Drowning continues to be the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19 — claiming the lives of roughly 1,100 children in 2006 — according the American Association for Pediatrics. Toddlers and teenage boys are at the greatest risk for drowning. In Wisconsin, a swim class focusing on survival hopes to help with water safety.
Catch The Wave swim class at Xperience Fitness in Racine isn't a regular swim class. Sure, they have toys, bouys, floaties, and a bench for parents to observe and support their kids. But the goal of the class is not to learn how to dolphin kick in six weeks. The goal is survival.
"We are a survival based program. We teach children essentially how to right themselves if they were to fall into water above their heads," explains Kevin McDaniel, regional director of Catch The Wave. "We are teaching them an actual life skill, how to respond instinctively if they couldn't touch the bottom."
But how do you teach kids survival? And kids this young? McDaniel's answer is simple: focus on the back float.
"The reason we focus on that skill for our beginners [is] because they can stay there without expending much energy. They can breathe and they can call for help, as opposed to treading water where you only got a couple minutes before you’re exhausted," says McDaniel.
These methods are clearly at work in the class, which costs $17. First the instructors work to get the kids comfortable in the water. The kids wade in, stand on the steps playing with toys, but then the instructors coax the students out into the pool and lay back in the instructor's arms. The students stay there for just a couple of seconds to get them comfortable being in the water on their backs.
The goal is that after 16 lessons these 3-and 4-year-olds will be able to roll over independently onto their backs. Once that is mastered, they move on to body position in the water and stroke development.
Jill, a mother of one of the swimmers says, "If you're going to put your kid in any type of lesson, I would suggest you do swimming. It's a survival skill that they can use for the rest of their life. Dance is great, Karate is great, but swimming is the most important that they can carry throughout as they grow up."
Water safety is a concern for parents, and for good reason, McDaniel says. "[Drowning] is still the leading cause of accidental death in children from ages 1 to 4 in the United States — above car accidents. Yet we focus on car seat safety and things like that. Well, drowning safety is just as important. In fact, every year we have incidents from Illinois and Wisconsin — in backyards, pools, lakes — where children fall into the water."
According the American Academy for Pediatrics, swimming lessons for kids ages 1 and up can be effective for drowning prevention. However, in no way are swim lessons a substitute for parent supervision.