Author Archives: Mario Vittone

Choosing a Formal Swim Instructor

by Mario Vittone

Though I am embarrassed to admit it, I have never been able to help much with math homework.  Sure, I’m a grown man and should know a few things, but advanced mathematics isn’t something I was ever good at.  Regardless of my grasp of the basics, I am far out of my depth when it comes to anything beyond geometry and basic algebra. So when it comes to helping the kids, my wife and I call in a pro (a local math teacher who tutors on the side) – and I stay out of the way. This is a good idea.

Likewise, you may be comfortable introducing your kids to the water and teaching them to relax and float, but advanced swimming lessons are simply more than you can handle.  That’s okay. If breath control and proper stroke technique have you scratching your head like – well, me with polynomial long division, here are some fundamentals for finding professional help.

1. Assess their commitment to safety and professional certification

Anyone serious about working with children in the water will have taken the time to get certified in CPR and first aid. At minimum, any swimming instructor should be certified in first aid, CPR, and lifeguarding. Another certification to look for is WSI or Water Safety Instruction.  This is the American Red Cross’s designation of a swim instructor.  You should have no hesitation in asking to see their credentials and a good instructor will have none in showing you them. 

There are other professional affiliations and training certificates that you may see, including affiliation with the U.S. Swim Schools Association. Association with a professional organization doesn’t guarantee perfection, but it does let you know that the school or instructor you are considering takes their profession seriously and is working with other professionals to improve their craft, and member schools are rated for their experience and commitment to the continuing education of their staff.

2. Understand their approach to instruction

Ask the instructor, what is your approach to swim instruction?  What do you try to accomplish?  What you are looking for is an instructor who works to build fundamentals and build up skills progressively. You’re listening for words like “fundamentals” and “progression” and “developing confidence” when asking questions about the way they teach.

Be wary of any guarantees for how fast or slow your child’s skills in the water may develop. Experienced instructors understand that children are different and will have their own pace when learning to swim.  That doesn’t mean that group instruction is better or worse than one-on-one lessons, but you want to be sure that swim instructors have an appropriate appreciation of your child’s individual needs.

Choosing a formal swim instructor by Mario Vittone

3. Watch them with other kids

I know I have discussed the importance of being there and being comfortable with your children in the water, but sometimes your presence can distract them. At certain ages, kids learn faster, stay focused longer, and even complain less when mom and dad are out of sight.  Some instructors have parents watching from a clandestine spot, and this is just fine. You should, of course, be able to watch lessons before you commit.  When you do this, you are looking for some very specific things.

You want an instructor or instructional team who appears patient and looks comfortable interacting with children the same age as your child.  You want to see if the students look engaged or bored.  Are they excited to be there and having fun, or do they look like it is drudgery?  While more fun equals more learning, don’t be too put off if the older kids look like they are doing some real work. What you are looking for as much as anything is the appearance that students like the instructors and vice versa.

The American Red Cross recommends no more than ten students for every instructor, so have a look at class sizes as well.  Again, group instruction isn’t a bad thing and it can even be preferable at times to one-on-one instruction. Children can gain confidence from watching others their age swimming alongside. But, too many kids at a time is hard to manage on dry land, much less in the water.

4. The classroom matters

Nothing takes the fun out of swimming like chattering teeth in a pool that is too cold.  Blue lips and shivering kids are a good sign that you should look somewhere else. The clarity and quality of the water are important as well. Water quality for your home pool is equally important for any pool where lessons are held.  It matters for the safety of the kids and for the quality of the learning that will go on when they are there.

Burning eyes from improper pH levels can ruin a lesson quicker than anything, and you can forget the fun factor if lessons = discomfort for your kids. A properly run pool will look and smell clean and clear. If it isn’t a place you would love to swim, your kids won’t either.

5. Reputation

I have several friends in the business of providing professional swim lessons and all of them are proud of what they do.  When you ask them for references (and you should, of course) a good instructor will be thrilled to hand them over.  You can ask the parents you see when you visit, but you also want to hear from the vets, whose children have been to the school and moved on.

My good friend Johnny Johnson of Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, California has taught generations of children and has a reputation spanning decades. Six of his students have competed in the Olympics! You should be so lucky to have a school like his nearby, but don’t be afraid of up-and-comers with a good reputation and the right credentials. Schools like Johnny’s have instructors who learn from the masters and move on to start their own schools in other markets.  So if a friend of yours recommends a school that is maybe a bit too far from your home, you should ask them for a professional reference for an instructor in your area.  Believe me, they’ll know who else is out there and will give you good advice.

