May is National Drowning Prevention Month, but every day is an opportunity for parents and children to learn water safety skills at Old Town Hot Springs.
Mark vonSchondorf, water sports director at Old Town Hot Springs, said water safety is more important than many parents think.
“Most parents only think about water safety when it comes to swimming lessons,” vonSchondorf said. “They don’t think of it in terms of their responsibility to watch over their children and secure water sources in their home environment. This could include condo pools, a nearby lake, etc.
Take preventative measures at home
In fact, 70% of child drownings occur during non-swimming periods. Drowning is the leading cause of death in children aged 1 to 4 years, with the exception of birth defects.
To avoid these horrific accidents, vonSchondorf recommends taking proactive measures, including erecting barriers and fencing around pools, hot tubs, or other water features, and installing a pool alarm, which can alert parents if a child enters the water unsupervised.
The Red Cross now recommends that at least one designated adult serve as a “water watcher” when children are playing anywhere near water. This person should be alert and attentive and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or distracted by texting or reading.
Swimming lessons for babies and toddlers
Babies and children can start swimming lessons at Old Town Hot Springs as young as 6 months old. These lessons will help children become more comfortable with the water and learn skills, such as floating and holding their breath.
“The goal of getting them comfortable in the pool environment is just to start their learning process,” vonSchondorf said. “There is no real element of safety so early. This has the potential to make the water less safe, as it makes them more comfortable entering the water without an adult supervising them.
Once children are comfortable in the water, the next step is to learn to float on their backs.
“Floating is a level of comfort in the water, but it’s also the beginning of any of our swimming strokes,” vonSchondorf said. “Your body is horizontal in the water as if you were floating. This is the fundamental first step of swimming. We teach floating, kicking and arm pulling simultaneously.
Most children are able to start swimming on their own around 5-6 years old. However, it is still necessary to closely supervise your children when swimming independently, regardless of their age or skill level.
“We view rescue personnel as the last line of defense,” vonSchondorf said. “You have to be responsible for your child and his behavior. A lifeguard has over 100 people to watch – you have one to three children to watch.
Competitive swim team and lifeguard training for teens
Old Town Hot Springs offers multiple avenues for young adults to continue developing their passion for water sports through their competitive swim teams and lifeguard training programs.
“A child can start swimming lessons here at 6 months old and can swim here competitively through high school,” vonSchondorf said.
Local students interested in meaningful work can apply to become staff trained lifeguards at Old Town Hot Springs and will receive extensive safety training.
“I’m passionate about my aquatics career because it allows me to teach young people a skill they can actually use,” vonSchondorf said. “We can teach them to rescue, give swimming lessons and even teach young children to swim. It’s an interesting and fulfilling career path.
Visit Old Town Hot Springs to learn about early childhood swim lessons, competitive swim programs, CPR and lifeguard training.
Sarah Konopka is the Marketing Director of Old Town Hot Springs. Learn more at OldTownHotSprings.org.