That was the glib farewell I gave to the kids as I dropped them off for a swim. Of course it was a swimming pool with lifeguards, and not the lake that was a short walk away.
And it is not just rivers, kids (and adults) will get in trouble in lakes, ponds, seaside beaches and even small kiddy pools. I used to think it was no big deal to fall into the lake since I am a good swimmer, until a canoe flip into the very cold lake shocked me almost to a point of paralysis. The reality of the danger became very real.
Okay, now that the science has been given, it is time for personal observations:
Swimming lessons are wonderful. I loved the parent and tot lessons we did when they were young, but they did not drown proof any kid. For one child it made him want to jump into fountains, off of docks and get wet at any opportunity. Shiny sparkling water had an appeal to him, and because of him I initiated a policy that feet stay on the ground when leaning over any railing. Another child would say “I go this way”, let go of me and promptly sink to the bottom of the pool (very skinny kid, my sister accused me of not feeding him). Fortunately he came up all smiles.
The type of swim course is probably not important as long as the skills are taught, and that the kid and the teacher get along. The system our pools used was the Red Cross Water Safety Classes. For young children it included instruction on the use of life jackets. It all depends on what is in your area and what fits your budget. Until a severe budget crunch our city offered free swim classes at local lake beaches, and some elementary schools near a pool will include a some swim lessons in their physical education program. There are sometimes scholarships available for lessons. In our area they are being funded by a sports clothing company (to get more customers) and the children’s hospital (to get fewer patients!).
Before you take your child to their first swim lesson make sure they are comfortable in a swimming pool. Most pools have a family swim time where you can take your non-swimming child and play in the shallow end. Or take the child to a public wading pool this summer where he/she can get used to the splashing and the noise of all the other kids. Sometimes a parent decides that it is summer and it is time for their four year old to swim. That is often the child crying in fear at the first lesson. Please don’t do that.
If you do not know how to swim, or are out of practice: consider some swim lessons for yourself. There is nothing wrong with learning how later in life. I now get swimming tips from my younger son who is a lifeguard and swim instructor. He started to swim better than me when he was five years old.
Please do not think that water wings or flotation swimsuits will prevent drowning. They are not designed to keep their heads out of the water, and they don’t help with learning how to swim. Just don’t use them. Use a real life jacket, and one that is designed for the child’s age. Baby and toddler life jackets should have a collar that prevents the face from going into the water, plus a handle to grab. Older kids can manage with a water ski jacket. A good swim class should include a lesson on the types of life jackets and how to use them.
Use life vests when you are in a boat. Don’t just put them on the children, wear them yourselves. Be a model for your children. And they are now required in our county rivers!
If your local pool offers a summer swim team, give that a try. Our pool had a “fun first” swim team in the summer where the only requirement was the ability to swim the length of the pool. It is a great way to gain skills and self confidence. I told my kids that if they spent the hour swimming in the morning they could spend the rest of day doing nothing. They rebelled after the second summer. Oh, well. Some of their friends are still on swim teams, so it can actually work.
Have a good summer. Spend some time on and in the water.
Please don’t drown.