My Oulu: Baby swimming has remained popular for 40 years 

Baby swimming started in Oulu in January 1984. This picture was taken in Raksila in 2022. Photo: Sanna Krook

My Oulu

Julkaistu: Kirjoittaja: Pirkko Vääräniemi (translation: Joel Loukkola)

Jaa sosiaalisessa mediassa:

Baby swimming, the shared hobby of under one-year old babies and their parents, celebrates its 40th birthday in Oulu. The popularity of the hobby has stuck year after year. Multiple generations of swimmers have visited the pools.  

Baby swimming was originally brought to Finland from Germany by Pirkko Karvonen and Kenneth Karlsson in the early 1980s. Guided baby swimming sessions were started in Oulu by the swimming instructors Ulla Virrankoski and Tuija Pohjola; the first groups started in January of 1984.

Tuija Pohjola, who has retired from the Sport Services of Oulu, says that the reception for baby swimming was good from the start and the groups were filled quickly.

“I have always loved how fathers have been active in baby swimming from the start. In many families, baby swimming became a shared hobby between the child and the father”, Pohjola explains.

A mother holding a baby in a swimming pool.

Baby swimming is usually a shared, happy moment of play for the family. Photo: Pirkko Vääräniemi

In the beginning, two-month-old and four kg children were accepted for baby swimming as well, but it turned out that such small children still had inadequate temperature regulation. Later, the starting age became the fixed three-months old and a minimum weight of at least five kg.

“Baby swimming is a shared happy moment of play for the family, and the instructors are there for the parents – and this has not changed during all these years”, Pohjola states.

“I loved running baby swimming sessions, and by the end some second-generation baby swimmers showed up”, Pohjola, who ran baby swimming sessions for 35 years, smiles.

Play, songs and rhymes in a pool

“Baby swimming groups get filled in seconds, and there are multiple people queuing up for the groups too. Recently, we opened a new group in Raksila. New groups begin operations twice in the springs and twice in the falls”, baby swimming istructors Petra Helin and Pekka Hurskainen from Oulu’s Sport Services explain.

Babies who particiapte in baby swimming range in age from three months up to one year and two adults may accompany them in the pool. Usually the parents accompany the babies, but grandparents or godparents are welcome as well, for example. In sibling groups, an under four-year-old sibling may join the baby swimming session as well. There are separate family swimming groups for children over the age of one.

A duo performing by a swimming pool

Childrens' music duo Liikkuva Laulureppu performed for babies and their parents when Oulu celebrated its 40 years of baby swimming in Raksila. Photo: Pirkko Vääräniemi

“A swimming session lasts for 20 minutes. There is singing, rhyming and playing with the family during the sessions with varying practices, plays and themes. The baby swimming hobby develops the family’s interaction skills as well as the child’s motor skills such as versatile use of their bodies. We also practice other water safety skills. A swimming session always ends with a final song”, Helin and Hurskanen explain.

Water temperature and hygiene are important

The baby swimming sessions are led on the child’s terms and trained instructors are always present. The water temperature of the pool must be warm enough, at least 32 degrees. The quality of water is observed more closely than other pools.

Before the swimming sessions, the baby and family swimming instructors guide the adults during information meetings in matters of washing up, hygiene and safety for example. Baby and family swimming instructors are trained regularly and have learned numerous new swimming grips and practices over the years.

“We generally guide the parents according to Finland’s Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation’s instructions: less than one-year-old children should only visit swimming pools in guided baby swimming groups. Children older than that are welcome to splash around in children’s pools, for example”, Hurskanen and Helin state.