Swimming lessons can save your child’s life

With the heat across the country reaching record highs this summer, it’s only natural to look towards the best cooling solution: the pool. And programs across the country are hoping safety is the first priority.

Safe Swimming Saves Lives: Vamos a Nadar is a Spanish-language swimming program for kids organized by the American Red Cross of Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties in California. Vamos a Nadar hopes to teach safe swimming to children as young as five years old, as well as provide parents and guardians proper water safety tips for free.

“When you learn how to swim, you learn water safety as well,” says Rosiris Guerra, founder of the program and nurse assistant training manager for the American Red Cross of Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties. “There are a lot of other components in our swim lessons, it’s not just how to backstroke and butterfly,” she adds.

The program began nine years ago when reports of Latinos drowning in the Russian River increased.

“Seventy-five percent of the deaths were Latinos,” says Guerra. “We needed a long-term solution.”

The program provides one free swimming lesson for children, as well as a water safety presentation for their parents, provided both in English and in Spanish. After the class, participants are given a coupon to continue lessons at participating pools for a largely reduced price.

Swimming lessons can save your childs life vamos a nadar2 parenting family NBC Latino News

Children at the Vamos a Nadar Program learn not just to swim, but how to swim safely. (Photo/American Red Cross, 2012, Walt Bagley)

A study by USA Swimming shows 58 percent of Hispanic children, and 69 percent of African American children, do not have the skills needed to stay afloat.

“Participating in the program can be very powerful when you’ve lost someone to drowning,” says Ellen Silver, regional communications manager for American Red Cross of Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties.

Factors for these low skills include fear of drowning or injury, inability to pay for lessons, and lack of family and parental involvement and encouragement.

“We think that it could be that many of their parents or grandparents never learned how to swim,” says Patty Davis, spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “We want to encourage parents to get swim lessons for their children. It could be lifesaving,” she adds.

The CPSC recently launched their annual Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives campaign, which highlights and encourages parents and caregivers to make sure their children know how to swim.

“Our whole campaign is geared to these populations, these vulnerable populations, which include Hispanic and African American communities,” says Davis.

While many families cannot afford swim lessons, many programs such as Vamos a Nadar and Pool Safely are available to provide assistance. The Pool Safely campaign partners with the Josh Project, an organization that helps families who have suffered the loss of a child to drowning, to provide scholarships and funds for families seeking swimming lessons. Another economical program is YWCA of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Los Pececitos (Little Fish). This program provides full scholarships for swimming lessons for Spanish-speaking children as young as three-years-old.

Another, more technological resource, is online video tutorials such as uSwim, which provides tips and the necessary processes to teach your child to swim.

According to Latina Lista, uSwim states that a parent does not need to know how to swim in order to teach their child.

“Some of our best teachers over the years have been non-swimmers. As long as you are comfortable in the pool, and able to stand with your head above the water and move around freely, you can communicate with the child and show them the correct actions and give appropriate support,” states uSwim on their Frequently Asked Questions page.

But all free resources may not be the best solutions.

“Swimming is a very physical activity. It’s hard to translate into a bodily experience,” says Silver.

“There is no substitute for actually being in the water,” says Davis. “It should be paired with in-the-water swim lessons,” she adds.

Some tips for pool safety, provided by Davis, include:

  • If you’re at a public pool, do not rely on a lifeguard. Watch your children.
  • If you are at a backyard pool, make sure you have a self-closing, four-sided gate around the pool, to prevent falls into the pool. The first place to look for a missing child is in the pool.
  • Simple steps safe lives. Make sure you have layers of protection around your house, including a fence around your house so other children do not attempt to dive into the pool, as well as a pool and spa cover that locks.

A full list of pool safety tips can be found at Pool Safely and the American Red Cross.

“There are definitely fewer numbers of drowning-related deaths since we began doing this,” says Silver. “There’s a tremendous desire to learn.”

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