Pop on the goggles, floaties, and swim noodles for National Learn to Swim Day

Summer and water play go hand in hand. Whether dashing through sprinklers or leaping into lakes and pools, splashy fun and wet cooldowns create giggles and warm-weather memories. National Learn to Swim Day, the third Saturday in May—this year May 19—is a perfect time to make sure everyone is ready to be smart and safe at the beach and poolside.  

According to the Teach Me to Swim website sponsored by SwimWays, a company that sells products for water lovers and also started Learn to Swim day in 2012 during Water Safety Month (May), the event is “dedicated to educating parents and children about water safety and the importance of learning to swim.”

At the top of their list of a dozen ways to celebrate is “enroll your kids in swim lessons through USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash Local Partners, a local YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, or other local swim clubs.” Community aquatic centers also typically make lessons available.

To help get kids ready to make like fishies, the Today’s Parent website last year published “5 Fun and Easy Games that Teach Your Kids to Swim,” by Gillian Chassels. The article offers “water-play activities [that] will not only get your kids splashing around” but also “falling in love with swimming.” The activities help teach important skills such as breath control, kicking and propulsion, and becoming comfortable in a swimming position.

The article also reminds parents to “Be sure that your child knows to ask permission before entering the water and that access to pools is restricted when they are not in use.” Rules about running on the deck or “no horseplay” need reinforcement, and kids who can’t swim should be wearing life jackets. Chappels also suggests that hiring a lifeguard can be a good idea when hosting a pool party.

Parents sometimes wonder what the right age is for learning to swim; different sources have different answers, and different families have different traditions and philosophies. According to another 2017 article, this one on the VeryWell Family website, titled “When to Start Swimming Lessons for Kids,” by Vincent Ianelli, M.D., “the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for all children age 4 or older.” While some sources suggest the AAP previously took the stance that younger kids might not be developmentally ready and that swimming lessons for young toddlers might remove their natural fear of water and instill a false sense of security in parents, Ianelli reports, “they are no longer opposed to aquatic programs and swimming lessons for toddlers and preschoolers between the ages of 1 to 4 years old.”

That adjustment in age recommendations is important. Using information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Moms Team website for sports parents reports that “350 children under the age of five drown in pools each year nationwide” and “the majority of the deaths occur in June, July and August,” most in backyard pools. They also note that three-quarters were between 1 and 3, noting that “Toddlers, in particular, often do something unexpected because their capabilities change daily.” And contrary to what most of us might wish to believe, “At the time of the incidents, most victims were being supervised by one or both parents.”

Of course, it’s not just toddlers who are at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, using data from the web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) about one in five people who die from drowning are children ages 14 and younger. They also report that “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”

While talking to kids about water safety it’s a great opportunity to introduce them to the branch of armed forces that, along with protecting our country, also helps keeps citizens safe while recreating on the water, including conducting search and rescue operations: the U.S. Coast Guard. One episode of the preschool program Charlie & Company is titled “First Mate Charlie.” Parts of it are filmed at a real-life Coast Guard station, and Charlie and his teacher Miss Elllie, go aboard an actual Coast Guard ship. The cast of characters is joined by some Coasties, and the learning activities include working with patterns through the use of rescue flags. The entire series, including that episode, is available on DVD, the Little Scholar® learning tablet, and the online learning destination Anywhere Teacher, which is available as an app for Android, iOS, or Mac, and as a Windows download.

While diving into summer, be sure to equip kids with the skills and information to keep them safe, and the knowledge and sense of caution to keep things fun.