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Summer + Kids = Swimming Lessons + Fun

 kids-swim-lessonsSummer is fast approaching. End of school concerts and events. The trees and flowers are blooming. Remember how you looked forward to that long summer break? No school! Twelve long weeks of sunshine and fun!

And then I became a mother. Suddenly 12 long weeks of summer became more of a challenge. The first couple of weeks are always great, everyone needs a break from the over-scheduled frenetic school year schedule. An exhale from the 6am wake-up calls, packing lunches, and scrambling to fit in homework, soccer practice, violin lessons around life’s other commitments. Home all day becomes bored all day. Bored kids = cranky kids. Cranky kids = cranky mom. Which is why as soon as spring break ends I’m grabbing my calendar and trying to schedule the right balance of camps and activities to keep my kids and myself happy, active, and engaged so that we really do enjoy summer and still like each other by the time school starts again.

Topping your list should be time in the water, because water makes everything about summer better. It cools you off, lifts your spirits, wears you out in the best possible way, is a great way to hang with friends, improves health, and is just plain fun. Here are some ideas for summer water activities to add to your calendar:

  • Put those year-round swim lessons to use and enroll your children in a local swim team, which is usually a fun and social manageable level of competitiveness for even the most cautious of swimmers. That nudge of racing with all your friends cheering on the deck can make a child realize that yes, they have been learning to swim, and they are actually a better swimmer than they thought, and it’s fun! Swim team can build confidence and make a child more interested in continuing in swim lessons. Make sure you find a team that fits your child’s level of competitive spirit. If they have a relaxed spirit, stay away from the Olympic hopeful team, but if your child has a competitive streak, find a more competitive team. The goal is to strengthen their swimming skills, not make them hate swimming.
  • Take swimming lessons. If your school year schedule is too much for swimming lessons, summer is the perfect time to get your child into swimming lessons. Even a few weeks of regular lessons makes a huge difference with skill and confidence. No child wants to be the one sitting by the side of the pool or the lake while their friends all splash and have fun. Knowing how to swim opens social doors, not just being safer around water and learning a lifelong skill.
  • Explore a new water sport. Snorkeling. Scuba diving. Water polo. Surfing. Paddleboarding. Junior Lifeguards. Once you know how to swim, the possibilities are endless. Reinforcing to your children that knowing how to swim makes so many more fun activities available to them will really cut any resistance to continuing swim lessons. My kids are at the point where they are happy to continue swim lessons because they are seeing how many things they can do with that basic skill. Neither is into competitive swimming, and both are already strong swimmers, but they have seen how many cool things they can do in the water. They understand that the stronger a swimmer they become, the more fun activities are available.

Like reading or math, swimming is a skill that becomes stronger and more exciting and fun over time. Take advantage of summer to keep the momentum going by showing your kids the world of possibilities that comes from being a strong swimmer. Your kids will thank you for many years, and you’ll be able to look back at the summer with fonder memories.

Africans Are the Best Swimmers…At ANY Age

Little swimming champFor many years, conventional wisdom has held that blacks can not swim. (I use the term ‘black’ to apply to anyone of African descent. The term is meant with respect to encompass the broad range of cultures descending from the African continent) A widely discredited academic report years ago stated that the physiology of a black person leads to their sinking which explained why blacks couldn’t swim. Prejudice dressed up with academic credentials to support entrenched beliefs, accepted as fact, all real evidence to the contrary. Such is the insidious nature of prejudice.

I had the great pleasure of meeting with Bruce Wigo, President of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We discussed how cultural norms have kept African-Americans out of swimming lessons. The ISHOF, well worth a visit, has an excellent exhibit which explains how history really worked. The exhibit begins as: “In 1451, Europeans began their explorations of the west coast of sub-Saharan Africa and discovered that African people were by all accounts expert watermen and “the best swimmers in the world”. The Europeans attributed these extraordinary swimming skills to constant exercise and “from being brought up, both men and women from infancy, to swim like fishes.” The exhibit goes on to explain how valued Africans were in the Navy and on fishing fleets. During the period of slavery in the U.S., in the 18th century it was estimated that 80% of blacks could swim and only 20% of whites could swim, until it was determined that swimming allowed slaves to escape and was banned, relegating an entire cultural group to a higher risk of drowning deaths for many generations. If you’d like the full text, just e-mail me at rebeccalioness@gmail.com

Indigenous people and minorities consistently drown at higher rates than whites in virtually every country, and yet many of these groups come from a rich heritage that understood and respected water. Native Americans. Maori. Aboriginals. Inuits. And Africans. There is no rational reason. Please tell your kids this…and then teach them to swim.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it – and die.

