Author: Carla Zuill
With the summer now in socially distant full swing, thousands of adults and children alike will flock to the beach or the pool as they soak up rays. It’s vital to teach children water safety and survival skills, says Lesley Cherry White of Aquamania Swimming— something she has been doing since the 1980s. She speaks with Bermuda Parent Magazine.
BPM: How young should children start to learn swimming?
LCW: There are various recommendations as to the age one should start swimming lessons. The Association of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that lessons can start at age one.
Swimming lessons play an important role in prevention of drowning, which is a leading cause of death among children in the USA. Parents need to consider certain things when making the decision to start swim lessons. The AAP recommends that parents consider their child’s emotional maturity, physical and developmental abilities and limitations, and comfort level in the water.
Aquamania Swimming starts les- sons at one, with adult and toddler (Aquatot) lessons, which is an orientation to water, to help the parent better help their toddler in and around water. With the younger ones, some of the skills we cover in the pool can be done in the bathtub.
BPM: Do you think it’s important for children to learn how to swim especially because we live on an island?
LCW: It is very important that children become safe in the water as soon as possible. It may not look pretty, but they need to know how to re-surface and get back to the side of the pool or dock, if they were to fall in unexpectedly. Also, the toddlers who are in shallow water and tumble over, need to know how to regain their feet, and get their heads out of the water.
BPM: Is it harder to learn how to swim in the ocean or the pool? Why?
LCW: Saltwater lifts your body higher in the water, so your legs do not sink so much, and you don’t have to push as much water away as you swim through. This makes swimming a bit easier in saltwater than fresh water. I have taught swimming in both bodies of water, and they both have their ups and downs.
BPM: Why is treading water so important?
LCW: It is an important safety skill to learn, so that if a child finds him/her- self in trouble in deeper water, and can- not make progress to safety, at least they can keep their head above water until help arrives. There are various ways to tread water, and a person should use the method that work for him or her.
It is also a great skill to learn for water polo and synchronised swimming.
BPM: Developmentally, what water skills are important for babies, say, versus a five-year-old?
LCW: Swimming lessons for babies involve more play and an orientation to the water. Babies are not strong enough physically to lift their heads to take a breath when swimming. Getting the baby comfortable on their back is a process but would be beneficial.
Infants usually have no problem lying on their backs and being pulled through the water, but at the toddler age it can go either way. A five to six-year-old, can learn basic water survival skills such as floating and getting to the closest exit point as well as treading water. Some five- year-olds can also learn the freestyle or front crawl as it is also known as.
BPM: Is it traumatic to throw a child overboard to teach them how to swim? If any, what are the ramifications?
LCW: You will hear some of the older Bermudian folk say, “I never did swimming lessons; my Daddy just took me to the dock and threw me overboard; it was sink or swim.”
If the sink or swim theory works then great, but for the majority this will probably not be the best thing to do. If the child has a negative experience with this approach, they can have a fear of water that is hard to overcome. It will take a lot of work for the instructors to get them over their fear of water and for them to trust someone again, before they can even begin to teach them. BPM