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Swim safety: How to protect kids in pools

Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans shares important and helpful advice to teach young ones basic swimming skills and protect them from the water.
/ Source: TODAY

Summer is all about enjoying the pool and a fun swim, but parents also need to be on the lookout for the real danger of young children drowning. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans shares important and helpful advice to help parents protect their children and teach young ones to swim:

Start early
Once a child is potty trained, a child is old enough to take swim lessons. There are even classes for infants! If a parent wants to take a child in a pool to play before that, it’s fine, but it’s not really learning to swim until ages 2-3.

Use swim vests or arm floatation devices
Floaties and/or water wings should never replace the parent. Parents or caregivers should always be within arm's reach of the child. Most of the time, when you see the child wearing the floaties/water wings, they will be upright playing in the water. This position does help the child to gain strength in the upper body or their core.

These items are inflatable toys and are used for support but should never be thought of as approved PFDs (personal flotation devices); they are not life vests. They should not be used in teaching a child how to swim. The child needs to learn how to use the properties of water for floatation.

Finding a good learn-to-swim program
These basic skills are best taught by a professional, and parents can ensure the quality of a specific learn-to-swim program by following these guidelines:

  • Make sure the instructors are certified (CPR, first aid and water safety)
  • Ensure that there is a favorable instructor-to-student ratio (6 students or less per instructor)
  • Check that there is a set progressive curriculum in place
  • Visit and click on “Take Action” to find a swim club in your area

Swimming lessons should include a range of activities that promote swimming and water safety, including fun play and games, water safety education, skill promotion, stroke development, ongoing evaluation and parent education.

Making your kids water-safe
There are several simple skills that kids need to become water-safe.

  • Hold breath for 7-10 seconds.
  • Tread water with vertical kicking and arm movements for balance and body support
  • Float on back and kick for 7 feet
  • Float prone and kick for 7 feet

Know the drowning risks

  • Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for children in the U.S.
  • 3/4 of all drownings occur from May to September
  • Nine people drown each day in the U.S.
  • Kids don’t have to be in a pool to drown. Drainage ditches, lakes and ponds, and for small children, bathtubs, toilets and buckets all create a risk
  • African-American children drown at a rate that is 2.6 times higher than their Caucasian peers
  • The most effective way to reduce these risks is by teaching children to swim
  • If kids don't learn by third grade, statistics show they never will

Educate yourself
Many kids never learn to swim because their parents cannot afford swimming lessons. Parents may visit to find a place for their kids to learn to swim, and also to provide swim lessons for children who are less fortunate. The Make a Splash initiative’s “Sponsor a Swim Lesson” program allows people to make a donation to provide this life-saving skill to another child. Go to, which includes educational materials and posters for classrooms or swimming pools that teach children about water safety.