Consider the five things listed above, ask good questions, and watch the instructors while they work. You’ll be well on your way to finding an instructor or swim school that is right for your child. In the end, you are looking for a place and for people that will help your child learn a skill for life. I don’t think it is a no-brainer decision, but it shouldn’t be as hard for you as trigonometry is for me.

Stay safe, have fun, and as always, I’d be glad to answer your questions in the comments below.

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

Preventing and Overcoming Apprehension of Water

by Mario Vittone

To become a swimmer your child has to first want to be in the water. Some children develop apprehension towards swimming that can stop their progress. To overcome this apprehension of water, you have to understand why it may be there in the first place, and then work to develop trust with your child where water is involved.

Parents should know that outright fear of water (aquaphobia) – characterized by screaming, panic, and avoidance of all contact with water including baths – is a situation that requires professional help. But general unease around the pool is something that parents can address.

Most children are naturally drawn to water, but there are several ways that apprehension can creep in. A child who is uneasy around water usually has a reason. Here are some examples of situations that make early swimmers not want to even try:

Your Apprehension

“If mom is afraid of the water, maybe I should be, too!” Children pick up on your apprehension of water first. If you aren’t a good swimmer and it doesn’t look like you are having fun, it’s going to be hard to convince your child that they should get in there with you. Non-swimming parents need to take lessons before trying to teach their children how to swim. I’m not suggesting that you have to become a fully qualified swim instructor (though that couldn’t hurt), but at least get to a place where you are comfortable and a strong swimmer before being responsible for your child’s introduction to the water.

Early Experiences

If an adult ever told a child, “I won’t let go,” and then let go of them in the water, that child will find it harder to be trusting in the pool the next time. Early childhood experiences in the pool should be fun and easy. Your toddler doesn’t need to swim on their own or learn to float on their first (or even tenth) day in the pool. What they need is to feel secure, to have fun, and to learn to enjoy the water.

Make sure these early exposures are about fun and play and always be right there to help them and support them if they need it.

Dad and baby in the water

Baby Steps for the Babies

If your child doesn’t want you to take them out into the pool, don’t force them! Dragging them out against their will might not be the best idea. Instead, let them simply sit on the edge, or on a shallow step and play. Stay close and make the experience easy and fun.

Next, you can play games with the water. Splash and play with the water yourself first, and see if your child will mimic your behavior; splash water on your arms, and then your shoulders, and eventually on your face and head. You can use a plastic cup to pour the water on your head, showing your child that it can be fun.

As they get more comfortable, step things up and encourage them to splash you or have them pour the water on you and then themselves. These gentle and unforced interactions with you can build their trust and increase their comfort with you in the pool. Remember, there is no hurry and no need to pressure the child to go further. Just keep having fun and making the water about play, and slowly the apprehension should fade.

Stay Close and Be Supportive

Remaining within arm’s reach of your child (touch supervision) is vital for safety and also critical for trust. This is where the use of flotation devices like the Sea Squirts Swim Assist Vest can really help. They can make your child feel more at ease and they are fun for kids to wear. Remember, you want the water to be about fun for your child, and the right support can help the apprehensive swimmer venture with you out into the water.

Another way you can expose your child to the world beyond the edge of the pool is to pull them through the water on a small raft or even a SwimWays Kickboard. Have them hold on as you pull them through the pool and let them enjoy the ride! If you said you wouldn’t let go, then don’t let go. Just be there with them and make the experience positive.

SwimWays Sea Squirts Swim Assist Vest

It Doesn’t Have to Happen Today

Remember, there is no rush, all progress towards confidence is good, and no step is too small. Each push forward is gentle and the things they overcame earlier should be reinforced. Don’t make the work an all-day affair; end each day’s lesson on a positive note and talk about how much fun they will have the next time they swim. Tell them, “Tomorrow you can go even farther!”

A child’s apprehension around water can definitely slow progress when learning to swim, but it can be overcome with a gentle and unforced introduction to all the fun that can be had in the pool. You don’t need to be overly concerned or put pressure on them. Just develop their trust as you help them experience water in a way that is fun and makes them look forward to trying again tomorrow.

