Swim Lessons Save Lives: Answering Top Questions With a Professional Swim Instructor
A child that knows how to swim or what to do should they fall into the water can potentially rescue themselves or keep their head above water until help arrives.
By Ashley Antle
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of accidental death in kids ages 1 to 14. It’s also 100% preventable.
Keeping kids safe in and around water is all about layers of protection — locking and alarming doors and gates leading to bodies of water, having a physical barrier over or around a pool, adult supervision near water, wearing a life jacket and learning to swim. Together, these layers save lives.
A child that knows how to swim or what to do should they fall into the water can potentially rescue themselves or keep their head above water until help arrives. It’s important to know that even strong swimmers can drown, so adult supervision during planned swim time is key.
Kathryn Lammers has been a professional swim instructor for 20 years. She is the owner of The Swim Lesson People and the chair of Safe Kids North Texas - Fort Worth, a childhood injury prevention coalition of the Center for Children’s Health, led by Cook Children’s. We asked Lammers to break down the importance of swim lessons and what parents need to know to find the best fit for their child.
Why are formal swim lessons with a certified instructor important?
There's a lot that goes into swim lessons. It’s more than just learning a swim stroke. We teach rescue and safety skills like back floats, turning around and swimming back to the wall, safe entry and exit of the pool, and waiting for permission to go into the water. One of the things that we really work on is kids coming out to us in the pool. So they have to sit, stop, wait, and then turn around and ask the parents, “May I get in the water?“ Asking for permission is our step one. Then we go into how to safely get in and out of the pool. Or, if they fall in, how to climb back up and exit to safety. We also teach them how to float until mom or dad sees them. Formal swim lessons cover a big grouping of water safety and competency skills.
What age should kids start swim lessons?
We really encourage water acclimation and safety as early as possible. Kids are able to learn safety skills like rolling over and floating on their back as soon as they're crawling and walking. But, every child is different. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents keep their child’s emotional and physical maturity, comfort level in the water, and developmental abilities and limitations in mind when considering when to start them in lessons. When in doubt, talk to a certified swim instructor for guidance.
Do kids age out or get too old for swim lessons?
It’s never too late to learn to swim, even for adults. In fact, parents who do not know how to swim are more likely to have children that grow up with a fear of the water. Taking lessons together would be a healthy bonding experience for the whole family. You’re never too old to learn and practice water safety.
What should parents look for in a program or swim instructor?
You want to make sure that your instructor is insured. You also want to see what kind of certifications and training they have. There are quite a few certifications out there, including the Red Cross, Starfish Aquatics Institute, Swim Lessons University, Infant Survival Rescue, YMCA and Infant Aquatics. Make sure they have at least one certification, if not multiple. Make sure they are CPR and first aid certified so that, in the event of an emergency, they have some sort of training to respond. Also, talk with your friends and people in your community for feedback and reviews on programs and instructors they have used.
How often should kids take lessons?
Year-round is always a better option versus a few weeks of intensive lessons. If you think about it, a runner training for a marathon does not train for just two weeks before their race. They train all year. It’s the same concept with swim lessons. Having those year-round touches, even if it's just a once-a-week refresher or a once-a-week building course, are better for retaining skills. As kids grow and develop, we can change and alter our skills with them. Whereas, when we throw a one-week or two-week intensive training at them, it gets them a lot of information really quickly, but they tend to lose those skills if they aren’t practicing them regularly. If you have a pool in your backyard and your kids are swimming every day, a two-week intensive program might work well, but that’s not going to work if kids don’t swim for a month or more after that two-week session. It really depends on the kids, the family and the schedule. My personal preference has always been classes once a week all year round.
What’s better — group or private lessons?
In a private lesson, you can get more tailored to what your child needs, and they get more instructional time. As for group classes, some kids learn by playing with friends and having that peer support. Again, it really becomes a personal decision based on the needs of your child. Sometimes we start with private lessons and move to groups. That way we learn our basic skills and get to a point where mom and dad feel comfortable with our swim ability, and then we go into a group class to further our skills.
What are some misconceptions about swim lessons?
Parents often believe if they put their child in swim lessons, they become a competent swimmer in just a few lessons, and that they don't have to watch them when they are in the water. We can’t emphasize enough that even strong swimmers can drown, so adults should stay within reach of swimmers without distraction.
Everybody talks about the statistic that kids in swim lessons are less likely to drown. It’s not that they're less likely to drown, it's that they're less likely to have a fatal drowning incident. Your child learning to swim is just one of the layers to protect them around water. It needs to be coupled with a gate or barrier to the pool, watching the water when your child is swimming and the proper use of life jackets.
Another misconception is that kids who take swim lessons are capable of swimming in any pool, be it indoors or outdoors. Outdoor pools are much colder than indoor pools where many learn to swim. Our indoor pool is 92 degrees. It's like a giant bathtub, but then you go outside on a 100-degree day and jump into a pool that's 75 or 80 degrees and it instantly takes your breath away. As an adult, we can cope with that and adjust quickly, but kids don't understand or know how to regulate that. It’s a shock to their system. So they jump in a cold pool and that initial shock sets them back a little. They’re more concerned at that point with self-preservation than calmly doing what they’ve been taught to do to stay above water.
Open bodies of water are a whole new kind of challenge. Backyard pool drownings happen most with younger kids. As kids get older, they start to become victims to open-water drownings, like in a lake or ocean. They're used to playing in pools where they can touch, or they can swim but don't have to swim long distances. Then they go to a lake, pond or the ocean and have new obstacles to deal with like murky water, currents, changing water depths, rip tides, and debris that may entrap a swimmer. You might have a 12-year-old who's comfortable in a swimming pool and 4 to 5 feet of water, but then you take them to the lake and, all of a sudden, they come off the bank and it's 10-feet-deep, or they jump into the water and hit their head on something.
What options are available to those who can’t afford to pay for formal swim lessons?
Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition does a great job with water safety and swim lessons for a nominal fee. The YMCA typically has scholarship programs, as do many privately-owned swim lesson companies, so that we can make lessons affordable to those who need financial assistance. Hope Floats Foundation raises money and awards scholarships, either partial or full, for swim lessons for children living in poverty. Safe Kids North Texas - Fort Worth has the Water Safety Club. As a member of this club you get free water safety lessons at multiple locations throughout North Texas.
Lifeguard your Child began in 2016 and continues its regional collaboration, led by Cook Children’s, to prevent drownings in North Texas. The campaign aligns consistent messages and educational goals across our region. Together with community partners across 11 counties, we work year-round to provide education, Water Watcher tags, swim lessons, life jackets and other prevention tools to families.
For more information, visit: Drowning Prevention | The Center for Children's Health (centerforchildrenshealth.org)