This week, Polk County youngsters celebrated perhaps the second most exciting day of the year behind Christmas: the last day of school and the start of summer vacation.
For parents, the challenge is how to channel youthful energies into productive activities.
We suggest that one of the most productive options, for pre-schoolers as well as young students, is learning or sharpening swimming skills.
Just as youngsters in snowy climes learn to ski almost as soon as they can stand up, children in Florida are introduced to swimming by the time they are having solid food.
Some swim instructors say they can teach children to survive a fall into a swimming pool before they are able to walk. Infants, they say, can be taught to turn over onto their backs, or to keep their heads above water while they paddle to safety.
The month of May started off tragically in Polk County with two drownings and a near drowning. In response, Polk County Fire Rescue mounted a countywide safety campaign, emphasizing the dangers of what is probably Florida’s most popular individual recreational activity.
According to PCFR:
• 300 child deaths per year occur in pools and spas.
• Florida leads the nation in drownings of children age 1 to 4.
• 80 percent of drownings occur at residences.
• The majority of infant deaths occur in tubs or large buckets.
The safety rules suggested by PCFR:
• Always supervise children when they are in or around water. “Nothing can substitute (for) constant supervision,” the agency notes.
• Keep children away from pool drains and other openings.
• Have a phone close by.
• Shut and lock gates, doors and screens.
• Establish a “pool watcher.”
To this list we would add teaching children to swim as soon as they are old enough to be introduced to the water. Public recreation programs, as well as agencies like the Red Cross and YMCA, offer instruction at various skill levels.
It is significant that a disproportionate number of drowning calls are in northeast Polk County, where short-term private rental homes often include the unaccustomed luxury of private pools.
As Floridians know, beach swimming calls for an even higher degree of both watchfulness and swimming ability.
Few summer activities that Florida parents can provide for their children are as important as ensuring that their youngsters learn to swim at the earliest possible age, and that they enjoy that activity under constant supervision.