Swimming is a life skill.Period.
No truer words were spoken. I have to say that my love of water, swimming and water safety came at a young age. When I was a kid, I was a pool rat. We were those pesky kids that spent the entire day at the public or community pool (private pools were a lot less common in those days) We spent the day just hanging out. We would start with swimming or diving lessons in the morning, a quick trip home for lunch and then a return to the pool in the afternoon for public swim. Late afternoon was competing in either swim team or diving, depending on what you had signed up for at the beginning of the summer. When we didn’t have practice or a swim meet, we would head back for the evening swim. Go to sleep. Repeat. All summer long!
When I think back on the dog-days of summer, I remember them fondly. We would lie on our beach towels which were carefully laid out side-by-side. We lazed about playing ‘I spy’ or endless games of Crazy Eights or War. We would have races or diving contest or see who could create the biggest splash with a cannonball. I was a ridiculously skinny kid and not a very strong swimmer. For the most part, I remember swimming lessons fondly except for one test day. I was probably 7 years old and I had to take an endurance test which spanned the width of the pool. This was not a big pool. I had done it many times but the pressure of doing it for the ‘test’ was more than I could take. I remember the anxiety and that inner voice reminding me that I had trouble completing this length. I couldn’t possibly do it in a test, could I? I was so nervous that just before I touched the side of the pool, I panicked and cried out for my swimming instructor.
There was no greater sense of relief than when that instructor scooped me up from my inevitable drowning demise (or so I imagined in my child’s mind). When you are a little kid, those lengths seem so far and it can be so scary. I did not pass that test but my instructor reassured me that I certainly could swim the width of the pool. She worked with me to regain my confidence so I could pass on my next go around. A few things happened that day that would place me on a trajectory to becoming an advocate for water safety 45 years later: (1) I realized the importance of being a strong, confident swimmer, (2) I had an instructor believe in me and teach me how to swim properly and; (3) I vowed I would help other kids feel less afraid of the water. Fast forward a few years and I found my way to becoming a lifeguard and swimming instructor when I was 16 years old. I took all those Red Cross lifesaving courses to be become a NLS Lifeguard and Instructor. Even in the early 1980s the Red Cross was the standard for First Aid and Swimming Instruction.
I became a swim instructor, supervisor, trainer and eventually a program manager for a private swim school. Lifeguarding and teaching helped me pay my way through university and it provided an experience that taught me people skills, responsibility, teaching and water safety skills. Teaching swimming lessons and water safety was something that I loved to do – I must have taught Red Cross swimming lessons to thousands of children and adults in my lifetime.
I am always amazed when parents or adults tell me that they have never taken swimming lessons or do not see the value of getting past the bare minimum. I believe that swimming is a life skill that everyone should learn. It is rare that we are not in an environment without water: going camping, to the cottage, at a park or pool, near a river, by the ocean or at a friend’s backyard pool. It is never to late to learn how to swim. As a parent, you also need to know the basics of pool and water safety and how to be able to swim strongly with your child. Recently, someone posted on Facebook that their kids had the basics down in swimming and they were questioning whether to have them continue on. I chimed in right away and made it very clear: it is not enough to know the basics, you need to learn how to be a strong swimmer as well as be familiar with good water safety. Being a strong swimmer means good stroke technique and development as well as endurance. Knowing. first aid and water safety just means that you will know what to do in case of an emergency.
Enrolling children in swimming lessons is very easy and most municipalities offer reasonable rates. Take advantage of summer lessons because your child will learn faster and better when they attend swimming lessons every day for a few weeks. There is no question that you cannot just learn the basics. Red Cross swimming lessons also provide a water safety component. Even from a young age, you can teach kids what to do in an emergency situation. Education is key. The Red Cross website has plenty of great tips and resources for water safety.
Enjoying the summer at either the beach, lake or by the pool means we cannot forget simple water safety rules (you see, you can’t take the lifeguard out of me). It is not enough to be ‘just nearby’ you need to be actively supervising. Here are a few of my own safety tips:
- know your environment and make sure the pool area is off limits to young ones
- backyard pools should be properly fenced and have self-closing and self-latching gates
- don’t get distracted easily around water with young kids around (look away from your book, phone or conversation)
- go over pool rules: no running, pushing, no food or drinks by the pool
- give clear instructions on pool rules: don’t go into pool un accompanied, have a buddy to keep an eye out on you (if kids are older); check-in
- set limits (stay in shallow end); have a swim test
- have them wear a lifejacket (not just arm floaties) if they are not strong swimmers
- monitor child play (make sure no one is feeling uncomfortable with the play in the pool)
- Pool decks should be cleared of toys and debris to prevent trips and falls
- get in the pool – have fun with your kids
- know basic first aid
The video below can be a bit scary but unfortunately, it happens all too often in Canada. Be sure to keep track of where your children are at all times when near water. You can have fun in water … just remember to always be safe.
Disclosure: I am sharing this important message as a member of the Red Cross Canada water and pool safety blog team working with Thrifty Mom Media. I have been compensated, but this is an issue that is important to me and my opinion is truthful.