Jaylen’s safe start experiences

For the third straight summer I have had Jaylen in safe start survival swim lessons. I have been promising a handful of people to post something on my blog about safe start. I have had too many people to count ask me questions about safe start because they were interested but honestly I’ve had just as many people make comments about safe start’s program that leave me totally baffled. After having both of my children go through safe start it’s a program I have come to not only support it but find it is an amazing program that build’s a child’s confidence in the water. It seems as though too many outsiders watching seem to only see the crying babies and toddlers that lead them to believe negative things about the program. I suppose we all want our kids to have fun in the water but lets face it, when it comes to worrying if our children will be capable of surviving in the water I find safe start’s strategies to teach children these skills not only amazing but essential, especially if you live in Florida where it seems around every corner there’s a pool, pond, lake or beach. Let’s be honest, I’d rather see my child crying during lessons learning these skills than to end up being the one crying if my child were to drown.

I first put Jaylen in safe start lessons back in the summer of 2008 when Jaylen was just 8 months old. Typically they start lessons closer to a year or when a child begins crawling and walking. However, if you live close to a pool or pond they have enrolled children as early as six months old. Before babies can crawl and walk the goal is not to teach the child to swim but rather to survive by floating. It amazed me that at such a young age Jaylen was able to master such skills. The program was 6 weeks and by the end he even performed floating in full winter clothing.




I suppose many who have decided against putting their children in Safe Start have told me that the program just costs too much. It’s essentially $60 a week and lessons are 10 minutes a day for five days a week. They offer lessons in the mornings, afternoons and evenings to make scheduling convenient for all families. Next to my camera I have to admit it’s the best investment I’ve made. Safe start and the Y do provide scholarships for families who qualify due to their income level and you do not have to be a Y member to enroll. So I suppose I have a hard time understanding why people aren’t able to make that small amount of time or investing in their children’s safety.

Safe start recommends refresher lessons every 3-6 months but many end up doing them every year like we have. Usually children go through such major growth spurts the first few years of life that unless they are in the water swimming often throughout the year then they are likely not to retain the skills fully. They may still be capable of some of the skills but from what I’ve seen my children have always benefited from the reassurance refresher lessons bring. The costs and time of the lessons are the same, except the length of refresher lessons really depend on how much of the skills the child retains. Most children I’ve seen usually only need 1-2 weeks of refresher lessons. Last summer we put Jaylen in refresher lessons  for about two weeks. I suppose what was amazing with his second year is finally seeing him swim to the wall and gain confidence under water. Here’s his first time under water last summer.


Yes, he looks scared. He should. Remember, the goal is to teach the children first how to survive, not play. So this means they are challenged in ways that their parents would never challenge them. I admit it broke my heart to see both of my children cry during lessons but when you see the end result I think you’ll agree it was worth challenging him. I suppose for me in Jaylen’s second year in safe start it really hit home in just the first day or two of lessons. I allowed Jaylen to sit and play on the wall with a dive ring while Hope was in the pool playing near him. I was only and arm length or so away taking photos of the kids in the pool with my underwater camera and noticed from the corner of my eye that Hope had grabbed the ring and attempted to pull the ring from him. He refused to let go and ended up being pulled in the water. Luckily I was right there and able to catch him but all I could think was – “What if I wasn’t there?” Here they are just a split second before that moment that certainly helped me value safe start that much more.


So I continued to watch my little boy scream in lessons and learn to swim and float. If you haven’t heard, he cries like a velociraptor (a.k.a. baby dinosaur)  still and I’m convinced his cries caused everyone on the pool deck to watch his lessons. I still remember having a few onlookers give me a hard time a time or two because it looked so cruel. He did amazing despite all the crying and believe it or not, he really was nothing like this after lessons were over.


Yes, at just a year and half old he quickly loved to show off under water and show us all the new things he was learning. Swimming really was always fun for him he just realized in lessons that he had to work – but once lessons were over he was usually all smiles.


