Swim Safety: The Importance of Water Education for Kids
Discovery Place Kids Huntersville
OK, the stats are pretty scary. For ages 5 and younger drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury related death. Swim safety is a year-round concern, especially in the Carolinas’ climate and living in the Lake Norman area. We’ve rounded up a few things for you to consider and asked a local expert to dive in.
Here is a happier number: swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88%.
While there’s varying opinions, the American Academy of Pediatrics Research has found that swim lessons are beneficial for children starting around age one. Some parents start lessons around the age of three months because at three months some babies can start to learn to float on their backs.
Martha Hocutt, North Director, SwimMAC Swim School, located in Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center, says “In North Carolina water is all around us with creeks, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Each one requires a different skill set. Just because your child can swim doggy paddle across a pool, does not mean they are ready to try to swim across the lake or be in the ocean alone.” MiniMAC lessons with Martha start at age six months and focus on comfort and floating.
Confidence and curiosity
We are big fans of curiosity and the role it plays in creativity and learning, but there are risks when it comes to the water. Many young children are inherently drawn to water – with a seemingly instinctive easiness some kids may not hesitate at the water’s edge to intentionally jump or accidentally fall in.
Remember the water does not have to be deep for a child to drown, and a child weighing less than 30 pounds can drown in fewer than 30 seconds. And, a lot of times drowning doesn’t look like drowning. It is rarely like in the movies with arms failing and calls for help.
This makes learning how to get out of the water an essential skill. Having the confidence to push from the bottom of the pool and return to the wall or ladder, and get their body up and out of the water may save lives. By repeating the exit technique (elbow, elbow, knee, knee) over and over with adult supervision the familiarity of the movements become second nature, and may also help to keep your child calm if they find themselves in trouble.
Make it fun
Just like with any subject or chore if you make it fun the learning comes easier. Make sure your lessons and time in the water include skills that build your child’s comfort and joy such as flip turns and retrieving toys from the pool floor.
The Museum offers water play opportunities too, including the water table with unique infant seating that gives even the youngest visitors the chance to splish-splash safely. The water table runs from the I CAN Grow area designed especially for littles through to I CAN Move, so bigger kids can play too. While kids are having fun is a great time to talk to them about water safety.
Developing a healthy respect for the water is key. Sink or swim doesn’t apply when it comes to young kids learning about water safety. Never throw a child in the deep end in an effort to teach them to swim.
Martha also recommends year-round swim lessons “We encourage all swimmers to swim year-round to build and maintain their endurance. It’s also a great way for kids to stay active while having fun.”
What floats your boat
Many Museum visitors enjoy time on Lake Norman.
Martha says she often has parents inquire about skill level and needing to wear a life jacket on the lake, to which she responds “It is never based on if the child can swim, but always their age.”
Be thoughtful about the swim-safety gear you select for your child. Not all flotation devices are held to the same standards. Most come with weight and height requirements.
Don’t hesitate to bring your life jacket into a swimming instructor to confirm that it’s right for your child. Instructors may also have insights on where the floats are located on your equipment and how this may impact your child’s body position. Having good body position is the first step in learning how to swim.
Nothing will drown-proof your child.
Just the same way that we teach children about ‘stranger danger’, water should be approached in much the same way. Parents need to be aware of their surroundings and make sure kids are too. The best swim safety is an actively engaged adult.
Martha agrees, recommending that “Parents need to stay alert. Always watch for signs of exhaustion in the water, dehydration and sunburns. If planning on being in the water all day, be hydrated before arriving. Make sure your children take breaks from both the sun and water. Set a timer to help you remember; once they’re wet you won’t notice your child sweating.”