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By Brian Hoyt

If you’re planning to take a resort or beach vacation this summer where a pool or ocean might be a part of the equation, teaching your kids to swim is serious business.

According to Safe Kids U.S.A., a child safety group in Washington, D.C., child drownings increase 89 percent in the summer months over the rest of the year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission unveiled new data recently showing that between 2005–2007, an estimated annual average of 2,700 children under age 5 were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for injuries associated with pool and spa submersions. And according to the Emergency Services Department of the City and County of Honolulu, hundreds (700 to 850) of persons are rescued from the ocean surrounding the island of Oahu each year.

Scared straight? The message here is clear. Teaching a child to swim is imperative. The earlier the better, as some swimming lessons can be learned intuitively through parent-infant classes at the earliest of ages. We suggest several items to consider when teaching your kids to swim prior to a beach or poolside getaway:

Ideally, parents should first look into their friendly neighborhood YMCA well before the vacation. YMCAs have been teaching people to swim for more than a century. In their renowned aquatics programs, children learn to be safe around and respect water, and kids can develop lifelong skills that can help them stay healthy.

Other YMCA swim lessons include infant-parent classes, preschool classes, classes for kids with disabilities, not to mention classes for teens and adults … like maybe for a mom and dad who possibly need to brush up on their own breast stroke.

Second, most hotels and resorts have lifeguards poolside and at their private beaches. Call ahead to ensure aquatic protection is a part of the resort experience, or if you are a novice swimmer and venture off the resort grounds to find that perfect secluded beach, ask the hotel concierge if any of the local beaches are served by municipal lifeguard services.

Third, parents who want to provide their children with a refresher on swimming can sign their children up at a kid’s club available at many resorts. The kid’s club at the Marriott Resort at St. Kitts, for instance, teaches swim lessons for children ages 5 to 12.

Fourth, flotation devices are also something to consider for children with less experience in a pool. Far from the blow-up plastic arm band-like floats from yesteryear, kids today have access to affordable buoyancy-wear that look more like a full body wetsuit combined with life jackets, complete with SPF protection. And while the suits make children more buoyant, they don’t teach them to swim, so beware of misplaced confidence that your child will be OK unsupervised.

Lastly, parents who might be new to swimming themselves should really understand the differences between pool and ocean waters. Pools don’t have currents, undertows or riptides. Pools also don’t have wildlife. Ocean swimming is for the more experienced. Beyond dipping their toes in the surf, don’t let young kids and noviceocean swimmers go deep. You don’t need to be very far into the ocean for a strong undertow or riptide to drag you out deeper. And while the blue waters of the Caribbean are beautiful, beware of its life from within, including jellyfish, stingrays or other dangerous sea life.

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Brian Hoyt is the head of corporate communications and government affairs for Orbitz Worldwide. He and his wife are parents to an energetic 2-year-old daughter. Their favorite places to visit are Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Florida, the Shenandoah Mountains, New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., and Yankee Stadium.

Tagged: Family time

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