It only took all summer. After spending nearly every weekend at the beach this season, Thom, 3, finally decided on Labor Day that he liked going in the water.
Granted, he spent most of his beach time loading up sand and water in buckets to just dump out along the shoreline. He’d occasionally wade knee deep and splash around. But on Monday, as I sat on the shoreline, I watched him walk out farther and farther and farther.
“Is he ever going to turn around and come back?” I said to myself at one point.
“You did the right thing,” Al Gooch, director of the Charlevoix Area Community Pool, told me.
I mentioned to Gooch that for the past two summers, Thom really hasn’t been interested in going in the water. He’s perfectly content playing along the shoreline for hours. But then he surprised me by going out farther than I expected.
“Any time parents can spend time in the water with young infants and children is great to let them get that comfort level,” he said. “But often around the age of 3 they develop a natural fear of the water. Just let them figure out what they are comfortable with — parents need to be patient.”
Gooch has been teaching swimming for more than 40 years. He feels strongly that while learning to swim is very important, the most crucial thing to teach children is water safety.
“The two really go hand in hand. With just a little skill and knowledge, you can teach them so much. It’s like teaching them if the weather is bad, they shouldn’t go out in the boat,” Gooch said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2009, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30 percent died from drowning, with a majority taking place in home swimming pools.
In fact, drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1 to 4 than any other cause except congenital birth defects.
I don’t remember learning to swim, but I know it happened very early.
I was lucky — not only did I grow up on a lake, but I graduated from Plainwell, where every student knows how to swim by the time they graduate.
When I was in school, beginning in fourth grade, every student had four weeks of swimming each school year, which continued on until you completed a year of high school physical education.
Because of this program, Plainwell has long been home to one of the most successful swim programs in the state, and I remember John Dubois, longtime coach and pool director, telling us as kids, “You live in Michigan. There is no reason you shouldn’t know how to swim.”
While not every district is able to put students through this type of program, Dubois is right.
The program wasn’t just about learning to swim the backstroke in a straight line and how to tread water, but the thousands of us that have gone through Plainwell’s program are taught water safety. Those lessons you remember for life.
Thom did eventually turn around and head to the beach, but then headed right back out.
We spent what will most likely be our last beach day of the season in the water, working on the basics — kicking, floating and finding his comfort level.
The rest of the day, all he talked about was how he went “out deep” and wanted to go again.
He may have to wait until next summer for another trip to the beach, but I know where he’ll be this fall — in the local pool taking swim lessons.
Rachel Brougham writes about a number of topics in this column, which appears each Thursday. If you have a topic you’d like Rachel to write about, email her at email@example.com.