On Saturday, kids got to dip their toes in the water as the first step on that journey.

MILL CREEK — A dozen preschoolers lined up next to the pool at the Mill Creek Family YMCA on Saturday afternoon.

Wearing bedazzled pink goggles, Claire, 4, just returned from vacation — and was ready to hit the water again.

“She spent a lot of time in the pool, she thinks she’s pretty hot stuff,” her father Chris Lawson said. “It’s her favorite place to be in the summer.”

YMCA of Snohomish County held its first Swim-a-Palooza, a one-day free swim lesson for kids aged 3 to 12 at five locations to promote National Water Safety Month. With summer right around the corner, the YMCA’s Director of Aquatic Advancement Tom Wunderlich said water safety skills are crucial to teach as young as possible.

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death around the world. The highest rates of drowning are in children 1 to 4 years old.

“Where we live, we got water everywhere,” Wunderlich said. “As soon as the weather gets nice out, the beaches are full, the rivers are full, and you got a whole bunch of people who don’t understand the importance of being safe.”

The preschoolers were the first students of the day in Mill Creek. Instructors carried them to the water one by one, testing how well they could float on their backs.

“What we teach a preschooler, is the exact same thing we teach a school-aged child,” Wunderlich said. “It’s all building blocks. We start out very, very simple.”

The Y swimming curriculum begins with water adjustment, how to climb in and out of the pool and blowing bubbles under water, Wunderlich said.

“This is all for comfort and community, in order to get kids into learn and have a good time and have fun, they have to have a sense of trust and faith in the people they’re with,” Wunderlich said.

Braxton, 3, sat shyly on the pool’s edge, kicking his feet in the water. His mom, Ev Lovell, said his older brother is the better swimmer in the family.

“Hopefully my son gets more used to the water,” Lovell said with a chuckle. “He likes the jacuzzi more.”

At the end of the lesson, swimmers got fitted for free life jackets to take home. Parents joined their kids in the water for an open swim.

“We’re creating a whole environment, a whole community of kids that understand the values of being safe but having fun at the same time,” Wunderlich said.

YMCA of Snohomish County hosts swim lessons year-round, starting for kids as young as six months. In June, the organization is hosting a two-week Safety Around Water education program for ages 3 to 12.

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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