Swimming must be taught to young children

I was born in Los Angeles.  Before I my first birthday my father tossed me in the pool and forced me to learn how to swim.  He made me comfortable with the water.  Now I would not recommend doing that but in California there are swimming pools all over the place and his reasoning was if I did not know how to swim and fell into a pool I would drown. 

Fast forward when I was about 5 years old we were at a party with a bunch of families in Los Angeles.  The parents were having a great time, aka not really paying attention to the kids.  My sister had a dislocated hip when she was born so she she was in a cast for awhile as a young kid.  My father must not have taken the same method of teaching to her as he did to me for whatever reasons, perhaps timing with the cast.  My sister was jumping into the pool.  She was attempting to jump into a round ring that would sit around her waist and let her float in the pool.  She missed and sunk to the bottom.  I saw it happen.  None of the adults seemed to notice.  I jumped into the pool and dove down to the bottom to pull her up the top.  When I was pulling her over to the side with my arm around her waist it was then that the adults freaked. 

I tell this story because every year we here about kids drowning.  Kids at parties with parents right there.  Kids that go to the shore with their school but it ends up they do not know how to swim and get carried away in the current.  Every year like clockwork.  The story is always the same, the kid did not know how to swim. 

I put each of our kids in swim programs from the time they were 2 years old.  People thought I was crazy to start that young.  It was actually hard to find a program so I went for the private.  To me, it was essential that they not only knew how to swim at an early age but felt comfortable in water from early on. The day camp they went to had an amazing program too.  They started the kids in a pool that was two feet deep and then once they learned some essentials moved them into the 3 foot deep pool and continued to move deeper and deeper in separate pools. 

At MIT one of the requirements to graduate college is that you have to pass a swim test.  Decades ago a student drowned and the family left an endowment to insure that every kid that graduated from MIT knew how to swim.  Absolutely brilliant.

We are coming up on swim season right now.  I hope that it is something that parents remember that swimming is essential to teach your kids at an early age.  Just because you live in an urban environment does not mean that you do not need to know how to swim.  There are a few things that everyone should know how to do and one of them is how to swim. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    What a great story about you saving your sister. Amazing.We often think of swimming as a healthy exercise, but to think of it as a life-saving skill doesn’t come first, you’re right for raising this awareness.The water is my friend and I love it.

  2. sharon

    I think its says in the Torah that a father’s (modern version may say parent) duty is to teach their children to swim. I was actually living in LA when the nightmare scenario you describe actually happened. It was a kid from the “projects” who was dropped off at a pool party. All the parents were actually sitting around the pool–and this kid climbed down the stairs and sank. No-one noticed– his parents not there.When my kids were small, my husband and I would each spot just one kid- and name the kid were we spotting. Otherwise everyone assumes “some-one is watching” when no-one actually is.Also, if you want a wake up call, read Stew Leonard’s biography of losing his 5 year old son to drowning in their home pool.Thanks Joanne for this alert.

    1. Gotham Gal

      remember when you have two kids it is one on one, when you have three kids it is zone defense. teaching the kids to swim is one of the most important lessons you can teach your kid.

    2. ShanaC

      talmud, and it is to swim and learn a trade, in order to protect life.

  3. snooch

    The Lou threw me in the Intracoastal waterway many times one summer- grateful I already knew how to swim!

    1. Gotham Gal

      ha. thank god.

  4. Erin Newkirk

    Drowning is actually the #1 cause of death for children. Mostly because drowning isn’t like it is in the movies so even attentive adults don’t recognize the patterns. It’s actually a very quiet death so it’s not noticed until it’s too late. Could not agree with this post more. It affects our community every year despite “safe” pools and lifeguards galore. A nightmare.Check this out for more info on what drowning really looks like http://k2radio.com/what-doe

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Not like the movies

  5. leeschneider

    Our son is just 10 months old and we’ve already had him in “swim” classes – just to get him comfortable with the pool. He LOVES it. We’re East-Coast-Must-Live-Near-Water people, so it was a high priority. Bath time is a different story…

  6. dorothy_mcgivney

    I couldn’t agree more — one of my earliest memories is seeing my younger sister, who was a toddler, fall in a pool and my father in a suit and tie diving in to get her. We all learned to swim at a young age and I’ve always been so grateful to my parents for having us take lessons at the public pool as soon as we could.Nowadays, it seems classes are accommodating really young babies (at least here in NYC). We took our son at 6 months to AquaBebe in Greenpoint but the program actually starts at 4 months, and there were tiny little babies in our class — and they loved it!

  7. aarondelcohen

    We screwed this up Joanne and it could have cost us as well. This is vital advice. Read Freakanomics to find out how much more dangerous swimming pools are than guns.

  8. Meg

    Great advice. I still get teary thinking about a time when I was probably 4 and my brother was 2. We were sitting on the back of our boat in the river while my parents were up in the main part of the boat (without life jackets or a parent being 2 inches away–clearly before the era of the helicopter mom) when my brother fell in. No splashing or crying or anything. Just down he went. My dad realized it quickly and dove in the very murky water. Found him trapped underneath the boat and sinking. We were in lessons from that point on.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Definitely lessons learned