Body Wise

Water Safety Time Line

by Debbe Geiger

When it comes to beating the heat, most kids gravitate to water. However, that can be dangerous for children who don’t have basic swimming and water safety skills. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death among children age one to 14.

How young is too young to start teaching kids to swim? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aren’t developmentally ready for swimming lessons until they reach age 4. But swimming instructors say children still benefit from instruction that starts at an earlier age.

Water Safety Rules

You and your child should keep these basic rules in mind whenever water is near:

Never swim alone.

Never let your child swim in any body of water without an adult close at hand watching.

Anyone watching young kids at a pool should learn CPR and be able to rescue a child if needed. Stay within an arm’s length of your child.

No running on the pool deck.

Never dive into water except when permitted by an adult who knows the depth of the water and who has checked for underwater objects.

Be wary of anything that floats, including rafts and blow up toys. They can deflate, flip over or come down on top of a child.

Make sure pools are locked when nobody is around.

Keep a life preserver and shepherd’s hook in the pool area to help pull a child to the edge of the pool when necessary.

Always use a life jacket when on a boat, fishing, or playing in a river or stream.

Remove all toys from the pool after use so children aren’t tempted to reach for them.

“I’m never going to say they are water safe,” says swimming instructor Jim Hazen. But he does believe children who learn the very basics of water safety at a young age “have a better chance for survival in case of a water emergency or accident.”

Here’s an age-by-age guide to what you can expect your children to learn from a certified swim program:

6 Months to Age 3
Whether it’s water games, mommy-and-me games, group lessons or one-on-one, the emphasis at this age is on parental education.

Parents learn how to hold, handle and teach kids safely in the water. They are taught to reinforce the importance of safe entry and exit from the pool, and how to get kids comfortable on their backs in life jackets. Emphasis is also placed on what kids should do in emergency situations, such as how to get to the side if they fall or jump in.

Ages 4 to 6
The American Red Cross begins formal lessons for children starting at about age 4, although all levels are based on individual development. In the beginning, children are taught to fully submerge their face, hold on to someone while they kick their feet, float on their back and front while supported by an instructor, and basic water safety rules.

Ages 6 and Older
Depending on their level of readiness, children are taught to float unsupported, begin working on flutter kicks and start using their arms and legs to propel themselves. As the levels progress, they learn to tread water, push off the side, jump into deep water, and different strokes, including back and front crawl, breast, side and butterfly.

Flotation devices can help children feel comfortable in the water, and can even assist kids as they learn to swim, but a few basic safety rules apply.

For More Info

If you’re looking for a local swimming class or more information on swimming skills and water safety, check out these websites:

 American Red Cross — Safety tips and a link to help you find aquatic schools in your area. (click: Health and Safety services, then Swimming and Lifeguarding)

 KidsHealth — Safety tips for the pool, beach and water parks.

 SafeKids — Water safety info.

Avoid water wings or plastic flotation devices that rely on air to keep kids afloat, say swimming instructors. They can deflate or pop, and inhibit use of the arms to paddle. A solid foam flotation device is best. This could be a bubble worn on the front or back, or inserts that are placed in a specially designed bathing suit such as Aqua Force or My Pool Pal Flotation Swimsuits.

Life jackets are important, but they’re difficult to swim in.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer.