Playing in or around water is one of the joys of summer, but the treasured seasonal pastime comes with some serious risks. Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, many families will have informal gatherings and take trips to area pools and the beach, increasing the potential for children to have unsupervised access to water. Because of this, it’s important for children to take swimming lessons to learn water safety skills and create safer habits in and around water. As swimming lessons begin across the country, many are being conducted safely with COVID-19 precautions in place.
Protect your family’s safety whenever kids are around water this summer with these tips from swimming advocates:
Learn to swim. Research has shown formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of childhood drowning by 88 percent. By equipping your child with the skill of swimming, you’ll open doors to a lifetime of safety, fun, fitness and even employment opportunities. While lessons progressively teach a variety of swimming strokes, some of the most important things swimmers learn — even in beginner classes — are breath control and how to float. These basic skills are essential for staying above water should someone find himself or herself unable to touch or too tired to swim to safety. Children can participate in swimming lessons before they can walk, and parent-child lessons provide bonding opportunities along with water safety education.
Designate a water watcher and closely monitor children. When you are in, on or around water, designate someone to be a water watcher. Watch all children and adolescents swimming or playing in or around water, even if they know how to swim. Keeping young children or inexperienced swimmers within arm’s length at all times can help ensure you’re able to provide assistance if and when it’s needed.
Swim with a buddy. When possible, choose swimming locations where a trained lifeguard is watching for dangerous conditions and helping keep an eye on swimmers. Also, make it a practice to always have at least two people swimming together. That way, if someone has a problem, the other can get help.
Enter water feet first. Diving in a pool that is too shallow or into water where you’re not certain what’s below the surface, such as in a lake, can have dire consequences. Teach children to dive only in designated diving areas and to always enter water of unknown or non-visible depth feet first.
Wear a life jacket when boating. Anyone participating in any boating, paddling or towed water sports, regardless of swimming ability in pool or open water situations, should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Preschool-aged children (5 years old and younger), who are not protected by touch supervision, in particular, should always wear a life jacket. Swimming aids and water toys — such as water wings, inflatable water wings and rings — are not intended to be life-saving devices.
Swim in designated areas and obey posted signs and flags. Ropes, buoys and flags in larger bodies of water like lakes or oceans are commonly used to designate safe swimming areas and provide visual cues about changes in depth, underwater surfaces and currents. Teach children what these signs and markers mean and that they’re in place as safety tools, not toys to play with or float on.
Learn CPR. If the unthinkable does happen, knowing how to perform CPR allows you to take immediate action, which has been shown to significantly better the outcome for children with submersion injuries. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, you could save someone’s life. Seconds count. The quicker CPR is started, the better the chances of recovery. There are many places that offer CPR training, including community organizations and nonprofit groups. Remember to keep your certification current once you have completed the initial requirements.
Tips for finding swimming lessons
If you’re unsure where to take your child for swim lessons, these tips can help:
Ask your friends. Ask other parents in your area where they take their children. You can ask people you know and use social media and neighborhood boards to get tips. If your school has a swimming team, the coach may also be able to give you some ideas.
Look online. Another resource is online search tools, which often allow you to search for swim lesson providers near you. Many programs also offer options for free or reduced-cost swim lessons.
Check out a program. Once you identify a program, visit the facility with your child to see how swim lessons are run. Then, find out who your child’s teacher will be and whether it’s possible to meet him or her in advance and learn the program expectations for you as a parent or guardian. And finally, ask about the provider’s approach and learn-to-swim philosophy.
When you’re investigating programs, you also might want to consider asking about the programs health and safety protocols, whether the swimming curriculum follows national models, how instructors are trained and certified and whether lifeguards will be on the scene. You should expect more than six students per instructor and at least four total hours of in-person instruction time in the water, experts say.
Make safety a priority for your summer water fun. For more information, including swim lesson providers in your area, visit usaswimming.org/makeasplash.
Family Features contributed to this story.
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