Despite the approach of summer, I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from Water Safety Wednesdays. This is because I’ve been busy, not only with my day job (hello, weekend overtime), but because I’m part of a committee that is planning a workshop for Instructor Trainers and Master Instructor Trainers. Our theme this year is motivation; specifically how do we motivate ourselves and others to be the best instructors we can be? How do we motivate others to take water safety seriously? How do we make it memorable?
And this is where you come in – I’m opening up the comments far and wide on this one.
If you’ve ever taken a swimming lesson, or known someone who has taken a swimming lesson, or registered someone for swimming lessons and observed tell me: what did you like about the instructor? What didn’t you like? Specifically, what did they do to motivate you (or someone you know) to learn to be safe in, on and around the water? Did they practice what they preach? Were they focused and motivated to providing the best water safety education they could? How did you know this?
Or if you like, you could tell me in more general terms what a really memorable teacher did to make you take something they were teaching seriously.
If you could share, I’d be really grateful. You can share anonymously, if you like, and if you want it to remain really private, you can email me at rtissues (at) gmail (dot) com.
Now that spring is officially here, many people will be getting prepared for summer, whether that’s prepping the backyard pool, or getting the cottage at the lake ready for summer weekends. I’d like to make a plea that you put water safety first and foremost. I’ve helped compile the statistics; I know how many people die needlessly every year through drowning. While that number has been going down over the years, it’s not at zero yet.
So if you’re getting your boat ready for summer:
- Get a pleasurecraft license.
- Make sure you have proper safety equipment. Transport Canada has a list of what you need depending on the type of boat you are using
- Have your boat inspected for leaks and any other damage
- Fork out the money to have the boat repaired, already
- Get educated on how to be a safe boater (if your kids have been taking swimming lessons, it’s likely they know some of this)
- Have some float plans ready in a convenient place. It’s really important to let someone know, where you’re going, who you’re going with and what time you’re expected back at the very least. That way, they can call for help if you don’t return
- Be smart: don’t drink and boat. Most boating related accidents have some alcohol involvement.
On a side note, did you know that most boating accidents occur 50 m or less from shore or another point of safety? So being able to swim 50 m in open water might be a good idea.
So in all your summer boating fun this year, play it safe: get everything ready before you go; be prepared – it’s much easier, and less costly in so many ways, to never have an accident than dealing with the fallout from one.
Disclaimer: this series does not represent the ideas of the Canadian Red Cross, the Lifesaving Society or any other body. They represent only my own knowledge and opinions from years of teaching swimming and water safety.
I was on a cruise to Mexico. We’d gone on an excursion snorkeling. We met a couple from the US who were on their first vacation without kids in 20 years or so as their youngest had just gone off to college. Their reward was going on a couple of cruises back to back. The woman was fairly nervous as she’d just taken her first set of swimming lessons a few months previously. She was going to be decked out in a PFD, fins and a snorkel. I reassured her by telling her that women have built-in flotation devices and all she has to do is remember to breathe and kick.
She started telling me about her swimming lessons – that she had taken them specifically to prepare for this event because her husband loves snorkeling and diving and she wanted to be able to go with him. And her instructor sounded absolutely amazing. The first day of class, he had them all set goals. Her goal, of course, was to be able to snorkel with her husband on their first sans kids vacation. So he had her bring in mask, fins and snorkel, showed her how they fit and had her practice with them.
And learning how to use the mask, fins, and snorkel, plus teaching her self-rescue skills (e.g. – how to do a back float) were her swimming lessons. Because he had her identify a goal, he could tailor the lessons to her needs and wants. She had such a good experience, she was going to sign up for more lessons after they got back so that she could really learn how to swim.
Moral of the story:
Adults can learn how to swim. If you’re an adult, figure out why you want to learn how to swim. Do you want to be able to play comfortably with your kids in the water? Do you want to join a loved one on a favourite activity? Do you want to do it for fitness? Do you want to race or do a triathlon? Figure out what you want, tell your instructor and go from there. If your instructor isn’t teaching you what you need or want, then get another instructor. But don’t rely solely on your instructor – you’ll need to practice outside of class, probably.
If you’re an instructor, tailor your classes to your learners’ wants and needs. Help them set goals – make sure they’re realistic. Also know that adults need lots and lots of practice when it comes to learning how to swim because the physics is all backwards. If you’re really good, you’ll inspire them to come back for more – and if you do that, you’ve done your job (and your employer will love you because, hey, revenues).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not represent the views of the Canadian Red Cross, the Lifesaving Society or any other water safety organization. They are only my experiences and knowledge after years and years of teaching swimming and instructor training.
On a non-water safety related note, you can see my first post for Northern Voice here
My three avid readers and commenters probably know by now that, in a past life, I was a lifeguard and swim instructor. As I gained more experience, I took a bunch of Instructor Trainer (IT) and Lifeguard Instructor (NLSI) clinics. I finished them all up, but have since let the NLSI lapse. I have, however, become a Master Instructor Trainer (MIT) for Red Cross Water Safety Services. In other words, I teach the people who teach people how to be swim instructors. This is not to toot my own horn, but to show that I do have a fair amount of knowledge about water safety.
A few weeks ago, I got into a bit of a polite disagreement with a post over at the Yummy Mummy Club regarding swimming lessons for kids. The writer stated that the two things that helped her son learn how to swim was (a) family time at the pool and (b) goggles (although it may have been a snorkeling mask – I’m not entirely sure) because he wasn’t comfortable getting water in his eyes. While I don’t disagree with point a, I do fundamentally disagree with point b. It’s all well and good that goggles or a mask help kids learn to swim. However in all likelihood in an emergency situation (say, falling off a dock or a boat into the water), they won’t have said goggles or mask on. They will probably panic and be unable to save themselves because they have water in their eyes. So while they know the skills, once instinct takes over, it’s very difficult to control.
