It takes just moments for a small child to fall into a pool.
More children ages 1 to 4 die from drowning than any other cause of death except for birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every child who dies from drowning, another eight will require emergency medical care from a non-fatal drowning.
”Drowning is the No. 1 preventable cause of death for children between ages 1 and 4,’’ said Frankie Beatty, one of the directors of operations for Watermelon Swim, a swim school with locations in Lutz, Riverview, South Tampa and Wesley Chapel.
She is the daughter of owner Micha Seal, who plans to open two more locations: in Brooksville and Zephyrhills. The school’s youngest students are infants, who get acclimated to the water via the water babies classes with their parents. Then at 6 months, the kids start learning to swim.
Beatty, 27, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about teaching kids — and quite a few adults — how to swim.
What goes through your mind when you hear that a child has drowned?
Obviously, the first reaction is I’m terribly sad. And then it kind of just reminds you that it can happen to anybody. So whenever I hear about it always just makes me think, okay, what more can I communicate to the parents in my lobby, what more can I teach the little ones in our pool? And it really just pushes me and my team to be better to make sure we’re continuing to lower the statistics where we can.
Swim lessons alone, if they are consistent and formal, reduce the risk of drowning by 88% for (the youngest) children. So that’s really the biggest thing you can do, that and having just a regular at-home water safety conversation with them. Because a lot of times they just don’t know what to do if they fall in the pool. Or they don’t know what to do if their friend falls in the pool.
At what age should children start learning how to swim?
Our whole philosophy is, basically, that you’re never too young or too old to know how to swim. So we teach all ages, from as soon as the umbilical cord falls off all the way through adulthood. And we actually recommend the earlier the better. For that reason, we offer free water babies classes for children between when their umbilical cord falls off to 6 months old. The sooner the better because then they never learn to be afraid.
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Babies don’t fear water at that young age?
Right. They may be a little fussy, but for the most part at that age they don’t know what’s really going on. You’re kind of introducing them to something before they have a chance to be afraid of it. That way, it’s just always something they’ve done; it’s second nature. They don’t even remember having to learn it.
Do they actually learn to swim in the water babies class?
The original water babies class … that class is actually a non-submersion class, so we don’t put them under water in that class. That class is just for them to start being comfortable with the water. They get a feeling for being in the pool, a feeling for laying on their back in the water. And also it’s a great way to introduce parents to how to work their children in the water, because they’re in the water as well.
At what age can they start learning to swim?
As soon as they turn 6 months old; that’s when the classes turn more submersion-based and that’s when we would start actually teaching them how to swim, but it is all based around their own individual development. Something we’re really big on is every child learns at a different pace. And since we do want them to be comfortable, we make sure that we respect that as well.
When they learn to swim can parents be in the water with them?
We have a couple of different options for young children. Anybody who is less than 6 months old would be in the water babies class, which is where the parent has to be in the water and that’s a free class and that’s the only option we have for children that young. Once they’re somewhere between 6 months and 2 years old then that’s where there are more options. You can go into parent-taught classes, which are group classes where the parents are still in the water, but now we’re moving on to new skills. We’re moving to going under the water, challenging them more at things like that. Or some parents opt for private lessons at that point, which would be just an instructor and the child, and that really just goes hand-in-hand with how comfortable the parent is working in the water with the child. It could be nerve-racking, especially with a little baby.
Do you have adults who have never learned to swim taking classes?
Yeah, we do. It’s actually fairly common.
That’s kind of another one of those situations where it varies a lot based on each individual. I would say that most of the time I’ll get people who are coming from out of state and they’re coming from areas where swimming wasn’t as big of a deal. And they come to Florida and there are so many water activities (and) they want to be able to participate.
Also, a lot of times people know how to swim but then they’ll send their children to us and their children will actually become stronger swimmers than they are, so they’ll enroll in lessons to make sure that they can swim well enough to keep up with their child and be able to help them if they were to get too tired in the deep end or something like that.
And there’s also some cases that I’ve had where they were perfectly fine swimmers and then they had some kind of traumatic incident relating to water and they kind of just have to work their way back to being able to swim comfortably.
What do you tell parents who have a swimming pool at home?
We recommend having multiple barriers. It is actually a law that you should have a barrier up around your pool. I recommend multiple barriers, so if you have a pool gate up, also put an alarm on it. Things like that, because children are really sneaky, especially when they’re at home a lot.I know when we shut down for COVID-19 we got an email from one of the parents who swam with us that they went out and their child was actually stacking up buckets to try to climb over their pool fence because they were bored. Even if they’re not figuring out their own way to do it, a lot of times they’ll watch you enough that they’ll learn how to open the gate. And so you want to have some kind of back up just to make you feel more at ease, and add that extra layer of safety. Whatever method you go with, we would recommend choosing a secondary one as well.
How did the company get the name Watermelon Swim?
It was really kind of (Micha Seal’s) idea. She was talking about what’s summery, what’s fun. She wanted to do something different, something that didn’t necessarily scream swim lessons. (Watermelon is) a summer party kind of food, you get that fun, summer all-year-round feeling. Plus they float, they grow year-round, so it kind of went hand in hand with what we do. And then we love the colors. It’s super fun and child-friendly.
For more information visit watermelonswim.com