Getting a child comfortable in and around water should be at the top of every parent’s to-do list. According to the Center for Disease Control, there was an average of 3,536 drownings per year in the United States from 2005 to 2014; about 10 per day. One in five of those drownings were children under the age of 14. When someone begins to panic in the water, instincts take over and actually hurt your chances of survival. Your body works to keep your head above water creating a difficulty for rescuers to render aid as the drowning victim will often unknowingly try to push themselves up out of the water, using the rescuers as leverage by pushing them under. It’s a terrifying situation that no one should have to be in. Traditionally, swimming lessons begin with children age 2 to 3 splashing playfully in about six inches of water, and it isn’t until they are 6 or 7 when heads go under water and strokes and treading water practices are introduced. A new campaign from the International Swimming Hall of Fame is aiming to change that by getting kids into the pool at an even younger age.

“More Than Water” is a program to recognize swim schools in a nationwide effort to educate and encourage parents to start swim lessons for their children as early as 6 months old. Based on extensive global research and conclusive evidence from countries like Australia, there are clear physical, emotional, social and intellectual benefits of learning to swim for children under 5 years old. Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard’s Beard Swim Co., which opened this past July in Gig Harbor, is the first swim school in the United States to earn the designation and be recognized for aligning with these core principles.

“The new guidelines are meant to bring attention to swimming as a life skill that not only makes kids healthier and happier, but also advances their development and opens the door to a big world of experiences,” said ISHOF Executive Director Bruce Wigo. “We chose to recognize the Beard Swim Co. first since Amanda has always embraced this philosophy, and now as a swim-school operator, she has the opportunity to create programs that get more kids in the water sooner.”

“We created Beard Swim Co. with the belief that the ability to swim is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child,” said Beard. “Swimming remains a huge part of my life, and as a mother of two young children, I know the benefits of learning to swim firsthand. We’re thrilled to be recognized by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and feel lucky for the opportunity to work with children of all ages in the pool.”

More than Water is based on six key beliefs, including:

  • Swimming makes kids happier, healthier, stronger, smarter, more curious and safer.​

  • Kids can start swimming lessons as early as 6 months old.​

  • Kids who learn to swim before the age of 5 are often months or years ahead of their same age peers in both cognitive and motor skills.​

  • Swimming opens the door to many lifelong recreational and occupational opportunities that aren’t available for those who can’t swim.​

  • Swimming can save your life or help you save the life of another.​

  • Swimming is more than a sport, it’s a life skill.

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A 2013 research study conducted by Dr. Robyn Jorgensen in Australia found children who participate in swimming  during their early years appear to achieve many milestones earlier than the normal population, regardless of social background or gender. On average, children who swam before the age of 5 experienced advanced physical, cognitive and language development.

On average, children who swam before the age of 5 were:

  • 11 months ahead of the normal population in oral expression

  • 6 months ahead in mathematics reasoning  ​

  • 17 months ahead in story recall

  • 20 months ahead in understanding directions

  • Children also scored significantly better in motor skills like cutting paper, coloring in and drawing lines; gross motor stationery skills like standing on tiptoes, standing on one foot, imitating movement and performing sit-ups.

At Beard Swim Co., there are many levels at which lessons are taught starting with the Infant Splash class. Here babies 6 months and older can be with a parent and instructor for supervised play time in the water. By introducing children to water and including playtime with someone they trust, the likelihood of developing stress, fear and anxiety over swimming and open water is often greatly lessened. The Beard Swim Co. adheres to the World Aquatic Babies & Children Network (WABC) guidelines in all its classes. Some of these guidelines include parent participation and a happy, fun and secure environment in which babies and young children can learn.

The pool temperature is set to be warm and inviting, making it a comfortable and safe place for young children. Lessons are taught by experienced professionals, and children only move on once they have completed each task. Young children begin submersing themselves for short periods of time, about one to three seconds, and don’t move up to longer periods until they demonstrate proper breath control. There are nine levels of group swim lessons available at Beard Swim Co., with a maximum ratio of four swimmers to one instructor. There are also various levels of private one-one swim classes and elite level training directly with Amanda for those who aspire to swim at the collegiate level and/or pursue their own Olympic dreams.

It can be a somewhat scary putting your toddler in water over their head, but as studies have shown, the earlier they get used to the water, the more likely they’ll avoid a life or death situation later. Water is always dangerous, and you can’t completely eliminate risk, but getting children comfortable and learning to stay afloat at a young age will greatly reduce that risk. Classes are filling up quickly, and several waiting lists are currently out. To register your child or find out more information, visit BearSwimCo.com or find them on Facebook.

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