Teaching Babies and Toddlers to Swim = Healthy Kids + Safe Kids

Teach your baby to swimSwimming lessons save lives. One of my most popular posts talked about what age you should allow your children to swim unsupervised, but at what age do you start them in swimming lessons and do swimming lessons really make a difference for young children?

A study proved that participation in formal swimming lessons cuts the risk of drowning for children ages 1-4 by 88%. Babies love the water and starting your kids in swimming lessons as infants will make them safer in the water, at a minimum it may keep them from panicking and buy you a precious 2 minutes that is the difference between life and a drowning death.

Starting children in the water early makes sense. Remember the first time you gave your new baby a bath? That rather concerned look on their face when you lowered them carefully into the water and then that flicker of recognition, ‘oh yes, water, I floated in my warm and comforting cocoon for the previous 9 months before you ejected me in a rather forceful manner’. I remember that my two quickly came to love bath time – the amazing splash of water that they were able to create just by moving their hands and feet. Such power! Such fun! Babies love the water and haven’t developed a paralyzing fear that can come with age, so it’s the best time to start them swimming early, in a positive and nurturing environment.

Need any more incentive? Swimming is proven to make children smarter, better physically coordinated as they mature and live longer. Plus swimming is amazing exercise as well, so kiss those worries of childhood obesity goodbye.

The bonus for parents? Click here for some great exercises that get you in shape and keep your baby safer their entire lives!

At What Age Are They “Old Enough” to Swim Unsupervised?

Editor’s Note: In honor of Pediatric Safety’s 4 year bloggiversary, we are publishing 4 of our favorite posts from the past, one each Friday for four consecutive weeks. This – our 4th and final post – was originally published in April 2011 by Rebecca Wear Robinson, a member of our PedSafe Expert Team. Rebecca has dedicated her life to keeping kids safe around water and it is both an honor and a privilege to work with her.
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When should you allow your child to go to a pool or beach without adult supervision? How old is ‘old enough’?

Old enough to swim alone?Stefanie (from PediatricSafety.net) alerted me to an interesting article last week that prompted the question – a 14-year old girl saved her 10-year old brother from drowning while the two played at a hotel pool, unsupervised. No charges were filed against the parent because 10 was deemed ‘old enough’ by the local police to be in the pool without adult supervision.

But there was no mention of either child’s swimming abilities. Could the 10-year old swim? Could he truly swim or just paddle a bit? How responsible was the younger brother? Was he a dare-devil or a cautious kid? How deep was the water? Was he tired or jet-lagged? Did he have any physical, emotional or mental issues that would have impaired his abilities or judgment? There are plenty of guidelines that tell us what age and weight our child has to be to change car seats. Laws dictate when our child can drive, drink and vote. But water safety is the great unknown – so many variables that are hard to measure.

So how do parents determine if a child is ‘old enough’ to be unsupervised at a pool or beach? Broward County in Florida is on the cutting edge of water safety and they recommend a minimum age of 12, though some experts believe it should be even higher.

Until national standards are developed, as a parent I’d set 12 as the minimum age (though I’m feeling better with 15), but I’d also look closely at all the other variables. Is your child a truly competent swimmer? (ask their swim teacher, don’t rely on your judgement or your child’s) Who else will be in the pool? Are they competent swimmers or could your child get in trouble with a panic-stricken friend who could pull someone under? How many children? More children = more adrenaline = more potential trouble. Is it a pool or open water? If it’s open water does your child have experience in that particular kind of open water? A river is different from a lake which is different from an ocean.

As parents, if we do our job right our child grow up to self-regulate their behavior and make responsible decisions, but it’s also our job to keep them safe until those skills are in place. Besides, volunteering for pool patrol is a pretty nice way to spend the summer!

I’d love to know your thoughts!

