Samual Morris survived a nonfatal near drowning. Today he suffers from a hypoxic brain injury causing a lifelong disability. His mother writes: "there is no cure for my child."
The purpose of today's article is to reach as many parents as possible and potentially save the life of a child; to not only prevent drowning, but to prevent and recognize how devastating nonfatal near drowning can be.
I want to challenge parents, in fact, I want to beg parents: Never underestimate how easy it is for a child to find himself in a life or death situation in the water. Drowning is preventable through a layered approach. But before we talk about the other layers, let's start with one of the most critical layers, learning to swim.
Learning to swim, like most other worthwhile skills, takes time. It is a process, not an event. Yet the majority of parents scramble to sign up for a few weeks of swimming lessons in the summer, like they do soccer or gymnastics in the fall. This is all good if your child is a good enough swimmer to be on swim team and it's one of his seasonal sports. But imagine this:
Imagine how you would feel if your child loses his life this coming summer to a drowning accident (According to the American Institute of Preventive Medicine drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 5 & under, and second only to automobile accident for children age 6-14).
Imagine how you would feel if you knew you could have prevented your child's drowning by simply making the time in your little girl or little boy's busy schedule. I hear this excuse all the time. But really - if you lost your child to drowning because you didn't value swimming instruction in the off-season, would you have a peace of mind knowing that you made karate, soccer, gymnastics or dance more important than learning a skill that could have saved his/her life? Personally, I'd never forgive myself.
Before you make swimming lessons a "seasonal" activity, before you substitute other activities for swimming lessons in the fall, winter, and spring months, think about how much more important learning to swim is to your child's life! Parents will keep their child in karate for years so he can earn his black belt. Or in dance so, well I don't know why - I am a guy and a father of three boys!
We need our four year olds to be black belts in swimming. In fact, I now use a similar system to karate belts at Swim Lessons University with swim bracelets. Every parent should want their child to earn that blue bracelet, swimming's equivalent to a black belt in karate.
Learning to swim is a lifesaving skill, and while it can not be your only method of protecting your child, I think it's important that parents have some realistic, achievable proficiency goals when it comes to their child's swimming ability level at various ages. I understand you're not going to do swimming lessons 12 months out of the year. I understand children will get bored and will plateau because of their current motor skill development. But I also understand, because I see it every day, that most parents aren't allowing their children to even get close to achieving their child's swimming potential. Why? Because it's impossible to do with a few weeks of instruction each summer. In addition, most parents think their child can swim better than they really can!
However, in the defense of parents, until now, there was really nothing out there to help them understand what their child is capable of doing in the water. I think if we can help parents not only understand the importance of the skill, but also help parents understand what their child's swimming potential is at a variety of ages, I believe that more parents would do the right thing.
Swim Lessons University uses swim tests or benchmarks for children based on their age. In my opinion, if your child does not pass the age appropriate skill test, that you should have your son or daughter in swimming lessons right now. So how would your child fare?
Swim Lessons University Swimming Test Benchmarks:
- 1-2 years olds: Can your child comfortably hold his breath and swim a short distance for up to 5 seconds?
Pass / Fail
- 2-3 years olds: Can your child get back to the side of the pool from a standing entry?
Pass / Fail
- 3-4 years olds: Can your child swim with the face in the water and get a breath when needed for at least 15 feet?
Pass / Fail
- 4-5 years olds: Can your child swim 30 feet of backstroke and freestyle with side breathing?
Pass / Fail
- 5-6 years olds: Can your child swim 25 yards of backstroke and freestyle with side breathing?
Pass / Fail
- 6-8 years olds: Can your child swim 100 yards using a variety of formal strokes?
Pass / Fail
You make time to have your children take t-ball, karate, and soccer. You make time to have your children in dance, gymnastics, and piano lessons. You don't make time for your children to learn a skill that could save their lives?
I hate to be confrontational, but nothing else out there is working! According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, nearly 5000 people drown per year, more than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. And for every child who dies from drowning, another four received emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries like Samual Morris.Learning to swim, like learning any worthwhile skill takes time. When summer arrives, that's when you want your child improving skills, not starting them. When summer arrives, that's when your child is going to potentially find himself in a life or death situation in the water. Will your child be prepared to save himself if there is a lapse in supervision while swimming or around a pool, lake, river, or beach?
Please don't get me wrong, I am all for physical activity. I am all for participating in a variety of sports. I personally coach U-8 Soccer and U-10 Basketball in addition to teaching swimming lessons. I have a black belt in karate and love every bit of that process. But none of these skills are as important as learning to swim.