Tag Archives: swimming lessons

Safe Summer Swimming

July 6, 2015 by

This article appears in Her Family July 2015.

Summer means swimming, and it takes a few precautions for parents to ensure the activity is safe and healthy, says pediatrician Melissa “Dr. Mel” St. Germain of Children’s Physicians at West Village Pointe.

Otitis externa, known as “swimmer’s ear,” is one of the most common conditions associated with swimming.

“Water that gets into your ear doesn’t dry out,” St. Germain explains. “It gets stuck behind wax or you get enough in there that it has a hard time getting out.” The condition is uncomfortable or even painful, and the moist environment encourages bacterial or fungal growth.

“There are a couple of things you can do to prevent it, and one thing is making sure your ears get dry after swimming. Use a hair dryer on a lower setting, keeping it at least one foot from the head,” she said. Over- the-counter eardrops may be helpful, or a home solution of one part white vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol; simply place several drops into each ear and tilt out the liquid.

“That dries out the ear, but also prevents bacteria and fungus from growing, because it has a little bit of an antiseptic property to it, too,” St. Germain says.

Another condition is chlorine sensitivity, St. Germain says.

“Chlorine is a chemical and it can be an irritant to some people,” she explains. Symptoms may include skin rashes and itchy, sensitive eyes, but a true allergic response is uncommon. St. Germain advises that children who seem sensitive to chlorine rinse well after swimming and shower or bathe at home later, and use saline eye drops if needed. “Kids that have a true allergic response can pretreat with antihistamine,” she says.

She also points out that sensitivity to chemically-treated water is better than the alternative: exposure to contaminated water. Small bodies of water on private property, public lakes that prohibit swimming, and any water that smells or looks bad are not good choices for swimming, she says. Public pools’ staff should monitor water quality throughout the day, and swimming lakes should also be regularly checked.

“If you’re an otherwise healthy person who has a good immune system, your body is going to take care of those tiny amounts of bacteria that might get in,” St. Germain says. “You don’t want your two-year-old swallowing large amounts of water, and if you have a kid who is immune-suppressed, you might not want them splashing around in a lake full of bacteria. A bigger lake with a more diverse ecosystem is probably more self-regulating.”

She also points out that small backyard pools with no filtering system can quickly become stagnant. “I always tell parents: ‘As soon as you’re done with that kiddie pool, drain it.’”

And the most important way to keep swimming safe? “The recommendation from the Academy of Pediatrics is that all kids over the age of 4 have swimming lessons,” St. Germain says.

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BE the Starfish

Wanna teach a kid to swim? Just toss ‘em in the pond. They’ll figure it out mighty quick.

Wait. Don’t. Bad idea. As you might imagine, this isn’t the teaching technique used by modern swimming instructors. Nowadays, that old “baptism-by-water” trick would probably get you a call from CPS.

Today’s young children have it pretty easy. And, pretty fun. And, all that fun they’re having is pretty dang effective.

“There’s definitely more fun and games than in the past,” says Jill Schoenherr, a program director for the Maple Street YMCA. “But all the games and things that seem silly are all aimed at teaching. And they have a great track record of working really well.”

Schoenherr’s instructors use a technique called “Guided Discovery.” Much of the trick is getting kids to visualize swimming strokes by comparing them to movements the children already know. The result is a type of love more adorable than tough.

For the really little folks, instructions might sound like: “Show me what a frog looks like.” Mimicking the movements of the frog help the children get the basic idea of the breaststroke. “Show me what a starfish looks like.” That helps them learn to lie on their backs in the water. Playing dolphin helps children get their hips moving for the butterfly stroke.

“Put your ear in the water to hear the fishies. Put your mouth in the water to talk to the fishies.” This teaches youngsters how to breathe while swimming. Another game: As kids lie on their back in the water, the instructor tells them to look for some imaginary something-or-other on the ceiling. The idea: Get their mind off the fact they’re in the unnerving position of lying in water.

Some older-school instructors who join Schoenherr’s team aren’t always sure about all the fun and games.

“They kind of wonder why there’s all the playtime,” she says. “Then it dawns on them that all this has a very specific goal.”

Of course, as children move into the higher-level classes, the starfishies give way to much more precise instructions on fundamentals. They start getting that push to becoming the best they can be.

But any serious swimmer has to love swimming. And, and Schoenherr points out, if someone helps you love swimming early on, you’re much more likely to become a lifetime swimmer.

“You try to make swimming so fun they want to come back,” she says. “The idea is to give them a love for a sport that can be a healthy part of their whole life. That’s pretty cool if it can all start with a starfish.”

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