Monday, July 16, 2018

Taking Water Safety Into the Classroom

Now is a great time for swimming pools to partner with their local school system and plan for the future. Recently, Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation (“Mecklenburg Parks”), reached out to local elementary schools in hopes of forming a partnership focusing on water safety. The School Board was very receptive to having a water safety presentation in the classrooms. However, they wanted to see a written lesson plan prior to allowing the staff of Mecklenburg Parks to speak with the children.

Mecklenburg staff collaborated with SAI and created a lesson plan that the Mecklenburg Board approved. Over a three month period, Aquatic Staff from Mecklenburg Parks attended first grade classrooms and taught the six-year-olds about water safety. The lesson plan is centered around the book “Can Starfish Make A Wish”, featuring many of the safety concepts found within the book. Each presentation lasts about 30 minutes and includes stories from the book, lifejacket
demonstrations and lessons on “Reach or Throw, Don’t go”. The Mecklenburg staff wanted to see if the kids could put into practice what they learned and invited them on a field trip to the local aquatic center. There the children demonstrated Reach or Throw Don’t go, how to properly fit a lifejacket and learned more about swim lessons and lifeguarding. Lindsey Saller said “The great news is that this was a successful program for us and more schools have asked to participate”. Based on that success the calendar for Mecklenburg Parks is filling up for the 2019 school year.

Programs like this are a great way to target children who might not come to a local swimming pools for swim lessons. It is challenging to reach these students, who benefit greatly from the water safety lessons. SAI has programs such as StarFun and Fitness Field Trips, Camps or Home Schools, designed for this purpose.

We are here to help you become the drowning prevention experts in your community and bring more children and patrons into your facilities. For more information on programs like this, please contact Misty Selph at

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Water Readiness

Photo credit: Adlib Photography 

Gearing up for summer involves a lot of planning. Preparing for schedule changes, planning vacations, and registering for camps are just a few things families have to do to prepare for summer break. In all the planning and excitement something that should not be overlooked is preparing your family for a safe summer in the water.

For many kids it’s been months since they last went swimming.  Whether you are planning your summer vacation or for days at the neighborhood pool, it’s important to give attention to ensuring your child is safe in the water this season.

Focus on your child’s current swimming ability.

Many parents gage their child’s swimming ability based on the last time she spent quality time in the water. It’s not uncommon for kids to have a hiatus from swimming during the school year. The break from the water often causes kids to regress in swimming confidence and skills they honed during the previous summer months.

Don’t make assumptions that your child will swim at the same level or better than she did last summer. It’s important to evaluate how well your child manages herself in the water right now, versus how well you remember she swam last summer.

Use the pre-season as a time to establish swimming rules.

There are some simple activities you can do to determine how skilled your child is in the water. It’s important to evaluate your child’s swimming ability each time you go swimming.
The beginning of the summer is the perfect time to establish and prepare your family for the swimming rules and routine that you will follow. Effective rules and rituals will help kids have appropriate boundaries around the water and promote safety.

First things first, ask permission.

A good foundation for water safety is to have children as before entering the water. Sometimes children are not the best at determining what water is safe for them. If your child asks to enter the water, you can survey that it is safe and ensure that you are ready to watch your child in the water.

The habit of your child asking permission every time she enters the water, even when returning to the water from a bathroom or lunch break, will help you as be prepared to watch your child every time she enters the water.

Slow it down.

The excitement of swimming can cause kids to be impulsive and risky around the water. Teach your toddler to count slowly to three each time before he jumps in the water. The time it takes to count, “1 - 2 - 3” will give you the opportunity to judge whether or not it is an appropriate time and place for him to jump in the water.

As your child grows older, reinforce the need to pause and assess the water before jumping in.

Establish a ritual of testing your child’s swimming ability, even in familiar water.

The pool can be a very relaxing place. Don’t get too comfortable too quickly, though. Take the first 5-10 minutes of swim time to get acquainted with the water and have your child demonstrate his ability to safely exit the water. Evaluating your child’s swimming capabilities doesn’t have to be a daunting task, but it does need to be a consistent part of the swimming experience. Even if you are returning to a familiar pool, or if you are somewhere you feel comfortable, make it part of your routine to ‘test’ your child in the water.  

The most important skill you are measuring is your child’s ability to get in and out of the water. Make the beginning of swim time a game of “in and out” activities that demonstrate your child’s ability in the water and his ability to get out of the water safely.

Activities should be based on your child’s swimming ability and area where he will be swimming. If your child is going to swim in various areas, be sure to test him in each area.

Examples of In-and-Out Activities.

  • Jump in the pool and return to the side
  • Jump off the diving board and swim to the wall
  • Slide down the slide and swim to the ladder
  • Enter and exit the Lazy River

Have fun.

Setting water rituals and rules for your family this summer doesn’t have to be a chore. Make it a fun habit for your family to be prepared and safe in the water this season.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Teaming Up to Bring Swimming to a Community Surrounded by Water

What began as a plan to teach English in an African nation turned into a quest to empower Beninese through swimming. Starfish Aquatics Institute is partnering with the non-profit organization Swim Benin and Ghana-based Felix Fitness Foundation to help the residents of Benin, a country on the African coast, to embrace the water surrounding their nation by implementing a customized curriculum to meet the needs of a population that desperately needs aquatics education.

The disparity between how Americans and Beninese interact with the water came as a surprise to Dan Airth when he moved to Benin from California to teach English. It quickly became clear to Airth that living in a country bordered by water doesn’t ensure that people will know how to swim or feel comfortable in the water.

Even though Benin is bordered by water on three sides, Airth was surprised that he often found himself to be the only one enjoying the water, even as children and adult onlookers watched his every move in the water. “I also realized that although kids lived their whole lives surrounded by water, none of them could actually swim,” said Airth, “many Africans fear the ocean but they also believe they can’t swim.”
As Airth began forming relationships with residents of Benin his focus shift from only teaching people English, but to also teaching them the critical skill of how to swim. ”I found that for them learning to swim proved just as empowering as learning a new language,” said Airth.

It is difficult to determine how many fatal and nonfatal injuries occur each year in Benin, since underreporting has proven to be an issue. However, one study reported drowning to be the leading cause of fatal injury in Benin.

Through personal experience with Beninese and the mortality statistics, it became clear to Airth that something must be done. Airth founded the nonprofit Swim Benin to address the key aquatics-related issues facing the Beninese. “The goal is to reduce the rate of fatal and nonfatal drowning in the area through education,” said Airth.

Water safety is a worldwide issue, especially in developing nations that do not have the resources or infrastructure to promote swimming. Airth found that the lack of aquatics engagement in Benin is twofold: fear keeps people away, as well as economics.

In addition to potentially curbing the drowning rate in Benin, Airth has the goal of shifting the culture to be one that not only embraces the water, but also utilizes it as a resource. “As a non-profit training center,” Airth said, “my focus is to train young, enterprising swim instructors not only how to teach swimming but how to make a living doing it.”

Airth and Felix Uzor, whose fitness business in Ghana funds the Felix Fitness Foundation, will lead a course in April using a curriculum developed jointly by Uzor and by SAI. The Aquatic Survival Programme focuses on teaching basic water safety concepts through the use of flashcards.  SAI's Jennifer White is working with Airth and Uzor to customize the Starfish Swimming and Safety Training & Aquatic Rescue curricula to specifically meet the needs of the Beninese students.  

Uzor and SAI previously partnered in Uganda, where together they trained swim instructors in a unique curriculum combining Uzor's Aquatic Survival Programme and Starfish Swimming Uganda.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

90 Seconds About Preparing for the SAI Leadership Conference, with Brian Udany

The SAI Leadership Conference is just days away. To gear up for this year’s conference in San Diego I took a moment to chat with Leadership Conference veteran, Brian Udany, of Wilmette Park District in Illinois, about his methods for getting the most out of the experience. This year’s Leadership Conference will be Brian’s fifth year of attendance. It’s safe to say that Brian has some strategies for soaking up the benefits of the Leadership Conference. Here’s what he had to say:
  • Go into the weekend mentally prepared. “I take the time beforehand to consider the challenges facing our facility of what we may face in the upcoming season,” said Brian. There is a lot of information delivered at the Leadership Conference. Brian said it has helped him discern what is most important for him is he has prepared a filter for what he and his facility needs.
  • Have a goal for the Leadership Conference. For Brian, the goal is to have a ‘light bulb moment’ of information that he can take from the Leadership Conference. Typically, his ‘lightbulb moments’ are ideas that he can implement immediately at his facility.
  • Keep an open mind. Over the years of attending the Leadership Conference, Brian has realized that some of what he considers to be the best ideas are coming from those who are younger than him.  “I have found that while I may have my own ideas to share, there are so many things I have yet to learn,” said Brian,  “and that some of the best ideas are coming from the people who are just starting out.” Brian said that listening to and valuing the opinions of different generations has given him ideas that he would have never considered before.

As with previous SAI Leadership Conferences, the 2016 conference is going to deliver valuable information and opportunity for professional growth. We’re looking forward to San Diego!  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

SAI Leadership Conference Focusing on Change

Water Spray Park, 1961

The 2016 theme of SAI’s Leadership Conference is ‘Focus on the Future’. This year’s keynote speaker, Judith Leblein Josephs will speak from decades of experience in the aquatics industry about the current trends and upcoming changes to expect while engaging in the world of aquatics.

According to Josephs, changes are coming.
Judith Leblein Josephs

“The popularity revival of natural aquatic settings, such as rivers and lakes, is one such trend,” she notes. “The popularity of waterparks and treated-water facilities over past decades hampered the success of natural recreation areas; however, the trends are returning to a desire for natural recreational habitats.”

