Teaching Kids to Be Little Fishes

Ruthie Zarren lost her job at a failing company soon after the birth of her son. Grateful for the unexpected extended maternity leave, Zarren savored the time with her newborn – and contemplated her career.

Inspiration came while Zarren was visiting a friend who had started a private swim school. Zarren worked for the school during the summer, learning the business. The popularity of such schools across the country led her to believe St. Louis would benefit from a small swim program. And after working in start-up offices, Zarren had the background she needed to start a business for herself.

She opened Little Fishes Swim School in January 2007 in Brentwood, near the corner of Manchester and Hanley. Her son Nathan’s sixth birthday party served as the facility’s grand opening.

Zarren initially offered two sessions per week. Her 60 clients, thrilled with the kid-friendly, 93-degree pool, praised the program to friends. Little Fishes now accommodates 400 budding swimmers each week.

In Little Fishes’ unique environment, classes of five students each are taught by two adults. A supervisor attends each shift, assisting where necessary. The personalized lessons allow students to quickly gain comfort and familiarity in the water. “We figure out what motivates each child and we work with them,” Zarren said. “It’s all about making the kids want to come to swim lessons and succeed.”

Children from ages 6 months to 6 years can learn to swim at Little Fishes. For infants, increasing their exposure to water can help with bathing. “Babies who are uncomfortable with water make bath time a nightmare for parents,” Zarren said.

“We see a change in a very short period of time.”

Infants and toddlers (who attend the class with their parents) learn muscle movements preparing them for swimming. After the age of 3, children attend classes without a parent to learn basic swimming skills. As they progress, they learn specific stroke work. Children acclimate quickly, Zarren said.

“Kids who are afraid of the water become excited to come to swim lessons. Swimming is now their favorite activity, which is awesome because it’s such an important life skill.”

Beyond swim lessons, Zarren hopes to educate parents about water safety. Eager to encourage swimmers for life, she teaches parents that the earlier children swim, the sooner the safety skills build.

“I would love to raise a generation of kids who are comfortable underwater – who will be little fishes,” she said.

By Elizabeth Macanufo

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