Water Safety…a Skill That Saves Lives

The month of May signals the beginning of summer fun: playing outside, splashing in outdoor pools and spending time in or near lakes and oceans. May is also water safety month. Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five? Or that a young child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water? Drowning can happen quickly and when we least expect it. Water safety education is extremely important and should be something every parent and early childhood educator teaches their children or students. Although enrolling your preschooler in a quality swim program will not prevent drowning, (proper adult supervision is the best prevention) participation in swimming lessons will add awareness.

British Swim School– We are surrounded by water with a pond in our backyard and summers spent at our family’s lake house. My husband and I want to insure our daughter feels comfortable in the water while developing the proper safety skills, so we enrolled her in the British Swim School when she was two-years old. Founded in 1981, the British Swim School teaches water safety survival skills to children as young as three months. Children are immediately taught the back float which is considered the most important water survival skill as it enables swimmers to rest, breathe and call for help, alleviating the silent danger of floating face down.

Our daughter began in the Swimboree class which requires adult participation (an adult goes in the pool with the child). Through nursery rhymes and engaging songs, our knowledgeable instructor, Miss Kayla, helped our daughter feel comfortable in the water. Miss Kayla assisted Lillian with the ability to turn over in the water until she was independently floating on her back. (Lillian learned quickly and was never afraid) When she turned three, Lillian moved to the Minnow class where she goes into the pool by herself. The thought of going into the pool without Mommy was a bit stressful for Lillian so Miss Kayla gradually got her prepared by having me step out of the pool for longer periods of time, gradually releasing her to independence. Now she eagerly goes into the pool independently and is thriving at the next level where they practice safe pool entry and exit and are learning “monkey, airplane, soldier” (arm movements in the water) as well as jumping into the water and turning onto their backs to float. All of the instructors are well trained and amazing with children but Lillian has a special bound with Miss Kayla. The British Swim School has small class sizes so each student gets one on one instruction and differentiated support. The program is flexible, allowing students to easily make up a class if one is missed due to any circumstance. A busy family like ours really appreciates this benefit. Their number one priority is teaching water safety so water safety rules and procedures are practiced and enforced. Every so many months they have a special “water safety week” where students are encouraged to wear light clothing over their swimsuits so they can get the feel of what it is like to be in water fully clothed. They practice shouting for help and learn how to safely assist someone who has fallen into the water and is in need of help.

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Lillian enjoys taking lessons with the British Swim School. Here she is with her instructor, Miss Kayla.

Josh the Baby Otter (A tale promoting water safety for children)– The British Swim School recently gifted us with the fabulous book “Josh the Baby Otter” by Blake Collingsworth and illustrated by Ashley Spitsnogle. The book was written in honor of the author’s son, Joshua, and in memory of all the precious children who have been lost to the tragedy of drowning. The delightful picture book teaches children about water safety through the adventures of Josh, a baby otter who is learning how to float on his back. “One of the first things otters teach their babies is how to float. This keeps them safe in the water. When we get tired, or the waters are too rough to swim, we can roll on our backs, look up at the sky, relax and float.” Learning how to float is the first step to learning how to swim. The book emphasizes the importance of staying away from all kinds of water unless you are with an adult and making sure you always swim with a buddy. The back of the book contains some valuable resources for children and adults. There is a cute “Learn to Float” song, facts about otters and a list of water safety tips. After reading the book children can take the Josh the Otter Water Safety Pledge. There is also a free “Josh the Otter” app where children can read the story, listen to the song, take the water safety pledge and enjoy coloring pages. Please visit www.joshtheotter.org for more information regarding water safety and to learn more about the “Josh the Otter” project, an organization devoted to water safety education. The book can be purchased on the “Josh the Otter” website or at Amazon. All proceeds from the sale of the book go directly to drowning prevention and instruction.

On the Other Side of the Glass

Since my daughter was a tiny 4 month old I have enjoyed taking her to a variety of adult/child classes. Over the years we have listened to stories and made crafts at the library, walked across the balance beam and learned basic ballet positions at The Little Gym, popped bubbles and played with the parachute at Gymboree, clapped to the steady beat and danced at Kindermusik and learned to float independently in the pool at the British Swim School.Lillian has never attended a daycare and won’t start an organized preschool until next school year, so the classes have provided her with an opportunity to socialize with other children while being exposed to a variety of age appropriate skills and topics. Having a class on the calendar has gotten us out of the house on days where we might have stayed in and have given me an opportunity to learn more about child development. During the first year of participating in classes I developed close friendships with some of the other mothers which I previously wrote about here in The Library Girls article.

But this article isn’t a review about the individual classes (although I have enjoyed things about all of them). Instead it’s about the sudden change that took place in each of the classes that turned our world upside down when Lillian turned three! Upon turning three the adult/child classes immediately went away and the children are moved into a class without an adult companion. And the class expectations became more rigorous as well. Where the adult/child classes were all about “free exploration” the preschool classes require more listening skills, more responsibility and more cooperation.

Lillian suffers from separation anxiety so I knew making the transition from having mommy constantly by her side to going into class by herself was going to rock her little world in the worst way. Not to mention causing added stress and anxiety for mommy! So a month or so before she turned three we began to discuss the possibility. We also read books where the main characters go to school without their mommy. Our favorite was “Llama, Llama, Misses Mama.” We stayed after class and observed the “big kids” interacting with the teacher by themselves and acted out what it would look and feel like with her beloved stuffed animals.

The Little Gym class was the first class she tried on her own. She wasn’t looking forward to it but I assured her I wasn’t going to leave her and even sat in the back of the room for the first week. All of the preparation paid off because she did great and was the perfect little listener. In fact, like many children her age, she was more engaged and on task without me being by her side. It became clear that she was developmentally ready for this new milestone, although mommy shed a few tears knowing this transition signaled that her chubby little toddler had turned into a big preschooler! The next week she went in by herself and a month later she said, “You can leave now,” as I walked her into the dance classroom!

Now when we go to classes at The Little Gym, participate in Kindermusik or swim at The British Swim School, a thin piece of glass separates us. I get a few minutes to myself and have the opportunity to engage in adult conversation without interruption while Lillian is gaining self-reliance and is learning to navigate life without mommy. She is thriving in all of her classes and enjoys her new found independence. I am proud of her accomplishments and celebrated when she went into the swimming pool all by herself! This was the most difficult class for her to transition out of and although she hasn’t officially moved to the next class just yet, her swim teacher has been brilliant and so supportive, gradually releasing her to swim class without mommy by adding more independence with each passing lesson and having me step out of the pool for longer periods of time.

As I study Lillian’s every move “on the other side of the glass,” I can’t help but get a bit teary eyed when my mini me turns away from the group, peers out of the glass that divides us and searches for me with her big blue eyes. When she locates me she gets the biggest grin on her face, searching for the reassurance that I am still there and as if to say, “Mommy, I’m a big girl now but I still need you!” I gently smile back, my heart overflowing with joy knowing that my big preschooler continues to need my love and support even if I’m not by her side. After our quiet exchange she happily returns to the classroom activity and I continue to watch her on the other side of the glass.