Treading for Safety

(The case for swim lessons & how they can save your child’s life)

Water is a logical place to look for refuge from summer’s stifling heat. With the ability to quench thirst and cool temperatures, it refreshes both mind and body. It is no wonder then why local swim clubs, water-parks, and lakes are so popular during the summer months.

Unfortunately, what entices families out of the house during June, July, and August for healthy, revitalizing relaxation and/or entertainment (or, for some “good old fashioned fun”), is oftentimes exactly what leads to tragedy and devastation. According to the Department of Health & Human Services’ Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately ten people die each day in the United States from unintentional drowning. That’s more than 3,500 killed each year – with more than a quarter of those victims being children ages 14 and younger. Additionally, for each child killed in a drowning accident, another four children are rushed to the emergency room to be treated for nonfatal submersion injuries, which “can cause brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities including memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e., permanent vegetative state)”.

Drowning is a serious threat to children; studies report that fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for children 14yrs and younger. Bodies of water are inherently risky to children and adults alike, because, once entered, they immediately put individuals out of their natural element. We, as humans, are land-walking, oxygen-breathing animals – we are not meant thrive in water. We are not naturally buoyant and cannot survive prolonged submersion. And, unlike many other species, swimming is not a basic instinct for humans – we are not born with the knowledge of how to keep ourselves afloat; rather, it is a skill that must be learned and developed.

Fortunately, many local swim clubs and community centers offer affordable swim lessons to help individuals develop the necessary skills and techniques to keep them safely afloat, thus minimizing the risk of drowning. While admittedly not fail-safe, swim lessons are a great way to decrease your child’s risk of incurring injury (or even death) while playing in and around water this summer. At the most basic level, swim lessons help acclimate children to the water – helping them to develop a level of comfort submerging various parts of their body (if ever so briefly), working upwards from feet to head. Once the child is comfortable in the water, lessons typically move on to help children master what is perhaps the most basic, yet essential skill: floating. From there, the instructor slowly begins to teach her students how to move safely, unassisted through the water using a variety of stroke techniques.

While every instructor undoubtedly has their own style of teaching, quality swim lessons will all typically follow a systematic approach to building swimming proficiency, as outlined by the American Red Cross, and safety techniques such as treading water will be integrated into instruction at the appropriate time. If you are considering swim lessons for the first time, for either yourself or child, and you are unsure about an instructor’s competence or ability, don’t hesitate to ask about their credentials. American Red Cross Certifications for Water Safety Instructors and/or Water Safety Aids should put your mind at ease and speak to the skill of the instructor – ensuring that they have been properly trained how to teach people of all ages and abilities how to swim. Additionally, there are many individuals who grew up swimming competitively on USA Swimming (the governing body of competitive swimming in the US; responsible for the selection of the US Olympic swim team) club teams, who are more than competent to teach swim lessons. Although these individuals might not necessarily have any formal certification, they have an intricate working knowledge of proper stroke technique that they can bestow upon their students which will help them find more success in the water.

With summer just around the corner, consider swim lessons or a local swim team not only as a fun activity for the kids in your life, but as a means to help ensure their safety. Increasing swimming proficiency and water-safety skills helps decrease their risk of drowning the next time you visit the pool, lake, or water-park. Even when you are not planning on going into the water, you never know when an accident might happen and those are the instances where swim lessons can save a life.

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To find out where you can sign-up for swim lessons in your area, please use the following link to contact your local Red Cross chapter to get detailed information: Find Swim Lessons in Your Area For more information on how to prevent drownings and other water-related injuries, please visit the CDC's statistical report on the issue.

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