RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Pediatricians are pushing for swimming lessons this summer for all children and their families.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced this week that swimming should be considered “an essential life skill” with training recommended for toddlers.

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young children, especially between the ages of one and five,” said Dr. David Hill of Goldsboro Pediatrics and the North Carolina Pediatric Society.

“In the past, it wasn’t clear whether having swimming lessons at such a young age could protect children from drowning, but it has become clear that this is an important step that parents should take.”

The AAP said other precautionary measures include adult supervision, having a fence around private pools to prevent unsupervised children from gaining access, covering pools when not in use, and draining water from above ground pools including small wading pools which may only be one foot deep.

Hill said it is important for doctors to advocate for drowning prevention.
“One of the key roles of pediatricians is ensuring children are safe and healthy. We vaccinate. We talk about car seats, bicycle helmets, and firearms safe storage. Likewise, preventing one of the top causes of childhood death, which is drowning, is very much part of our job,” he said.

The directors of aquatic programs with the Durham Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department expressed appreciation for the physician endorsements of their swim lesson programs.

“It really helps when doctors support us in what we’re trying to do and reach out to the community and make people more healthy,” Durham Recreation Manager Colleen Toomey said. “We have doctors that are prescribing for kids to play in parks and be out on trails more.”

Swim lessons offered by Durham Parks and Recreation are immensely popular. The department opened registration at midnight Monday for upcoming classes. Assistant director Jason Jones said more than 95% percent of the slots were claimed within 12 hours.

Parents can enroll their infants at six months in an Aqua Babies program, which includes parental participation. Lauren McKinnis recently completed a course with her seven-month-old son.

“I started swim lessons really early. I think it’s super important to get kids interested and comfortable in the water so that if something did happen, they can hopefully save themselves or help save someone else,” McKinnis said.

“You hear about terrible things, and you really hope that some training and education would be able to prevent a lot of those.”

Courses are available to all ages. Registration for swimming lessons in Raleigh can be found here

“Every adult should know how to swim,” said Raleigh Aquatic Director Terri Stroupe. “In hurricane country, you never know when you’re going to be in and around the water, so everyone should know how to swim.”

In addition to offering swimming lessons, parks and rec departments in Raleigh and Durham also offer lifeguard training. Stroupe said she could use about 30 more lifeguards.

Dr. Hill said the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages having an adult ‘water watcher’ whenever lifeguards are not present. The adult should be within an arm’s length of any young children or poor swimmers.

“People think that drowning is noisy, that’s there’s going to be thrashing and splashing and you’re going to look up, but that’s not what really happens,” Hill said.

Real drowning is silent, it happens with no warning, with no noise, no fuss, you just look around and can’t find the child. [You] realize often too late that something awful has happened.”