Ready for water activities with swim lessons, safety tips

Instructor Cassie Ferlitch helps Alexandria Insley get comfortable floating on her back at the Southern Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury (Photo by Jeff Lautenberger)

Bathing suits are on, towels and goggles are packed and you are ready to hop in the family car and go to the pool.

Not so fast!

There are a few things you and your kids should know before taking a trip to the local swimming spot and diving in.

“The important thing is for (children) to know how to swim,” said Rebecca Carver, aquatics director for the southern branch of the YMCA. “But knowing how to swim doesn’t necessarily make them drown-proof.”

When should lessons start?

Children younger than 1 year old can begin to learn about the water.

“When my 9-month-old is in the bathtub, I get his face wet,” Carver said about getting her son used to the water. “I encourage parents to dump some water over their (children’s) heads — obviously not with soap — so they aren’t afraid when they get in the pool.

“They don’t see a difference between the tub and the pool. Water is just water.”

Carver also suggests practicing floating techniques in the bathtub and getting preschool-age children enrolled in swimming lessons.

Karen Ruppert, aquatic director for YMCA’s York branch, agrees with Carver.

“Expose children to the water early, so they become water acclimated,” she said.

Basic lessons also can start by the time the child is 6 months old.

The Jewish Community Center and YMCA offer parent-and-child classes and swimming lessons for older children based on standards set by the American Red Cross.

The classes teach children “to be aware of the water around them but they don’t teach (children) that they are going to automatically be safe in the pool,” said Patty Neidigh, aquatic director for the York JCC.

Can parents learn, too?

It’s never too late to learn to swim.

The YMCA and JCC offer programs for adults.

Some locations even offer joint classes for parents and older children.

But Neidigh offers one caveat on learning to swim at the same time as your kids.

“Children are very honest and will pick up on an adult’s fears,” she said. “You don’t want to get discouraged by a child saying, ‘You don’t know how to swim? Well, I know how to swim.’”

Neidigh also said children often learn better with others their own age and from instructors other than their parents.

“Kids sometimes want to hold on to Mom or Dad if the parent is right in the pool with them.”

If it can inflate, it can deflate

If your child doesn’t know how to swim, or isn’t confident swimming without help, don’t rely on flotation devices while in the water.

“They shouldn’t only rely on a flotation device; that’s why they’re called that,” Neidigh said. “They are swimming aids … children shouldn’t be left alone with them on.”

Many local facilities, including the southern branch of the YMCA, don’t allow inflatable armbands — also known as water wings or swimmies — in their pools.

“The only approved safety device is a life jacket,” Carver said. “If (a flotation device) can be inflated, it can deflate.”

Never swim alone

Even if a child is comfortable in the water, parents should teach him or her never to swim alone — a rule everyone should follow, Carver said.

“Accidents can happen,” she said. “Never leave your children unattended.”

Ruppert agrees.

“Even as an adult, you might go out and run alone, but I wouldn’t suggest you swim alone,” she said. “There needs to be someone there, even with the most accredited swimmers.”

It’s also essential to teach young children why the water is dangerous instead of using “no” as a crutch, Carver said.

“Even if you are afraid of the water, take the time to explain why your child can’t go in the pool,” she said. “If you are just telling them ‘no,’ then they’ll think something is wrong and they will become afraid.”

And a cycle of fear could perpetuate.

“Many parents who bring their children to learn to swim … are fearful of the water. They don’t want their children to have the same fear,” Ruppert said. “Get (your children) in a program with instructors who have the skills and knowledge to work with your children safely and get them proficient in the water.”

Learn to swim

Several York County facilities offer learn-to-swim classes for swimmers of all ages and skill levels. To learn more, visit the following:

    The YMCA of York and York County —

    The York JCC —

    The YWCA York —

    American Red Cross —

Some school districts also offer lessons. For details, contact your district.

Do you have a pool or hot tub?

The National Swimming Pool Foundation developed an online safety course for home pool and hot tub ownership and maintenance.
Topics include the risks of ownership and operation, maintenance, safety equipment, preventing hazards and responding to emergencies.
The cost is $19.95 for the two-hour, web-based course.
To enroll or learn more, visit

Staying safe at the beach

Patty Neidigh, aquatic director for the York JCC, offered a few tips for families who plan to visit a beach this summer.

  1. Unlike pools, the beach has waves, which adds another component of danger to the water. Talk to your children about waves, undertows and rip tides and the dangers of each.
  2. Always know where the lifeguard is and stay within posted swimming areas.
  3. Listen to the lifeguards.
  4. Children should also make sure Mom and Dad always are watching them, too, so they don’t get lost on the beach.
  5. If you or your child does get lost, find a lifeguard immediately.

Brittany Wilson

I'm an Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Record/Sunday News. I'm a proud Penn State grad and a New Jersey native living on the West Shore. Two of my favorite things are a good book and a long swim -- just not at the same time. Contact me by emailing or on Twitter @brittanylion.

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