I’m A Mom And I’m Pissed Off…(About Child Safety)

I’m a mom and I’m pissed off. Not a bit concerned. Not even angry. I’m pissed off as in, ‘I have a flame thrower and I’m not afraid to use it’ pissed off. Why? Because child safety is about as big a mom issue as you can get, and yet children keep drowning and no one is talking about it. We all know ‘stop, drop and roll’, but did you know that drowning kills more children in the U.S. every year than fire and gun accidents combined? If that didn’t get your attention, how about drowning kills as many 1-4 year olds as fire, transportation accidents and accidental suffocation/strangulation combined. When it comes to how to keep children safe, if we don’t start talking about water safety, we simply aren’t keeping our children safe.

It will take you two minutes to read this blog. It only takes two minutes to drown, two inches of water to drown, and in that time two children will drown, because one child drowns every minute. IF we had accurate statistics (and don’t get me started on that), I could state without qualifiers that drowning is as big a killer of children as malaria, one of the ‘top three’ killers according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But noooo, 59% of WHO members don’t even report drowning deaths. As a mom, can you imagine your child’s life being considered so insignificant that it doesn’t even count? That pisses me off.

Don’t worry though, I have enough statistics to (hopefully) make you as pissed off as I am.

  • Children under 5 have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide *
  • Drowning is responsible for killing more children ages 1-4 in the U.S. than any other cause except birth defects. Two is the most dangerous year.
  • For every child that drowns in the U.S., another five almost drown and more than 50% of those children require further care. Permanent brain damage starts to occur within one minute.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-14 in virtually every high-income country, but it is truly a global epidemic and a global mom issue.

  • 96% of drowning deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
  • Most children drown before age 4. 2 is the most dangerous year.
  • In Asia, where 2/3 of the world’s children live, drowning is responsible for almost one out of every five deaths from all causes for children ages 1-18.

As for the total number of children who drown every year? Officially it’s around 409,000, but we know that 59% of WHO countries don’t capture drowning deaths, so most experts estimate the number is at least double or triple that.

The great news? Drowning is preventable.

So what can you do?

First and foremost, teach your child about water safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to begin swimming lessons for kids as young as one. But don’t just stop at swim lessons, talk to them about water safety at all ages. Make it positive, repetitive and age-appropriate. You don’t want to scare them, you want to teach them, just like you teach your children to wash their hands and cross the street safely. SafeKids has some great advice.

Second, make your environment safe. The CDC has some great tips.

Third, get pissed off. Let’s make this a mom issue, because keeping children safe is what we do. If I’ve convinced you, just drop me a note at rebecca@rebeccawearrobinson.com or leave a comment. Let’s start talking about it.

Here’s some of the sites where I got my stats if you want to read more: CDC SwimSafe.org and WHO Fact Sheet

* (except in Canada and New Zealand where it’s adult males)

Supporting Dreams…and Safety: the parent behind every Olympian

Michael Phelps. Missy Franklin. Ryan Lochte. These superb Olympic athletes have captured the attention and admiration of both adults and children. The difference is that adults understand full well the incredibly rare cocktail of talent, determination and drive that it takes to become an Olympian, much less ‘most decorated Olympian in history’ that Michael Phelps was just awarded. We know that it is a rare few people who will achieve this level and that for most of us, watching the elite perform is the closest we will ever get. A joy and inspiration in itself, but drastically different from being a participant.

Children, on the other hand, watch the performances and think, ‘I can do that…..what sport should I compete in during the next Olympics?’ They act out the competitions – at their local pool, using the sofa as gymnastics equipment and the front yard for the final soccer match or running track – their own Olympics, every bit as real and exciting to them as the real thing. As a parent you have a choice, burst their bubble or encourage them.

Whether your child is a non-swimmer, still flailing, or a talented competitive swimmer, take advantage of the buzz and excitement of the Olympics to encourage your child to spend more time in the water – not just regular, year-round swimming lessons, but also supervised play. Your child will not only become stronger, better coordinated for all sports (proven), and do better in school (also proven), but also safer as they understand how to act safely around water.

Olympians have one thing in common – someone who believes in them and has supported them as they have pursued their dream. Watch here for one of the best reminders I’ve seen of the importance of supporting a child’s dreams and enjoy watching the rest of the Games with your children!

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