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, the Aquatics Director, at Old Town Hot Springs, shares that water safety is more important than many parents realize.
“Most parents only think about water safety in regard to swim lessons,” vonSchondorf said. “They don’t think about it in terms of their responsibility to monitor their children and secure sources of water in their home environment. That could include condo pools, a nearby lake, etc.”
Taking Preventative Measures in the Home Environment
In fact, 70% of childhood drownings happen during non-swimming times. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1-4 with the exception of birth defects. To prevent such horrific accidents vonSchondorf recommends taking proactive measures including erecting barriers and fences around pools, hot tubs, or other water features and installing a pool alarm that can alert parents if a child does enter the water unsupervised.
The Red Cross now recommends that at least 1 designated adult serve as the “Water Watcher” when children play near water. This individual needs to be “alert and attentive” and “not under the influence of drugs or alcohol or distracted by texting or reading.”
Swim Lessons for Babies and Toddlers
Babies and children can begin taking swimming lessons at Old Town Hot Springs as young as six months old. These lessons will help children become more comfortable with the water and gain skills such as floating and holding their breath.
“The goal with making them comfortable in the pool environment is only to begin their learning,” vonSchondorf said. “There’s no real safety component this early on. It has the potential to make the water less safe because it makes them more comfortable getting into water without an adult watching.”
Once children are comfortable in the water the next step is learning how to float on their backs. “Floating is a level of comfort in the water, but also it’s the start of any of our swim strokes,” vonSchondorf said. “Your body is horizontal in the water just like you would be floating. This is the first foundational step to swimming. We teach floating, kicking, and the arm pull simultaneously.”
Most children are able to start independently swimming on their own when they are about 5-6 years of age. However, it is still necessary to closely monitor your children when they swim independently, regardless of age or skill level.
“We think about the lifeguarding staff as the last line of defense,” vonSchondorf said. “You need to be responsible for your child and their behavior. A lifeguard has 100+ people to watch, you have 1-3 children to watch.”
Competitive Swim Team and Lifeguard Training for Teens
Old Town Hot Springs offers multiple paths for young adults to continue developing their passion for aquatics through their competitive swim teams and lifeguard training programs. “A child can start swimming lessons here at six months old and can swim here competitively through high school,” vonSchondorf said.
Local students interested in meaningful work can apply to become a member of the trained lifeguard staff at Old Town Hot Springs and will receive extensive safety training. “I’m passionate about my career in aquatics because it allows me to teach young people a skill they can actually use,” vonSchondorf said. “We can teach them how to lifeguard, how to teach swim lessons, and even teach young kids how to swim. It’s an interesting and fulfilling career path.”