Teaching Kids to Swim

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In recent years, I’ve gotten hundreds of requests for information and advice about when children should start swimming lessons. Though I’d like to think I am a pretty smart guy, my experience in water safety has been predominantly on the rescue side. For a time I was an instructor at the U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer School and I developed much of the curriculum in use today.  Which means the people I taught to swim through the water were fully grown and very tough when I met them.  Our classes were….different….than you would hope for with your kids. So what I am saying is, I’m not sure.  But that’s not really an answer so I asked my really smart friends at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and I came up with some pretty good ideas.

I’m sure she doesn’t remember it now, but 23 years ago my own daughter was “drownproofed” (Not the right word, really) through a program called Water Babies. I think it was the right thing to do in as much as I think that making sure your child’s first experience with being in the water isn’t accidental is important.

But almost as importantly – that first experience shouldn’t be traumatic in any way either.  Children with a fear of water can easily turn into non-swimming older children.  And non-swimming older children (and adults) drown more easily than swimmers. Parents should attend training classes and watch what happens with the other children before committing their own to the same type of instruction.  If their is screaming and crying, you may want to reconsider the course.

Regardless of the training anyone receives (at any age), the precautions and safeguards that keep us safe around the water shouldn’t change. Teaching your children to swim does not mean you can relax your guard when they are swimming or near the water.  All it means is that they will be at least a little safer should things go wrong – and safer is better.

What age to start?

You guessed it – it depends.  I’ll just suggest that at a minimum , parents make themselves familiar this document written by the American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid, Aquatics, Safety and Preparedness.  It culls the research and helps parents and aquatic educators make sound decisions about instruction.

I also want to point out that exposure to water and water safety don’t have to immediately be about swimming competence.  It can be just about fun in the water with mom or dad.  Teaching them about being safe around the water can be about teaching them to stay away from the water without mom or dad being with them.  An automatic thing with traffic “hold mommy’s hand” isn’t so common with the less obvious but equally dangerous backyard pool or pond.  For excellent help with that – check out the Josh the Otter link to the right.

So when you start teaching your children to swim?  Yeah – I am still not sure, but I am working on it.

What are your ideas?

disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.  Links to videos and Internet sites do constitute a personal endorsement of the products and services referenced therein.

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By | 2017-05-18T15:30:02+00:00 July 10th, 2010|Learning, NDPA, Water Safety|15 Comments

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  • Jbrant66

    Just found your site via Maggie's Farm. Do all my boating on Grand Lake in Oklahoma, so seldom see the CG. However have already sent two links to all my boating and swimming friends. I'll keep reading.

  • Thanks J! I appreciate that. Maggie's Farm has sent me a LOT of traffic. Someone over there has been nice to me.

  • Julieta Sotomayor

    Thank you again Mario. I need to do this with my kids. I love all the information that you have giving up to all of us that surfe on Facebook. I posted this one on my page on FB. Keep in touch.

  • Oliver

    A shame Sony has blocked that video from viewers from Germany.

  • Susan

    I looked into ISR for my own daughter. For those who don't know about it it's expensive and time intensive: $100/week for 4-6 weeks for 10 minutes every weekday and they emphasize you must not miss a day, but obviously the results are worth the investment; they claim that if your child falls in the water he/she will be able to turn face up and attempt to swim to safety or be able to make enough sound to get someone's attention, but as you point out, even a child who has had lessons must not be left unattended for even a minute around water – this coming from a CG person who almost drowned as a child even after having initial lessons, so I believe doing this early is a must, but we're also looking comparitively at YMCA & the local Rec Ctr have to offer.

  • ISR is a national and international program. Each ISR Instructor sets his or her own fees and prices vary by location, so please check with your local instructor. You can also look for SafeStart (ISR's sister program) available at some YMCAs. ISR offers a financial assistance program for those in need. Ask your instructor for details or go here if you'd like to make a donation: http://infantswim.com/community-of-caring/index…. My advice is to go observe classes at different programs to see what the children are learning and talk with parents. Always check the qualifications of the instructor and find out what type of safety precautions are in place. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Best of luck!

  • Susan

    Thanks Ginger – will check out all resources. Good info to know.

  • Pingback: Parents – Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning | Mommie911 Blog()

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  • Bakerbaker999

    I have 2 children (ages 3 and 1), both are in ISR. My 3 year old is having her refresher course and my 1 year old is learning to swim this year (last year was her first at 8 months learning to float on her back). I found money in my budget to pay for this and have paid from $65 a week for each child to $80, as each instructor sets their own fee. The fee is not the issue…its what it does for my children. Living in FL, we are near and in water all the time…and just to have that extra bit of time should something happen…you can't put a price on that. I am a huge fan of ISR. Yes, its a bit of a PITA to have my summer month interrupted for 10 min each child each day for 3-4 weeks (only 2 for my older for refresher)…but its well worth it to me. There are way to many drownings and I don't want either of my children to be the next one listed in the news….
    Thank you so much for your article on drowning…

  • Ian T. Powell

    We just posted a video of our son's final swim exam on facebook. He's only sixteen months but swims better than most adults. Check it out!

  • Loved it!

  • CCarroll

    Is this the Ian Powell that I know?…. – Christie

  • ann

    would love to see video , how can I view it?