Swim classes teaches babies as young as 6 months old to self-rescue in water

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MISHAWAKA, Ind. (AP) — One unsupervised splash in the water can quickly turn into a life-or-death situation.

A parent turns away and a child goes missing. Panic and fear sink in as the search leads to the pool.

The child could drown.

One local swim instructor is working to prevent that scenario by training babies, toddlers and kids, as young as 6 months old, to self-rescue.

“I’ve had babies crawl into the pool and save themselves because of the training,” said Marci Harmon, swim instructor and founder of Little Fins Swim School in Mishawaka. “I had a mom text me once saying ‘We watched her take a tumble into the pool and then she floated on her own.’

“It’s all about giving parents a sense of relief and giving the kids the ability to save themselves from drowning.”

Harmon, a South Bend native, founded Little Fins Swim School in 2010 after completing training at the PediaSwim Academy at Southwest Aquatics in Orlando, Florida. Since then, the instructor has worked with more than 100 students every year. Currently, her classes meet at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Mishawaka.

Little Fins offers three types of private lessons year-round: basic training, refresher lessons and maintenance lessons, which are 10- to 15- minute sessions that meet for four to five weeks. Each lesson teaches children how to be self-reliant in an aquatic environment by improving breathing control and learning how to swim and roll on their backs to float.

The cost of the lessons range from $20-$400.

Little Fins is different from other traditional infant swimming classes like the one offered at Riverview Family YMCA in South Bend. The YMCA’s parent-tot lessons work with children 6 months to 3 years old.

“Our parent-tot lessons for our youngest group, is where parents are in the water with the toddlers doing water discovery and water exploration,” Aaron Bechtel, aquatics coordinator said in an email. “We mainly focus on exploring body positions in the water, blowing bubbles and fundamental safety and aquatic skills.”

As the kids get older, the YMCA offers additional classes that focus on self-rescue skills and swimming ability.

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children under 4, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recently, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller lost his 19-month-old daughter Emeline after she drowned in a neighbor’s swimming pool in Coto de Caza, Calif.

“We are beyond devastated,” Miller wrote in an Instagram post. “Never in a million years did we think we would experience a pain like this.”

While some parents may be hesitant to put their child in the water before they are able to walk or talk, Harmon said she recommends it.

For children as young as 6 months old, Little Fins teaches infant aquatics — a style different from popular infant swim resource (ISR) classes.

“We are not ISR. We teach infant aquatics, which overall is a more comprehensive program to teach as the child continues to grow and learn,” Harmon said. “We are teaching them how to actually swim and stroke along with survival training. IRS doesn’t teach that — they are strictly get on your back (to survive).”

While it may not be as intense as IRS classes, some health care professions, including Dr. Cory Showalter, medical director of Riley Hospital for Children’s emergency department, still have concerns with this type of training for infants.

“I don’t see how a child under 1 year old could developmentally acquire the skills to let them be safe in the water unsupervised,” Showalter said. “Being the only level-one trauma hospital in the state, we see very bad, devastating injuries and drowning throughout the year.

“The reality is nothing replaces good supervision. I don’t think you can just rely on swimming lessons to prevent drowning.”

Ashley Peter from Mishawaka is among the local parents who have faith in the Little Fins method.

She has continued to see improvements in her 8-month-old daughter Lydia’s abilities in the water as the baby wraps up her third week of lessons with Harmon, she said.

“She cries through every lesson and it is a little hard at times to see her like that,” Peter said as she pointed to Lydia on a recent day as the baby’s head was completely under water in the swimming pool, “and not spinning to float, but eventually she does.”

And she did. Within seconds, Lydia was able to kick her leg enough to turn her body around to independently float on her back.

“As soon as I had a kid, I knew I wanted to introduce the water to them as soon as possible,” Peter said. “If she happens to fall in and I could be given an extra couple of minutes to find her, that’s all that matters to me.”

Britney Kessick’s 2½-year-old daughter Nora is one of Harmon’s students who is wrapping up her second week of basic training.

Kessick, who has a swimming pool outside her Niles home, said even though the area is fenced and she’s “had the safety talk with Nora about not going in the pool without Mommy or Daddy,” she believes the swimming lessons are an important extra layer of protection to keep Nora safe.

“The thought of her jumping in . things happen in an instant, so I wanted her to have the survival skills to know how to float if she did get in,” Kessick said. “We want her to be able to save herself. You never know. You just don’t. You can’t put a price tag on surviving.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend water programs for children under a year old, stating in its policies “there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than 1 year of age” as there is no scientific studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of the classes for that age group.

The organization does, however, say kids should learn to swim at the age of 4.

Frank Pia, a drowning prevention expert based in Larchmont, New York, agrees with Showalter, the Riley physician, and said he believes the dangers lie in confidence some parents may gain from survival lessons that could result in a lack of supervision around water.

“My concern is that parents will develop a false sense of security by thinking, ‘Oh, they know how to swim, so the intense supervision that is needed is not necessary,'” Pia said.

Pia recommends parents to always stay within arm’s reach of children in the water.

And, implementing additional layers of protection, including four-side fences around swimming pools and putting away any loose toys to avoid slipping, are also crucial for drowning prevention.

“Always practice reach or touch supervision,” Pia said. “When the child is in the pool, the parents need to put down the phone, iPad — anything distracting — and stay close enough that they can reach out and get the child to make a rescue.”


Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2lftlro


Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com