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

Water Safety Tips from Our Expert

by Mario Vittone

As summer approaches, neighbors are getting their backyard pools and spas in shape for another season of fun. It can be a lot of work and just like every year, I get lots of questions from new parents asking me about water safety. Let’s start off this swim season right with a review of what it means to be safe around the water with your kids. Here are some of the most common questions I get along with my answers:

1. What are the number one things to keep in mind when it comes to swim safety for kids?

This first one is easy: supervision! Kids should never be in a pool, spa, lake, or any body of water without constant adult supervision; not just there with them, but focused on the children exclusively. Those who are watching the water cannot be engaged in anything else. Parents have to understand what drowning looks like and never assume that they will hear trouble; they will have to watch for it.

Many organizations, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, have developed Water Watcher cards for the responsible adult to wear at pool parties and other swimming activities so other adults know that they are busy and not to be distracted. I think they are a great idea.

Make a habit out of always assigning a responsible young adult or adult as a full time water watcher and remember that some children will need closer supervision than others.

SwimWays Swim Steps

2. How should a parent’s attitude about swim safety change as a child grows older? Are there different rules for different age groups?

Attitudes can shift as a child’s abilities grow, but ability isn’t always linked to age. There aren’t different rules concerning safety for different ages. Non-swimming children of any age should be closely supervised when in the water. “Touch-supervision” is a term used to describe the care needed for those with limited swimming ability. An adult should be within arm’s reach at all times when a child who is learning to swim is in the water.

As a child’s ability and confidence in the water grows, so can your distance from them while watching them swim and play. But there will never be a time when you should feel so confident that you walk away and leave them unsupervised.

3. If a child can’t swim, can a parent still bring him or her to the pool with friends or siblings? How can we keep that child safe?

The water can be a fun place for everyone. Parents whose children haven’t yet learned to swim shouldn’t be afraid to take them to well maintained and supervised pools. New swimmers can stay in the shallow end within touch supervision of an adult or even venture into deeper water using approved flotation devices like the SwimWays Sea Squirts Life Jacket. They are my absolute favorite product on the market for less-than-confident swimmers.

Of course, the answers to keeping non-swimmers kids safe in the water is as varied as kids themselves. Maybe they only feel comfortable being in the water with Mom or Dad right there with them. If so – get in there with them and work with them to feel comfortable. There are other products in the Swim Steps line that can help you both feel comfortable as you introduce them to the water. Remember that every minute in the water shouldn’t be a swim lesson, but they can learn when just having fun.

Whether your child is a confident swimmer or a beginner – being close by, watching, and participating with them as they are in the water is the ultimate safety net.

4. What are some of the best ways to teach our kids about swim safety without scaring them or making them afraid to swim?

This is another question I get a lot and for years it used to be difficult to answer. Any parent with more than one child knows how different their personalities can be and how you talk to them about anything can be specific to the child. But for the past year and a half, I’ve been privileged to work with an organization that has developed what I think is the best way to get the message of water safety across to young children.

joshtheotter.org

My good friend, Blake Collingsworth, wrote a children’s book entitled Josh the Baby Otter. The book helps parents provide some context for small children when discussing water safety and helps convey three very simple yet powerful messages for kids: To never go near water without an adult; to first learn to float and/or swim before going in water; and to always swim with a buddy.

I’ve personally watched as children learned these basic safety rules about the water and then looked forward to becoming just like Josh and “learn to float!”

SwimWays is a proud supporter of the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation because they believe, as I do, that teaching children early about water safety is a necessary first step in the learn-to-swim process.

5. If you see a child who looks like they are in trouble in the water, what steps should you take to help them?

Without trying to condense years of rescue training into a single paragraph, I’ll start of by saying that it depends, though you should never let anything get in the way of common sense. Understand that a child in trouble in the water is having trouble maintaining their airway. Getting them out of the water is always the first step. If you are within arm’s reach (like you should be in many cases) then simply reaching over and picking them up has got step one out of the way.

You’ll often hear a rule that says “reach then throw, don’t go” that advocates reaching from the pool edge with your body or a pole, and if that doesn’t work to throw flotation or a line and pull the child to safety. The “Don’t go” part is a warning that worries about untrained rescuers needing rescue themselves.

That can be a problem, but again don’t forget common sense. If you’re not a trained lifeguard, and you see a toddler struggling in three feet of water just out of your reach, don’t waste any time trying to throw a life ring at the two year old; get in there and pick them up!

It’s a new season for fun in the water and learning to swim, but first things first; stay safe out there.

We’ve got some great things planned for this summer and we’ll be getting advice from some of my friends in the swim training industry and from parents like yourself over the coming weeks and months, so check back often. And keep those questions coming!

Mario

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page