Program offers potentially life-saving lessons for kids
By Taylor Rao
Albany Times Union
Published 5:20 pm, Friday, May 22, 2015
When Jessica Dunham and her daughter, Eva, arrive at the pool at Mohonasen High School, the daily goal is much larger than to spend an afternoon filled with fun and floaties.
There's prep work to be done as the summer season approaches, and with the expertise of Anthea Morris, owner and instructor of Anthea's Swim Academy, Eva, 3, learns advanced techniques that could save her life.
After adjusting her wide-eyed gaze to fit the scope of the pool, Eva jumps in to practice pretend-falling in. She enters the water backward, forward, while tipped to the side and by tumbling in, as if it were all accidental.
Dunham, of Glenville, watches with a sense of relief, feeling confident as Eva swims from edge to edge of the massive indoor swimming pool, complaining only when it's time to get out and dry off.
For children and families, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and all the fun of swimsuits, sand castles and s'mores. With the unveiling of the backyard swimming pool, parents are often reminded of a fear that comes along with the perks of a clear, blue swimming pool or a day at the beach.
Children younger than 5 are at the highest risk of drowning as a cause of accidental death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the Dunham family, such fears are based on a frightening experience: In July 2012, just weeks after Eva's second birthday, she nearly drowned in the family's backyard pool. She was revived after her mom found her floating facedown.
As summer approaches, the Dunham family and parents everywhere are challenged to discover new ways to keep young kids safe around water beyond the traditional safety lecture, adult supervision or pair of swimmies.
New studies show children can safely begin swim lessons earlier than age 4, which until 2010 was the official age recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Age 4 is when children usually have the motor skills to learn to swim, says Diane Tenenbaum, general pediatrician at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany.
Today, however, the AAP says new evidence shows that children younger than 4 can also benefit from swim lessons and the chance to learn skills that could keep them afloat if they were to fall in when no one's around.
How much earlier can a child learn to swim?
The Infant Swimming Resource, a program that has researched and practiced water safety with infants since 1966 in more than 42 countries, says children as young as 6 months can be taught to float on their backs in water during an accident until help arrives.
Viral videos of infants floating solo in water have lead to a heightened interest in the idea that drowning prevention can begin during infancy. Parents are becoming more willing to try it out after browsing the Web for tips and statistics while learning about other families' success stories with infant swim lessons.
For local parents willing to try this out on their own little one, Morris provides the Capital Region's only infant safety swimming service, Anthea's Swim Academy, where she begins lessons for children ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years.
"The water can be an unforgiving environment," Morris writes on her website, survivalswimkids.com. "But once babies, children, and adults are taught to be safe in and around the water, they can feel confident in their abilities and have tons of fun."
With a rigorous curriculum and schedule, Anthea's Swim Academy hosts one-on-one sessions, lasting 10 minutes per session, held five days a week for four to six weeks.
"For someone much smaller, 10 minutes is a workout," Morris says.
The brief daily lessons offer plenty of time to stay active and learning, while keeping the child's attention span without getting overtired.
"When I created the curriculum for the lessons, I knew what I wanted the end goal to be," Morris says. "For babies, it's to get them to learn the survival float from any position they might have fallen into the water."
With Morris, infants will practice entering the water from all directions: feet, face and behind first, tipping in backward, tumbling in, rolling in, getting tumbled by waves and so on. The repetitive lessons teach the ultimate floating position, and equip her students with the skills to know how to float from any possible way they could fall in the water.
When the six-week session concludes, Morris gives her students an opportunity to enter the pool fully clothed, testing their skills if an accident were to occur during any season, not just summer.
In a bathing suit, snow suit or summer sundress, Eva can now do the survival float, call for help and swim to the edge of the pool, gaining her own sense of self-confidence in any attire after hearing a sigh of relief from her parents and catching a smile from her skilled instructor.
"The best way to teach a skill is to break it down into its smallest parts," Morris says. "From there, you can teach each individual part until the parts can be sequenced together into the complete skill."
With one-on-one instruction, Morris can customize her lessons to the needs and abilities of each student, while offering the child her full attention.
Morris' training in water safety instruction and CPR helps her to create lesson plans that produce results, while providing a high level of experience with formal instruction as a teacher, coach and mother all-in-one.
"It's amazing what she can do with kids in such a short period of time," Dunham says. "Her students can follow through with what they've learned, and now I can't get my daughter out of the pool."
Dunham praises Morris' teaching style and calls it, at times, a "tough love" approach. Infants and toddlers often feel uncomfortable in the water at first, but Morris allows time for her students to feel self-assured in the water while having fun and learning to listen and practice Morris' specific instructions in each lesson.
"I advocate for this every day of the week and tell every parent I know about Anthea's Swim Academy," Dunham says. "I believe that you can't practice water safety with your child early enough."
Morris stresses that these lessons should never replace proper parental supervision, but they can prepare a child for an emergency situation in the water. Their purpose, really, is to provide children with lifesaving skills that they could use if they were to fall in with no one around,
"They truly learn to become aquatic problem-solvers," Morris says.
About Anthea's Swim Academy
Instructor: Anthea Morris
Price: $55 registration fee, $75 weekly lesson fee
Ages: Infant lessons ages 6 months to 12 months old, toddlers and children ages 1 to 6
Taylor Rao is a freelance writer living in Clifton Park.