Get in the swim with the waterbabies now, Tony

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The Independent Online

About thirty years ago, when our children were very young, I saw this book advertised: Teach Your Baby to Read. What a nonsense, I thought, must be a con. But it was from a good publisher, Jonathan Cape, and the author was a real doctor. American, of course. They always are. Being a caring parent, I bought the book.

Turned out to be mainly flash cards. And for many a day, I flashed them at both Jake and Caitlin. Jake tried to eat them, when he wasn't tearing them up, and he didn't read till, oh, must have been about seven. Caitlin was reading by the time she was four, but I think she would have done anyway. I chucked the cards away. I felt cheated. I could have made the flash cards myself. Didn't even bother trying them on Flora when she came along.

Three months ago, I saw a piece in the local paper, The Ham & High, about how to "Teach Your Baby to Swim". Heh up, I thought. Here we go again. But I cut it out, being a caring grandfather, and gave it to Jake for his baby daughter, Amelia. A woman with a foreign name was about to start lessons at Kentish Town Baths. Probably a waste of time.

Last Wednesday, I went along to see how Amelia was getting on - and I couldn't believe my eyes. There was a little circle of Mums standing in the training pool, with their babies shooting across the pool, underwater. Amazing.

I'd just finished my swim in the big pool so I got in with them, which rather alarmed Amelia. Probably the mums as well. Not a pretty sight. And I'd forgotten I still had my goggles on. I took them off and Amelia recognised me. I then had a swim with her, round the pool.

The teacher, Francoise Freedman, is French and also a doctor. Not a medical one. She has a PhD in anthropology and lectures on the subject at Cambridge. That's her day job. Her other passion in life is teaching babies to swim. The theory is that they've got used to being in water in the womb, so the sooner you start teaching them the better. Up to six months, they have no fear whatsoever of water. So that's the time to catch them.

They don't literally start swimming, using their arms and legs, till about 18 months, as their arms are not strong enough, though she has had one baby who managed it at 10 months old. He was a bit of a hunk.

What Amelia, aged eight months, does is go under water, across the pool, pushed by her mother Rosa to me, then I push her back. She is awfully proud when she emerges from underneath the water, spluttering but smiling.

I can see with my own eyes that the lessons work, which of course are very carefully thought out and controlled by Francoise. She's doing a book about her methods, out later this year. For an American publisher, of course. They love all that sort of stuff. Want her to do a coast-to-coast tour to promote it, so she might then have to give up her Kentish Town lessons.

Francoise says I can take my camcorder for the next lesson. Something new for the family archives. Let's hope the other mums don't mind. I do have Jake as a baby on Super Eight tearing up the flash cards, and everything else in sight. How we laugh. Now Jake's a barrister.

I intend to make a copy of the video for Cherie and Tony. I do like to help. It's quite a while since she had her last baby and everything has changed so much. Life has moved on, babies become even more fashionable, parents even more caring. Tony is taking time off this time, so he's said. Once he sees this video of Amelia, he'll have his cossie on and be haring across town to Kentish Town Baths. Oh yes.

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