"Honey you are swimming, just like Brenda and the others."
"I am?" she asked. "I didn’t know it!"
"You like to play the tea party game?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Sled? Motor boat? Zoo? Bridge?"
Her answer was "Yes," to those and more. She was learning to enjoy the water, and it was fun.
Of course, it requires a parent or teacher to suggest, "Let’s hold hands and play a game in the water." Why do I write about teaching little children to swim - so near to the end of the swimming season? This is near the time for parents and grandparents to enjoy the little ones in warm indoor pools, if the child is eager to do that and the child’s pediatrician approves.
Dads envision these early swims as being helpful to their children’s Olympic skills later; mothers want their preschoolers to keep up with the Joneses. It’s true that a short swim usually precedes food and a restful nap for both child and parent, and it’s a good show.
Pediatricians, however, are often opposed to the warm pools where many little children swim; it’s important to discuss this before making winter recreation or instruction commitments. Children of diaper age, even at pools that have dressing rooms and where the water is properly tested daily, do tend to have accidents, which spread childhood diseases. Ask the child’s doctor before you sign up for regular swimming as a winter activity.
Will you be in the water with your child, or will it be a stranger? Visit swimming facilities and choose one that is not too deep for your child to stand. Are the children having fun? If little children are shaking, with teeth chattering, they might be cold - or is it fear?
As a teacher, I’d move next to a child who is lagging behind and suggest a simple stunt that all can perform together. When the adult in charge deals with one child and has two sitting on the pool edge waiting their turns, each child is getting only a third of the teacher’s attention. In a group they’ll rapidly learn with others. Children learn from each other, and they make up fun things to do together. For example, playing "tea party" or "going to the zoo" will bring out lots of new water stunts including a canary taking a bath, going under a play bridge, growling like lions or hopping like kangaroos.
Having a "tea party" under water on the pool floor involves imaginary graham crackers and chocolate milk; we’d go down to pick up crumbs, take imaginary rags to wipe up imaginary spilled milk, use imaginary wax for polishing the floor and do anything else the children could think of to do together under water.
This little fun thing we made up left such an impression on one little girl that as an adult she wrote a children’s story about our "Tea Party." If any reader recalls "tea party" or "zoo," I’d be delighted to have a postcard or an e-mail. I think we started those games at our farm pool on what a little girl named Wild Kingdom Road, also known as Vemer’s Ford Road. "Tea party" and "zoo" don’t produce winning Olympic swimmers, but they make happy children who will get "stopwatch fever" at the proper age for that.
There are other concerns before choosing swimming as a winter activity for little tots. You know to teach a toddler to hold your hand when crossing a street, but do you know to teach that child to stay out of water? Household water hazards for children include a toilet with the lid not closed, the family bathtub, a child’s tub, a mop bucket, a dog’s watering pan and more. On farms there might be a horse-watering trough, water for chickens, a fishing pond, a creek and other temptations. Consider the lowly mop bucket: A few years ago, two children, across the state of Ohio from each other, drowned in mop buckets on the same day! In another accident, two sisters were watching a 3-year-old boy, and he wandered to the family swimming pool, which had been drained at the end of the season. Rain had put in enough water to attract him and to cause his death. Several thousand little children are rushed to our hospitals each year because of water mishaps.
Parents should remember to do the Heimlich maneuver at once if they find a child in trouble. Four maneuvers in about 10 seconds will cause water to gush out of the child’s lungs, and additional maneuvers can be used if needed. The child should be promptly checked by a medical professional because other body functions might have been disturbed by even a momentary interruption of natural breathing.
The more a child loves the water, the more vigilant a person must be!
Get in the water with your children and say, "Hold hands and let’s play a game."