by Janice Celeste
Years ago, every urban neighborhood had a public swimming pool where children learned to swim. There were few swim classes but many of us learned by trial and error in the presence of trained lifeguards. Today, there are still a few public pools in urban neighborhoods but due to funding cutbacks too many of them are now closed. It’s up to parents to find a provider of formal swim lessons for their children, and it’s recommended that you don’t wait until they are older. Instead, start early when they are infants. We contacted Tina Dessart and Shweta Shreyarthi of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make A Splash program to ask them a few questions that parents may have about their infant starting a swim class.
70% of African American children have low or no
1. Why should parents consider swim lessons for their child?
Because learning to swim significantly reduces the risk of drowning! Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, with the highest rates among children, ages one-to-four. Whether or not the parent plans to head to the pool, water is all around us, in rivers, lakes, drainage ditches, bathtubs and even large puddles. By equipping a child with this lifesaving skill, the parent is also giving him/her access to all the fun and fitness the water can provide.
2. Many swim schools start at age nine months, but what about younger than nine months? Is that too soon?
We recommend early water acclimation with a parent, and find many programs begin as soon as a child is capable of sitting up on their own. Parent/child programs in the early stage of a child’s life promote a healthy respect for and love of the water, in addition to providing a bonding opportunity for the parent/child couple. Water acclimation in a parent/child class provides a great foundation for future skill acquisition and development as the child grows, making the transition into independent learning (i.e. group lessons) easier. Swim lessons many times are the child’s first interaction with a teacher, in some cases without parent involvement, so bridging that gap and providing a nurturing educational environment from an early age through parent/child programming gives children a natural advantage as they become independent learners, whether in swimming, school or other areas of their lives. When looking for parent/child programming, a parent should consider their child’s nap and feeding schedule, and take into account the facilities’ water and air temperatures; warmer water and air are important for the safety and comfort of both the parent and the child, keeping in mind the younger the child and the lesser the aquatic movement, the warmer the water. USA Swimming Foundation Affiliate Partner, Water Smart Babies, recommends water temperatures between 93-97 degrees.
African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers.
3. What if my child is afraid of water or cries at swim lessons?
Children’s fears of water are typically due to the environment being an unknown, or due to a loved one’s own fear of water they have unknowingly passed on to the child. We recommend seeking certified swimming instructors as they are trained professionals and can work with you and your child to alleviate any fears you and your child may have.
4. I understand that every child is different but approximately how many lessons are needed before an infant can roll on his/her back and float?
Children do learn at their own rate, and there is no set number of lessons in which a child will gain specific skills. Think of how differently children learn to read. Some take years to acquire the necessary skills to read fluently, with reading requirements from the onset of school up through high school. Early water acclimation, and consistent exposure and practice with a certified instructor are the keys to aiding in a child’s skill development. Additionally, exposure to new skills, such as rolling over, should follow the development of the child, not vice-versa; similar to not feeding an infant solid foods until their system is developed to handle them.
5. If a toddler fell into a pool, how long could they realistically float there until someone found them?
Toddlers do have the ability to float, however the larger issue in this scenario is a breakdown in the layers of protection. Proper barriers to aquatic environments (i.e., pool fencing, door alarms and locks, among others), and proper supervision should be the first lines of defense in ensuring a child’s safety, and their inability to access water. Swimming lessons are included in these layers, however should not be relied upon as a fail-safe as everyone is susceptible to drowning, no matter the level of comfort or skill. The ability to swim makes us safer.
Formal swimming lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drownings by 88%.
6. As a mother, I don’t know if I can watch my infant struggle to get on his/her back during swim lessons. How do you manage squeamish parents?
The USA Swimming Foundation recommends parent/child programming for young children. Parent participation in the lesson setting not only allows the parent the opportunity to learn how to work with their child in the water, but offers invaluable water safety education. Most parent/child programs provide parents with resources, tips and tools to help create a healthy and safe environment for their child. Additionally, young children are much more at ease with a familial presence, particularly in a new environment, and parent/child programming will help to strengthen the parent/child bond.
7. What about dry drowning? How do I know my baby won’t take water in his/her lungs and suffer a dry drowning later?
Children develop at different rates, and we recommend progressing at the child’s rate. Early swim programs should be centered on water acclimation and teaching a child to enjoy the water. Submerging a child before they are developmentally ready will not increase the speed with which they learn to swim independently.
8. What about older children, won’t they learn swimming by doing? Do they really need swim lessons?
9. How can parents know they are choosing a good swim school for their child?
The USA Swimming Foundation’s Make A Splash initiative partners with swim lesson providers who agree to maintain specific quality standards and industry best practices. Make A Splash partners with learn-to-swim providers across the country that are willing to promote water safety education to their communities and or provide scholarships for children to participate in their swim lesson programs. You can find a Make A Splash partner by clicking the button above. Also ask those in your community where they are taking their children for swim lessons. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions, find the provider you feel the most comfortable with. You and your child should leave the program feeling good about the lessons experience.
Make A Splash partners with learn-to-swim providers across the country that are willing to promote water safety education to their communities and or provide scholarships for children to participate in their swim lesson programs.
Swim schools should have:
- A nationally recognized learn-to-swim curriculum (e.g. Red Cross, YMCA, SwimAmerica, Starfish) or an independently developed learn-to-swim curriculum and be able to tell you what the skill progression looks like.
- Trained, certified instructors with on-deck lifeguards holding current CPR and First Aid certifications.
- A maximum of six-to-one student to instructor ratio.
- Minimum class duration of 30-minutes for school-age group lessons.
- Minimum of six classes per session with at least one class per week; minimum instructional time of four hours total.
- Written and practiced Emergency Action Plan for each site.
- Operate in a facility regulated by the Department of Health or similar government agency.
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