NDPA Statement on the Purpose and Safety of Swim Lessons

A recent article published from Slate Magazine entitled Swim Lessons Won’t Keep Your Toddler From Drowning frames a dangerous message for parents. The article cites recent research which investigated how parents view their child’s drowning risk and need for supervision around water before and after swimming lessons. The results of the cited research indicate that parents can misjudge their child’s swimming ability, and in some cases, believe that their child requires less supervision around water after swimming lessons. The results of the research are not being disputed. However, the framing, headline and subheadings of this article published in Slate Magazine, sends the wrong message to parents and caregivers.

Swimming lessons are a key part of an overall drowning prevention strategy. Learning to swim is not a fullproof way of preventing drowning by itself. In 2009, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) released a position paper on the use of “Layers of Protection” to prevent drowning. In this paper, the NDPA lays out a case that the use of multiple layers of protection (i.e. learning to swim, barriers, supervision, proper response training, use of proper flotation devices, etc.) is the best way to insure safer water. The use of multiple layers of protection will insure that there are several prevention steps that have been put in place to lessen the chance of a drowning and better prepare for a response should an accident happen. Learning to swim is a key layer of protection that provides swimmers of all ages the skills needed to support themselves in water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for most children 4 years of age or older, and is open to children as young as 1 being enrolled in swimming lessons.  Regardless of swimming ability, parents and caregivers should provide constant supervision and remain vigilant when children are in or around water.

Today we celebrate the World’s Largest Swim Lesson, an event designed to promote the vital importance of teaching children to swim to help prevent drowning. For the year 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3,602 fatal drowning victims and an estimated 9,001 non-fatal drowning victims were seen in Emergency Departments in the United States. Drowning is a crucial public health issue. Every possible layer of protection should be utilized to prevent drowning and aquatic injury. The NDPA believes swimming lessons are a vital layer of protection and parents should be strongly encouraged to enroll their children in learn to swim lessons. We welcome all media outlets to contact the NDPA and discuss water safety and drowning prevention, including layers of protection.

Dr. Adam B. Katchmarchi, Ph.D., M.S., EMT-B
National Drowning Prevention Alliance


About the National Drowning Prevention Alliance: The National Drowning Prevention Alliance is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization created to form a catalyst for drowning prevention on a national scale. The NDPA is comprised of members, supporters, partner organizations, foundations and advocates that work towards increasing awareness of drowning prevention and water safety through collaboration. The NDPA believes that UNITED, we can prevent the tragedy of drowning and that together we make a difference in water safety in the United States and internationally.