The Why and How of Safety Day at Foss Swim School

If you are a first-time FOSS family, you may have heard about our Water Safety Day events: One week during both our Fall and Spring Quarters, we have all of our students review and practice key water safety activities, and review with families basic water safety tips. Our goal is to make this a really fun experience for swimmers that they will look forward to, and hopefully through repetition these skills will become second nature for them in the event they do find themselves in trouble in the water.

It might seem obvious why we have Safety Day, and we are pleased that this is a widespread practice at many swim schools and swim programs—above all, our deepest desire is to see more people have the skills to be safer around water. But even long-time FOSS families might not know the underlying reasons behind many of the things we teach. 

What Happens During Water Safety Day

On Water Safety Day, we focus exclusively on basic safety skills. This means simulating some of the most common and dangerous aspects of water emergencies—falling in unexpectedly, while fully clothed, and making rapid decisions about what to do next. We set it up to be fun, safe and not scary, but the lessons imparted are serious.

Expect to see:

  • Kids in shirts or sweatshirts jumping and swimming in the pool
  • Instructors focused on teaching a few ungainly-looking strokes
  • With older kids, we use play-acting scenarios where instructors pretend to be struggling

We are teaching the students, but also teaching parents. We want adults to see with their own eyes how challenging these situations are even for kids who are strong swimmers under normal circumstances. We also want to make sure the adults are able to reinforce basic safety skills every time their family is near water.

The Whys Behind Water Safety Day Skills

Here are some of the things we teach, and why these lessons are so important:

  • DON’T PANIC: Having kids experience how heavy wet clothes are and how different their buoyancy is will help them not panic if this ever happens in the real world.When you’re used to floating, the sinking sensation could be terrifying—but if they know what it feels like and what to do next, panic can be controlled.
  • KICK OFF SHOES: This simple step doesn’t naturally occur to many people. Shoes increase drowning risk—they weigh people down and make kicks harder and less effective.
  • SWIM THE MOMMA BIRD: Wet clothing weighs down arms, drags water and makes normal strokes where the arm comes out of the water, like the freestyle and backstroke, impossible for all but the strongest swimmers—we’ve seen even top lifeguards struggle trying to swim freestyle in wet clothes. The “safety stroke” or “momma bird” technique of four or five strokes forward with the face in the water, then flip and flap the arms while floating on the back to draw in air, and then flip again and repeat is the most efficient stroke for this extreme situation.
  • SEE IF A SWIMMER GETS IT: We are also looking for cognitive limitations, especially in young children—basically a fancy way of saying, do they recognize a dangerous situation and know what to do? This is where we do play-acting—if a child sees an instructor pretending to struggle, do they throw something that floats? Do they get help? Or do they make the mistake of jumping in? Parents need to know and see for themselves if their child is at a point where they can make the right decision.

Different Lessons for Different Levels

All of our Safety Day activities are designed to test what kids know and can do, and build their skills and confidence as they progress. So never skip a Safety Day because you’ve done it before—there are new lessons and challenges for swimmers every time.

This has just been an overview of the basics—you’ll get more detailed information at the pool, and of course don’t hesitate to ask questions of the FOSS people at the pool. We hope you look forward to Safety Day as much as we enjoy putting it on! See you at the pool!

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