beautiful swimmers

It's about fun, not water safety, when little ones take the plunge

Visions

April 30, 2006|By SUN STAFF

At some local swim centers, it's never too soon to take the plunge

As soon as swimming instructor Nan Thompson said "Let's do `Ring around the Rosie,'" Olivia Cichocki, 21 months, screamed with joy.

That echoed along with laughter from other babies in Kids First Swim School of Perry Hall one day this month.

The school was opened in 2001 by Gary Roth, who has five children and believed that children needed to learn how to swim. Since then he has opened three more pools in the Baltimore area designed just for children, year-round.

Infant and toddler aquatic programs are increasingly popular throughout the United States. An estimated 5 million to 10 million infants, toddlers and preschool children participate in formal aquatic instruction.

Although they provide enjoyment for parents and children, such programs are not designed to teach children to become accomplished swimmers or to survive independently in the water.

Pediatricians worry that infant "swim lessons" give parents a false sense of security about their child's safety in the water.

Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury and death among children ages 1 and 2. In Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, drowning is the leading cause of death in this age group.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that "programs for infants and toddlers have not been shown to decrease the risk of drowning, and parents should not feel secure that their child is safe in water or safe from drowning after participating in such programs. Young children should receive constant, close supervision by an adult while in and around water."

Some swim schools claim online that relaxed infants as young as 6 to 10 months can, with proper preparation and training, learn to hold their breath on cue when dipped under water.

But pediatricians say programs that claim to make young children safe in water are misrepresenting what is possible. Generally, children are not ready for real swimming lessons until after their 4th birthday, they say.

But everyone agrees that playing with very young children in the water can be a lot of fun, as long as they receive constant, close supervision by an adult.

Sun staff

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