“Drown-proofing” is a word that often comes up when discussing the topic of baby swimming lessons. This concept gives parents the idea that a certain set of learned skills or series of lessons can magically protect their child from drowning for the rest of their lives.
In my very first year of teaching swimming lessons, I worked with a three year old boy. We’ll call him Jake. Jake was highly skilled in the water, but like any three year old he needed a lot of assistance when swimming without flotation. The first time I taught him to jump in and float up to the surface on his back, he jumped in all by himself but then needed my help to transition into the back float. His mother was shocked that he needed help. “He’s done this before!” She said. “I enrolled him in infant swim classes when he was two. He should know how to do all of this!”
Basically, she thought he had been drown-proofed. I explained to her that swimming requires a lot of repetition and no single lesson or series of lessons is going to do the trick overnight.
Is Drown-proofing possible?
The truth is that nobody is ever 100% protected from drowning. No matter how skilled a child (or even an adult) is at swimming, drowning can occur in certain conditions. Among the over one million people who drown each year:
- A little over half are children (that means just under half are adults)
- Among the children, a third drown at home
- About a quarter are experienced swimmers
That’s right; even knowing how to swim won’t protect a person from drowning in every scenario. Humans are land dwellers, and as such we’re always going to have to use extra caution when in and around bodies of water. When it comes to children, don’t mess around with water safety. No child should ever be allowed in the water unsupervised, even if they’ve had lessons. A good practice to make a habit of early on is to require your child to ask permission before he/she enters the water, even when you’re in the water waiting for them. If they jump in without asking, make them get out and ask before jumping in again.
Where did the idea of “Drown-proofing” come from?
Drown-proofing is a real thing, but it is not a swimming concept. It is a survival technique. Drown-proofing was developed in 1940 by a swimming coach named Fred Lanoue. His technique became so popular that it was adopted by most US Military branches and is still taught to many recruits. The drown-proofing method is more of a floating technique than a swimming technique. The idea is that your body will float for an extended period of time while your lungs are full of air; so, if you ever find yourself stranded in a huge body of water, simply take a deep breath and float. Face down, completely relaxed. When you need to take a breath, you raise your head above water, quickly inhale, and go back to floating. You repeat this process until you get rescued. Navy SEALs are particularly competent at this skill, but even a Navy SEAL will tell you that you can’t float forever! Eventually your body will run out of energy. So, please do not try this technique without an experienced swim instructor present.
So, what does “drown-proofing” have to do with infant swim lessons?
Drown-proofing is not something you should aim for when enrolling your infant or toddler in swim lessons; as we’ve already covered here, nobody is ever 100% protected from drowning, including and especially children. That doesn’t mean you should skip those baby swim lessons! Swim lessons at any age have been shown to greatly decrease the risk of drowning under proper supervision, but that’s not the only benefit. Let’s go back to Jake, my first three year old swimming student. Jake took a series of lessons when he was two, before I began working with him. Those two year old lessons did not make him a competent swimmer, and he had forgotten many of the skills he learned by the time he enrolled with me.
So did Jake “get anything” out of those lessons? Yes! Those lessons greatly increased his confidence in the water. I could tell a difference in him from the moment he got into the pool. He was relaxed. He listened well. He wasn’t afraid to jump in to me (many toddlers will hesitate to jump in). He knew how to kick his feet and paddle his arms. He could move around and roll while wearing flotation. All of these skills were acquired from his first set of lessons, and they made a huge difference in what I was able to teach him. I was able to build on those safety skills. By the end of our series of lessons, Jake was able to jump in unassisted, float onto his back, roll onto his tummy, kick to the wall, and climb out. All of this under close supervision, of course.
Are baby swim lessons beneficial?
Absolutely! There are many benefits. Baby swim lessons are a great way to introduce your child to the water and give them some foundational skills that will put them on a path to swimming success later in life. They are also a great way to bond with your baby; under the guidance of a good instructor, you’ll find that you will learn just as much, if not more than your baby does! You’ll learn how to hold your child in the water; different positions have different benefits. You’ll learn teaching cues to help them build skills like kicking, reaching, paddling, and blowing bubbles. Most of all, your child will build confidence in the water. When it comes to swimming, as with any physical skill, confidence is priceless. Summer is right around the corner: take some time today to think about incorporating a learn to swim program into your family’s schedule!
Tom Filline's bio:
Tom is a stand up comedian and a licensed physical education teacher. Tom has over five years' experience teaching swimming lessons during the Summer. Tom initially took on teaching swimming as something to do to keep busy during Summer breaks, but he quickly fell in love with swim lessons. He began working for the local park district and eventually moved to working at a private swim school. He now teaches private lessons exclusively through Sunsational Swim School. He has taught individual lessons, group lessons, camps and even adult lessons.