Never Too Careful: Swim lessons can save lives (Toledo Parent)
Updated: Apr 16
Accidental drowning is the number one cause of death for children under 4. One Toledo woman fights to teach kids how to swim after losing her own teenage son to drowning.
Summer has arrived in full swing--a season for barbecues, outdoor play, summer camps, and all sorts of water fun. However, with the excitement of summer activities arrives the prospect of danger, specifically the risk from accidental drowning.
Kim Moore, Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) instructor, shares, “Childhood drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children under the age of 4. Statistics have shown that boys drown four times more than girls.”
Moore relies frightening information, but there are many local resources available to teach children of all ages how to swim.
Wanda James Butts’ son, Josh, was one of those awful statistics. She faced every mother’s worst fear--the death of her son. In 2006, Josh, who was sixteen at the time, drowned while rafting on a lake with friends. He did not know how to swim, and he was not wearing a life jacket.
Butts turned her horrendous loss into something positive: she founded The Josh Project, a nonprofit drowning prevention agency. Butts says, “I could have easily [wallowed in pain], but I believe in a higher being, and my faith in that higher being was how I was able to do it otherwise.”
According to a national research study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 70% of African-American children cannot swim, 60% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites that African-American children are also three times more likely to drown than their white counterparts, and every day in the United States, approximately 10 people drown.
In Ohio, drownings increased dramatically last year with 13 media-reported fatal child drownings, which is more than double the number from 2015. Ohio ranks among the top 10 states for child drownings in 2016 and is the highest ranking northern state.
Butts theorizes that these statistics are so high because “swimming is generational.” Parents can’t teach their children how to swim if they don’t know how themselves. Swimming lessons cost money, and if parents can’t afford lessons and can’t teach their children themselves, then another generation grows up without basic water survival skills.
For the last 10 years, The Josh Project has provided low-cost swim lessons to children in the Toledo area. Butts approximates that they have taught a few thousand children how to swim, and her story and The Josh Project have inspired others to create similar programs in their cities.
This year, on their 10th year anniversary, The Josh Project will transition from providing swim lessons to spreading awareness of the imminent dangers of drowning. They will be a resource for parents because, as Butts explains, “Parents are the first step towards safety because if the parents don’t know how to swim, the kids won’t know.”
Butts expounds, “I think [the key to decreasing the number of drownings} is education and awareness. We have recently learned that 86% of parents do not consider drowning as a real problem for their children. It’s because they don’t know about water safety. I didn’t know that my son should know what to do around water. Parents need to know the importance of water safety in and around water.”
One such program for those who are “unskilled in the water” is Infant Swimming Resource (ISR). Kim Moore, ISR instructor, works “with all ages--babies, teenagers, and also adults,” and she teaches lessons from The Aqua Hut on Reynolds. Moore explains, “Our program teaches children how to survive an aquatic accident if they ended up in the water alone. It is a last line of defense for children; if they break all other barriers--parental supervision, locked gates, pool fences--or fall off a dock, walk into a pond or lake, etcetera.”
The private, one-on-one swimming lessons are customized “to the individual child each time they are in the water.” Young children can vary day-to-day, so Moore really focuses on what the child needs and can benefit from that day. Lessons are 10 minutes long and are held five days per week for four weeks.
A common misconception is that ISR involves throwing an unskilled child/baby into the water. Moore clarifies, “We do simulations of children falling in the water to give them the experience. We don't throw them in the water; this is only done if the child is skilled."
Ashley Glinka, mother of 3 children--a toddler and 2 infant twins--enrolled her first-born when she was just under 10 months. She explains, “We decided to enroll our oldest in ISR because my husband and I both enjoy water sports, and living on a property with a pond and creek lines, we wanted to ensure that we gave her a skill set for survival should she ever need it.
After her first full session of ISR, she was competent in the ability to flip to her back and float until being rescued. She can now swim, flip to her back for a breath, and continue to swim until she reaches the wall.”
Glinka continues, “After seeing how confident she became in the water because of Miss Kim and ISR, along with the peace of mind my husband and I both have in knowing that she has the ability to not panic and solve a problem if she would--heaven forbid--ever find herself alone in water, it was natural that we enrolled our twins this spring.”
Many other organizations also offer swim lessons, from the YMCA to local high schools, so parents can choose the option and price that works best for their family. According to Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged one to four years.”