When our son was born last year, my mum told me confidently that babies love water. ‘Just pop him in the bath,’ she said. ‘He’ll adore it.’ I found this view very hard to reconcile with the screaming, brilliantly-red infant I wrestled with every evening in an effort to keep the dirt at bay. I have come to the conclusion that all babies are not created equal where water is concerned. And although he’s improved a great deal over the last year – he now loves to splash in the paddling pool with the best of them – I still feel he needs a bit of encouragement.
This is where Australian International Swim Schools (AISS) steps in. It arrived in Doha last year and arranges lessons at the Hamad Aquatic Centre (HAC) in the Aspire Zone. There are classes for all ages, but of particular interest to me are the parent and child classes, for children from 12-24 months. Given that we live in a nation with no shortage of swimming pools, I want to my son to enjoy the water.
The Aquatic Centre is just behind Villaggio, on a road accessed through the toll booth next to the Aspire Park play area. The building is designed to look like a ship, and it gives a great first impression. There’s almost no covered parking however (a real downer in this searing summer heat), and I really struggle to find the way in, eventually pushing my son’s buggy all around the side of the building before the AISS entrance appears. More signage would be really helpful for newcomers.
After changing into our swimming things (rather tricky, given that the changing room doesn’t have a special area for babies), we head over to the training pool, to be greeted by Bonny, our friendly South African instructor.
First, Bonny shows me how to enter the pool safely (putting my hands on one side and turning and sliding into the pool) and encourages my son to do the same. Although he’s too young to do it by himself, Bonny explains that he will eventually learn from my example. The water is delightfully warm, a real relief as my son has reacted badly to cold pools in the past. There are four other mums and children there, and they all make me feel very welcome.
We progress through a series of fun games and exercises, all designed to get our children used to the sensation of the water. AISS discourages the use of fixed flotation devices like water wings, but makes use of
flotation ‘noodles’ (long thin pieces of foam) instead. One particularly fun activity involves sitting my son on the noodle and singing the nursery rhyme ‘horsy horsy’ as we all move around. He’s in hysterics – probably at his mother’s attempts at singing.
Bonny introduces some cute waterproof toys, and uses them as a way of encouraging the children. First we throw the toys some distance down the pool to try to get them to kick their legs, and later we place them slightly out of reach to teach the kids how to move safely along the sides of the pool using their hands.
I notice that my son is fascinated by the other children, and this makes me realise the other benefit of a class like this: given that he doesn’t go to nursery yet, this is one of the only chances he has to see other kids in action – and he loves it.
All too soon, the 30-minute class is over. We sing a goodbye song, my son waving and splashing like mad. The class ends with a demonstration of how to get out of the pool safely. Bonny shows me how to help my son bring one knee up and then pull himself out of the water. Although he requires a lot of help, he looks pretty pleased with his achievement.
Afterwards, I catch up with manager Lisa Clancy. She’s keen to reassure me of the school’s safety credentials. ‘There are many uninsured programmes in Qatar,’ she says. ‘AISS, by contrast, has trained teachers and is fully licensed and insured. Your child’s safety is of the utmost importance to us.’
I have no doubt my son is in safe hands. For me, the only negatives are the changing facilities and the fact that all morning lessons mid-week are for women only (due to HAC rules), meaning my husband was unable to bring our son to the class, something he’d hoped to do. I understand, however, that dads are welcome to the two weekend parent and child classes on the timetable. None of the above bothers my son, of course, and that grin on his face as he splashes and kicks is addictive. We’ll be coming back.
Parent and child classes QR70 per child for non-HAC members, QR60 for members. Classes in July are Sun, Tue, Thu 9am-10.30am. Classes in August are Mon, Wed 2.30pm-4pm, Fri 8am-10am. Classes are 30 mins each. Membership QR800 per month (12 lessons), three lessons per week for one month. QR100 registration fee for new students. See www.aiss.com.qa