Josephs has also monitored an increasing desire for  recreational aquatics programs in natural settings. At this year’s SAI Leadership Conference, she will examine not only these trends, but also their impact on the delivery of aquatics programs and ability to adapt to the changing aquatics market.

“We will talk about the trends and expectations of this generation’s employees and consumers, Millennials,” she describes. “We will explore how to engage and motivate Millennials both as employees and facility patrons.”

This year’s SAI Leadership Conference in San Diego, will be held March 6-7. To register, contact Sara Poe at    

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

SAI's Medical Director, Dr. Justin Sempsrott Nominated for NDPA Lifesaver of the the Year

Dr. Justin Sempsrott is in the running for the 2015 Lifesaver of the Year award. The National Drowning Prevention Alliance solicited nominations for individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exceptional work in the advancement of drowning prevention at the community level through education, research, legislation, or public awareness.The nominations are finalized and open voting will continue through January 16, 2016. The recipient  of the 2015 award will receive recognition at the The National Drowning Prevention Alliance Conference March 29 - April 1, 2016. 

Voters can cast one vote per day. Visit the Facebook page to vote for Dr. Justin Sempsrott. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Swimming is More Than a Milestone

Many times I hear parents talk about their child’s ability to swim as though it is like any other childhood milestone, such as riding a bike. It can seem like there is a checklist of skills and experiences parents would like their kids to master by the time they start elementary school. The truth is, knowing how to swim is not any other childhood milestone: it’s a necessary life skill that should be learned as soon as possible.

The rate of childhood drowning is staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a reported 3,391 people died by accidental drowning in the United States in 2013. An estimated one in five people who die from drowning are children under the age of 14. Additionally, for every child who dies from drowning, another five children suffer injuries as the result of non-fatal drowning.

If knowing how to swim is to be on the same timetable of any childhood milestone, it should be linked with walking. “If a child can walk into a pool, he or she should be in swim lessons,” says Starfish Aquatic Institute’s COO and Swim School Specialist, Jennifer White. “A child can begin swim lessons as early as six months and should definitely be enrolled in swim lessons by 3 years old,” says White. There is no reason to wait until your child reaches a certain grade in school before enrolling him in swim lessons.

Prepare Your Child From the Beginning

Having successful swim lessons begins with early exposure to the water, before your child is even enrolled in lessons. Use bath time as an opportunity to acquaint your child with the water. Pour water over your child’s head and face as early as the first bath to get him used to the sensation of water on his face. Also, engage your child in a float position on his back during bath time. “The fear of water only gets worse over time, so it’s very important to get kids used to the water as soon as possible,” explains White.

Choose a Swim Program Wisely

Most towns offer more than one learn-to-swim program. If you aren’t familiar with swimming, it can be a daunting task to know which program to choose. Do your homework. First ask around for recommendations for programs in your area. Confirm that the instructor has a nationally recognized certification and a set curriculum for each class. The simple act of knowing how to swim - even being on a swim team - does not mean that someone will be able to effectively teach another person, especially a child, how to swim. Nationally recognized certification implies that an instructor has the necessary tools to teach swimming to your child.

Before enrolling your child in a program, observe a swim lesson to see the style of the lesson and how the instructor interacts with the kids. If you have the opportunity for your child to meet the instructor before enrolling in lessons, do so. “The connection between the child and the instructor directly impacts the performance of that child in swim lessons,” says White. Notice if the instructor engages with your child and how your child responds. Effective instructors are those who will meet your child at his level to positively encourage and instruct your child.

Consider the Setting of the Lesson

Having a one-on-one lesson with an instructor is optimal, as it ensures that your child will be engaged in swimming the entire class. However, if a private lesson is not feasible, look for a class with a small child-to-instructor ratio. “If there are too many kids in a lesson,” explains White,  “you could pay for a 30 minute lesson, but your child may only receive 5 minutes of actual swim instruction.” Point being, your child is not going to learn to swim by sitting on the side of the pool, watching other kids try new skills. Your child will only learn to swim by engaging in the water. If you do choose a group lesson program, make sure the instructor keeps all students active for the majority of the swim lesson time.

Monitor Progress

Having your child attend a series of swim lessons is not the end of the swimming journey. Keep track of how your child is doing, and understand that one series of swim lessons is a good start to teaching your child appropriate water safety, but some necessary skills may take more than one season of swim lessons to master. A program with a clear curriculum should give you feedback about your child’s progress. The key to swim lessons is that your child does make progress. “You should be able to see progress at every lesson,” says White. 

Beginning swim lessons should teach your child basic life-saving skills: how to jump into the pool, roll over in the water, float, and swim back to the wall. As your child progresses, so should the level of lessons. “At a minimum,” says White, “a child should be in swim lessons until he can swim at least ten yards, rolling on his back to rest and breathe when needed.” 

Learning how to swim early in life is much more than accomplishing a milestone. It is an essential safety measure necessary for every child.