Splash into Swimming Safety
Protecting your child from water dangers
Pools, lakes and oceans are common playgrounds for kids in the Sunshine State. As you trade long pants for swim trunks, you should also be outfitting your children with skills to stay safe and confident in the water.
Warmer days also bring a tragic increase in water accidents. In a state where a natural body of water or a home pool is abundant, Florida has one of the highest unintentional drowning rates in the nation.
Drowning prevention programs are a priceless resource – especially for children who are too young to propel themselves through the water.
Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Self-Rescue programs help the most vulnerable children learn to save themselves from drowning. Instructors teach babies 6–12 months old to roll to their backs and float as soon as they enter the water. In case of an emergency, this lifesaving position lets youngsters find an airway and breathe safely until help comes.
It’s not easy to teach a self-rescue skill to an infant that can’t yet speak or swim. ISR lessons are carefully planned with the precise timeframe to build muscle memory.
Certified ISR Instructor Jennifer Myer keeps her sessions less than 10 minutes long every day Monday through Friday at the Dwight H. Hunter “Northeast” Pool in April and the H. Spurgeon Cherry “Westside” Pool during the summer. Over the course of 4–6 weeks, the frequent repetition of short tasks is habit forming.
Myer was inspired to learn ISR after experiencing her son’s lessons.
Aaron started off scared and irritated. He hated getting into the cool water with a stranger, but his instructor stayed patient. As the lessons progressed, his comfort level grew and he began to respond to the training.
Before Myer’s stubborn little boy could speak, he learned to stay afloat in case of an emergency.
“Just watching that with your own child was – at the risk of sounding cheesy – almost magical,” she said. “Here’s this little person learning to save their own life.”
Aaron’s ISR skills came in handy while sitting on the pool steps playing with his toys. A few older kids were playing nearby in the shallow end, running around in circles to make a whirlpool in between them.
As the waves grew, the whirlpool pulled Aaron off the steps. He immediately flipped to his back and floated as the current shot him into the deep end.
Myer ran to help, but found her little one safe and unfazed.
“I didn’t even have to go in the water. I reached over from outside the pool and just lifted him out,” she said. “He was smiling and thought that was really fun too.”
Despite the remarkable skills learned in lessons, there is no such thing as drown-proofing a child, Myer said. She recommends that parents set up “a multi-layer line of defense” for home pool safety.
At the least, protections delay young children and allow parents more time to run to the rescue.
“In the pool, timing is everything,” Myer said.
First, program your home alarm to beep or ring whenever a door is opened. You’ll know immediately if your child wanders outside unattended.
Then, put a barrier between your child and the water, such as a locked gate or fence. Myer discourages against pool covers, as children can try to walk on top of them.
Above all, nothing replaces parental supervision. Kids should never be allowed to enter the water without asking a parent first. Finally, if a child is missing even for a moment, check the water immediately.
If all these safeguards fail, ISR should be the last line of defense to save an infant’s life. In the case of Aaron’s slip in the pool, his ISR training triggered a resourceful response in the dangerous situation.
“Something that could have been tragic, or at least slightly traumatic for a child, becomes no big deal,” Myer said. “It’s just a part of everyday life.”
Gainesville based child advocacy group, the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, partners with Sun Country Sports Center to offer free swim lessons for toddlers and infants each spring through its Swim for Safety program.
“As an organization invested in patient safety, we feel it is important to promote safe practices in all aspects of our children’s lives,” Lesley Cox, executive director of the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation, stated.
In addition to hosting the Swim for Safety program, Sun Country Sports Center offers swimming lessons for children as young as four months old, and over the course of the next eight months, Sun Country will provide eight-week long sessions for 25 children.
Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A. has sponsored the Swim for Safety event every year since 2009. Adam Towers, attorney and managing partner of the Gainesville office, became passionate about swim safety after he lost his nephew to a pool accident the previous year.
“He had not had swim lessons at that point and could have,” Towers said. “By sponsoring this event each year, we keep alive the hope that somebody could benefit from this program and avoid a tragedy in their home.”
Thorough training is essential to enjoying a safe season. After kids master the basics, the next step is having fun.
Kathleen Troy, the co-owner and director of SwimAmerica of Gainesville, LLC, believes that a swim lesson is a lesson for life.
“It’s a family activity,” she said. “Everybody can do it. Everybody should do it.”
SwimAmerica’s learn-to-swim programs build a strong foundation of skills and a love for the water. Unlike home methods, a trained instructor is able to teach techniques efficiently and set strict parameters for safety, Troy said.
When the time came to train Troy’s own kids, she passed the torch to her fellow SwimAmerica co-owner and director Jill Wilby. In turn, Troy taught Wilby’s kids to swim.
“We joke because my kids would listen to her as a swimming instructor more so than they would listen to my husband and myself,” Troy said.
Together, Troy and Wilby offer 10 levels of training year-round at the University of Florida and at the 300 Club in June and July. When they’re not in the water with their instructors and groups, they are almost always on deck monitoring lessons.
They take pride in their small classes and their child-centered management style. Troy tailors lessons to the individual child’s needs and makes sure every child is in the best learning environment for his or her abilities.
“Some kids take to the water right off the bat and can progress through the levels very rapidly, whereas other kids are a little more timid,” she said.
In the beginning levels, students gain confidence by playing games, blowing bubbles and splashing. The youngest groups first acclimate to the water in a shallow teaching pool. As they refine their skills, they graduate and move into deeper water.
By taking baby steps to the big pool, kids begin a lifetime of self-confidence in the water. They learn to not fear bigger depths when they realize they can float there too.
“There’s really no difference,” she said. “Even if they can’t touch the bottom, they can still swim.”
As students advance, they learn to increase their speed and agility. By the end of the program, students are proficient in all four competitive strokes and most want to join a swim team.
Through leaving the basics to the instructors, parents can enjoy pool time with their kids and relax knowing they have the skills necessary to navigate the water. Most of all, the backyard pool should be fun, Troy said.
“That’s were they can practice and show off what they’ve learned at swimming lessons,” she said.
Above all, swim training teaches a lifelong respect for the water that can be applied anywhere you go.
From infant recourses to competitive programs, a swim education is an investment that keeps your family safe and active. Whether you’re planning a big trip or a relaxing staycation, providing your child with the appropriate swim training is the first step to summertime bliss.
Learn more about swimming and water safety or register for swimming lessons.
Sun Country Sports Center
Sebastian Ferrero Foundation
Infant Swimming Resource
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Search “swim safety quick tips”
American Red Cross