(Not to mention, goggles are a pain in the butt in swimming lessons. I used to tell parents that I was okay with goggles if they were for vision correction or if they fitted properly so the kids wouldn’t play with them and constantly be asking me to fix them. If they did that, the goggles would end up tucked in my swimsuit until the end of the lesson – at which point they would be returned with an explanation. The exception was if goggles were used for vision correction – and then they’d be encouraged to remove the goggles when they tried the skills themselves)
A mask is somewhat of a worse idea: the mask will block the nose as well as the eyes, forcing the swimmer to breathe through their mouth. They don’t learn how to handle water up the nose or in the eyes – and what if water gets in the mask? One of the first skills learned in a SCUBA course is how to clear the mask underwater.
What I think it came down to was this: I think the author was talking about, or at least focused on, swimming lessons; I was talking about water safety lessons.
It is true that swimming is a part of water safety. However, it is not the only thing around water safety. Water safety includes the behaviours, knowledge and attitudes that make a person safe in, on and around the water. It involves avoiding preparing to be around the water, avoiding incidents through knowledge, prevention and attitude, and being able to deal with incidents when they occur, starting with saving yourself.
A Passion for Prevention
Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in Canada. While the drowning the number of drownings have been going down year after year, it’s not sufficient. I became an MIT because I have a passion for prevention and enabling people to make the right decisions to keep them selves safe in, on and around the water. As we approach summer, more and more people are going to start swimming. Sadly, a lot of lessons don’t always include water safety. To fill the knowledge gap, I’m devoting Wednesdays to water safety here at Resolving Timeline Issues until the end of August.
Pointers for Parents: How do I get my kid to put their face in the water?
Let’s face it: kids generally don’t like getting their faces wet. So what can parents or caregivers do to get them used to it?
1. Show them it’s okay to get their face wet
Children, particularly young children will do what their parents do. So first, take your love swimming. And while you’re swimming show them it’s okay to get their faces wet. YOU get your face wet (without goggles) and when you come up, don’t wipe your face. Tip: if you have water in your eyes, just look up towards the ceiling for a second and blink; gravity will make the water run down your face.
In other words, if you are comfortable in, on and around the water with them, they will be too. If you are nervous and edgy, they will be too. This is particularly true of toddlers and babies.
2. Don’t wipe their faces
Seriously. Don’t. Let them blink and show them the trick of looking at the ceiling above. If they’re quite small and they wipe, so be it. Don’t stop them if they do it themselves, but encourage them to look at the ceiling and blink.
3. Practice in the bathtub
Ask your kid to “show me your swimming!” in the tub. Have them lay down on their tummies and practice blowing bubbles, putting their face in, etc. If they get a mouthful of water and start coughing, that’s okay (unless they’ve got an easy gag reflex or swallow a whole stomachful of water, you don’t have to worry).
Better yet, get in the tub with them and show them how it’s done. Monkey see, monkey do, after all. When I was teaching the Poptart how to blow bubbles, I’d lean over the side of the tub if I wasn’t in with her and stick my whole face in and blow bubbles.
4. Teach them how to blow bubbles out of their nose
I cannot emphasize this enough. Water up the nose is upsetting, often painful and really, a pain in the butt. The thing is, if you blow out your nose under water, water can’t go up. Make sense?
Some people teach it by saying, “Pretend you’re blowing your nose in a Kleenex!” Um. Ew. No. See, when you blow your nose, you’re trying to actually blow something out. In this case, we’re just trying to stop something from going up. The difference is a strong, fast blow vs. a sustained slower blow. Tell them to “hum under water” (make sure their mouths are closed) or “blow bumble bee bubbles”.
5. Celebrate successes, no matter how small or accidental and distract from disasters
If they slip on the bottom of the pool and go underwater, that’s okay. Pull them up or help them get up, and say “Awesome!” or some such, and high-five them. They might cough and sputter a bit, but they’ll be okay. If you have a toddler and younger, and they can’t stop coughing, hold them securely well above water using your knee to prop them up, and then lift one of their arms up so that their ribcage rises. This forces them to take a deep breath and will either slow or stop the coughing immediately. If they’re older, tell them “Take a deep breath!” and show them how.
Above all, celebrate. It’s awesome that they went underwater by themselves! Did they see any fish? High fives all around! (and when they high five you, launch yourself backward and go underwater yourself – they love it!)
6. Play with them in the pool
If you make it fun, they will continue. Show them the water’s a fun place to be – play games, sing songs, etc. Think about it as exercise for yourself (and trust me, chasing tots around in the pool is excellent exercise. Also, being in the water is a really efficient way to lose weight – the coolness of the water forces your metabolism up and you burn more. This is why Michael Phelps can eat 12 000 calories a day.)
Consider it family time. And it’ll save you some money because the more they practice, the easier it is.
And for slightly older kids, remember, they’ll do it when they’re ready. You don’t want to push them too hard because it might scare them off. Worst case scenario: you need to monitor your kid at the beach. Which should be done anyways.
If you have anything you want me to discuss in this series, let me know, either in a comment, or by emailing rtissues (@) gmail (dot) com.
Disclaimer: The above points do not represent the opinions of the Canadian Red Cross or any other body. They are my own experiences and opinions.