Each year, approximately 900 children die of accidental drowning in the United States. This is largely due to lack of access to swimming lessons, living far from bodies of water, and lack of education on the part of parents and child.
In Sarasota, it is especially important for children to learn to swim. Swimming is a fun group activity that not only keeps kids moving and having fun during the summer, but at a fundamental level, is a life-saving skill.
Ken Diffenderfer, Aquatic Director at Core SRQ (formerly the YMCA of Sarasota), shares why classes are essential.
When should children start swimming lessons?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children start swimming lessons between the ages of 1 and 4. Diffenderfer says that at this age, children can learn to float on their backs, breathe deeply and call for help if they need it. If children spend time splashing around on the steps or ramp with their parents, they are more likely to develop positive associations with water and become natural swimmers.
By the age of one, Diffenderfer says children can also learn to submerge their heads underwater in a controlled manner and get in and out of the pool safely.
How many times a week should children take lessons?
Diffenderfer says the more often the better. Ideally, children should attend classes two to three times a week, but it all depends on the parents’ availability. He also recommends kids take group swimming lessons rather than private lessons because they learn best with their peers.
“They aren’t as scared if they see their friends trying the same things,” he adds. “We want them to be happy and have fun.”
What are the most common reasons children don’t learn to swim?
According to Diffenderfer, a 2019 study from metropolitan Chicago found that cost, lack of time, and the inability to find a pool or lessons are the top reasons children don’t learn to swim.
To manage the cost issue in Sarasota, philanthropist Keith Monda created a program called Safe Water Instruction Matters (SWIM) where local sophomores are picked up from school and given a free week-long swimming lesson in places like Core SRQ, Venice YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club.
Diffenderfer says these types of programs are important for teaching the life-saving skill of swimming to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
If parents have a swimming pool, what are the safety tips to remember this summer?
“Always supervise your children when they are swimming. If you are hosting a party, have a designated person watch the children at all times and stay within easy reach of the child,” says Diffenderfer.
He says children should never swim alone and never without an adult’s permission. He also recommends parents get CPR training because less than three percent of the US population knows how to administer CPR. With drowning being the third leading cause of death in children, CPR is important to know.
What are some beginner tricks kids can learn in the water to stay safe?
Diffenderfer says never to push your child into the water as it may cause negative or traumatic associations with swimming. Instead, start slowly on the ramps or steps and teach children to use the steps and the ladder. Instead of jumping into the pool, have them sit on the edge and place both hands to one side and twist in the water.
Children should also learn to blow bubbles in the water and feel comfortable submerging their heads lower and lower. He also says it’s helpful to teach them to exhale through their nose underwater. Teach them in shallow enough water where they can stand up if they need to.
What are the health benefits of swimming?
Apart from being a vital skill, swimming offers many physical and mental benefits to your child. They will develop their lung capacity and strengthen their cardiovascular system, build muscle, gain flexibility and have better digestion. Swimming is also a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that the repetitive motion of swimming strokes produces a calming effect.
Gross and fine motor skills can also be learned and improved in children under 5 years old. This can be especially useful for children who face physical disabilities and need to improve their dexterity.
Should children use floating devices? What about nose and ear plugs or glasses?
Diffenderfer says floating devices should not be used unless they are US Coast Guard certified=. Nor should they be a crutch, i.e. a replacement for learning to swim or proper supervision, although they can be incorporated during playtime.
When it comes to ear and nose plugs and goggles, Diffenderfer prefers not to teach children with these tools. He says they have to learn to swim in all scenarios, especially if they accidentally fall into the pool. That said, if your child has health conditions that would benefit from using them, you should definitely use them.
What are some other health tips to keep in mind?
“Keep the kids hydrated,” says Diffenderfer. Even though children are in the water, they still sweat and can easily become dehydrated. Ask them to take breaks to drink water and rest.
Children should also use water-resistant sunscreen to protect against UV rays though Diffenderfer also recommends washing children’s ears with vinegar and alcohol after they get out of the pool or the ocean. they are prone to ear infections.
Why is Drowning Awareness Month so important?
“Drowning is a public health crisis; that’s how I see it,” says Diffenderfer. “But drowning in children is preventable.”
In 2019, there were 65 fatal drownings in the state of Florida and nearly 100 in 2020. Beyond that, there were approximately 500 non-fatal drownings, which Diffenderfer says can still leave children with cognitive impairment and other serious health complications.
If you want to learn more about water safety as an adult, visit the online Red Cross Water Safety Ambassador course or train to become a swimming instructor. Share what you’ve learned on social media to raise awareness.
“It starts with adults,” says Diffenderfer. “If neither parent swims, there’s a 90% chance the kids won’t either. We need the whole family to learn about water safety and the basics of swimming.”
Where can children take lessons?
Core SRQ will be running swim camps throughout the summer. For more information, click here. There are also local YMCA and Boys & Girls Club sites offering swim camps, as well as private instructors.
Core SRQ is located at 1075 S. Euclid Ave., Sarasota. The Palmer Ranch location is at 8301 Potter Park Drive, Sarasota. For more information on the location, click here.