2017-07-13 / Schools

New Y course puts focus on safety

Kids as young as 3 are taught practical, life-saving lessons
By Angela Swartz
Special to the Acorn


STAYING AFLOAT—Local YMCAs offered water safety courses this summer in an effort to prevent drowning. At the end of the weeklong class, parents were invited to join their kids in the pool and reminded to keep watch when their children are in the water. STAYING AFLOAT—Local YMCAs offered water safety courses this summer in an effort to prevent drowning. At the end of the weeklong class, parents were invited to join their kids in the pool and reminded to keep watch when their children are in the water. It’s summer vacation, and as the temperature rises, kids look to pools and beaches to cool off and have fun.

But with more children in the water comes a greater incidence of drowning.

Earlier this month, a 5-year-old from Irvine drowned in a community pool. The fatal accident occurred a day after the near-drownings of two other Orange County children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two children age 14 and under drown every day in the U.S.

In an effort of prevent such tragedies, YMCAs across the country are for the first time offering water safety courses for children ages 3 to 10.

Unlike the Y’s long-running swim classes, the courses are free and focus not on proper stroke technique but rather on how to be safe around water.

Locally, the half-hour sessions were held June 5 to 9 at the Miller Family Y in Newbury Park and June 12 to 16 at the Conejo Valley Y in Thousand Oaks.

“Kids might not be supervised all the time,” said Kara Kaplan, associate executive director of the Miller Family Y. “Accidents can happen, and we want to make sure kids know what to do to keep themselves alive.”

Classes are free in order to make them accessible to all children.

“You can’t put a price on safety,” said Brandon Rista, the Miller Y’s lead swim instructor.

During the half-hour sessions, participants learned skills like how to get acclimated to water, how to keep their head above water should they fall in and how to call for help.

“It seems like basic things, like calling for help, but a 3-year-old doesn’t know these things and has to be taught,” Rista said.

The students are sorted into groups based on skill so they can learn at their own pace.

“Some kids were clinging to the walls and were afraid to get in,” Rista said of the sessions at the Miller Y. “Some kids already were taking swim lessons and their parents thought the water safety course would be a good idea.”

The program emphasizes putting kids in real-life situations. For example, more advanced students in Rista’s class tried jumping into the pool fully clothed.

“The life situations thrown at you are unapologetic to what you are wearing. You are unlikely to be in a bathing suit,” the instructor said.

At the end of the week, parents were invited to join their children in a family swim to see their progress and learn safety tips of their own.

Instructors were also provided additional training to prepare for the course.

“We taught them the tips and the why, because when you know the why it makes it so much easier to communicate the skills across,” Rista said.

Both parents and kids came out of the course gaining something, Kaplan said.

“The kids learned a lifelong skill, while . . . the parents found it informative and reassuring that their kids could be safe around water,” she said.

Nevertheless, it was emphasized that adults should keep an eye on their children when they are around water.

Next year, Kaplan anticipates a greater number of participants and hopes to expand the program.

“We want to add more parent involvement and maybe a potential adult class. Anyone can use this skill,” Kaplan said.

In order to make the course free for everyone, the Y depends on donations from the community. To donate, go to www.sevymca.org.

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