By Carla Branch
Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer and the opening of public and private pools. With drowning the second leading cause of unintended deaths among children, understanding and teaching youngster about water safety is imperative.
Ellen Jones is the aquatic director at the YMCA of Alexandria. “I see children from the age of six months in our pool with their parents. While most people understand that water can be dangerous, they fail to acquire and use basic safety skills,” she said.
The mistake that adults most often make is not learning to swim themselves and not ensuring that their children receive swimming lessons. “Enjoying water sports safely requires more than just putting on a life jacket. You need to know how to swim and what to do if there’s an emergency,” Jones said.
The first rule is “never leave children alone in or near water. Also, At the Y, children are not allowed to be in the pool without a parent until they can swim the length of the pool with rhythmic breathing and tread water for at least 20 seconds. Even children who meet those standards must have a parent on deck, near the pool, until the child is nine years of age or older. Between ages nine and thirteen, a parent must be in the building,” Jones said. Pool rules are posted but lifeguards have discretion to ask a parent to provide additional supervision depending on the level of activity in the pool.
As the summer swim season begins, parents should re-assess their child’s ability to swim. “Just because a child was able to jump off the diving board last summer doesn’t mean that the same child will have retained that level of skill through the winter, especially if they have not been swimming year-round,” Jones said.
Those who have backyard pools should enclose them with fences that have locked gates and an alarm system. “If there are children living in the home with the pool, the adults should have taken a basic CPR class and, ideally, a basic water rescue class,” Jones said. Both are offered at the Y.
Those who plan to spend time at the beach this summer should take additional precautions. “First of all, never swim in an area that is not under the supervision of a lifeguard and adhere to all rules and posted warnings. Also, keep children within arm’s reach. Water wings, noodles and inflatable backpacks provide buoyancy but do not replace adult supervision in the water,” Jones said.
The Y offers formal swim lessons to children as young as six months with a parent/child class and lessons are available for adults of any age. “Swimming and other water activities can be enjoyed for a lifetime and, the earlier an individual is exposed to water safety, the more enjoyment they will have,” Jones said. “That having been said, it’s never too late to learn to swim.”
The YMCA offers private and group swim lessons and an aquatic Summer Camp. For more information, call 703-838-8085.