This summer I found to be the hardest to get Jaylen back in the pool. I figured with all the lessons he’d be ready to jump right in once the summer arrived. He hadn’t been in the pool since last summer so he rathered sit on the wall and hang out. If I brought him in the pool before he started safe start this summer he would scream no matter how many times I tried to warm him up to the idea of having fun in the water with me. So I stopped trying to push the issue and let him sit on the side of the pool until he began his lessons this summer.


I suppose one thing that made lessons this summer more challenging is that now that Jaylen is 2 1/2 years old he is much stronger and resists things that he doesn’t want to do. Here he was on the first day of safe start doing any and everything he could to get out of the pool.


He realized quickly that his instructor was there to help him and was seen on the first day reaching for her as if she could save him from swimming. It was only a matter of time before he realized she was pushing him to learn to be a better swimmer and so he could survive if he ever fell in a situation in the water alone.



Many days he’d cry and reach for me. I suppose one of the toughest parts was knowing I couldn’t calm his fears but I’m thankful his instructor was there to help reassure him that everything she was teaching him he was capable of doing.


But on day 2 this year he still cried so loudly and just wanted his lessons to be over.


By day 3 the crying seemed to not happen nearly as often. He seemed to enjoy the swim time with his teacher a little more.



And when he did cry, I swear by day 3 he seemed to be crying more for attention than out of his fear of the water.


By the end of the week he was smiling while swimming with his teacher. It was the best feeling to see his enjoyment.


But he still had to learn to float again. Most children don’t care to float and it’s very common to have them cry when they learn these skills. If you think about it, if they fall in when you’re not there you better hope they’re crying so that you know you need to run to save them. So as I watched him cry more I was reminded that he was learning things that could someday help save his life.


Now you can feel bad for my baby boy but by the end of the first week of lessons this year he was gladly showing off in the pool when he and I swam together.


He was also climbing out of the pool and jumping right back in on his own.


Thanks to the confidence safe start brought my little boy he was so confident in the water that it made for some really amazing underwater photography moments. Make sure you notice the big smiles. He loved to show off and I am confident that if he hadn’t have been in safe start lessons that he would have never swam to me to this extent underwater. There were times he swam and told me he was swimming like “Buzz” – he’d put his arms back I suppose a bit like Buzz Lightyear supposedly flies.




By the end of the first week I knew he was capable of swimming 10-20 feet on his own. What he hadn’t mastered again was floating. He was capable of floating but he was so strong and new how to flip over that he seemed to think he was so great at swimming that there was no need to float. So this year he needed a lot of reinforcement with floating to understand how it could help him survive.


Now all the picture I have shared really can’t really help you see how much my little guy has learned this summer. I have to commend his instructor because he was such a challenge this year. He was very stubborn once he began to relearn his floating skills. He’d often lift his head like adult swimmers do which is something most kids aren’t capable of doing until they are 4 or 5 years old. Because he could do this he was such a strong swimmer and knew he could swim a further distance and resisted floating so much. He would float well if put into a float position but he’d never rollover to float on his own which is a skill he needed to prove he could do. If children only learn to swim then if they fall in they may not be capable of getting out of the pool on their own. If they learn to float your child is more likely to understand that floating will keep them from getting too tired until someone can help save them. So we kept him in lessons a few extra days until he mastered floating. It took his instructor completely turning her back to him and stepping several feet away before he grasped that it was something he had to be able to do on his own. On the last day of lessons he ended up being so tired but did so amazing. I think you’ll be amazed by the videos of him swimming and floating on his last day.

Now all that crying and get this…just minutes later we were back in the pool and he was showing off with me. He made sure to show off that he could float all on his own in this video. And yes, take note…no tears or crying.

Now I could go on and on about how much I feel Safe Start has helped my kids but hopefully seeing tidbits of Jaylen this summer has helped you all see how much it has helped him. If you have young kids you may not think you’ll ever need survival lessons for your kids…I mean as a parent we are all guardians and protect over our little ones and keep them from harm. But I have had both of my kids in a few situations that have left me realizing that sometimes, no matter how protective I am, you can’t necessarily control what happens to your kids.I think back to when Hope was just two and having her and a friend waiting nearby a local Red Lobster we waited outdoors to be seated and as we waited Hope and her friend ran up and down a small hill that was only a short distance from a pond. We knew Hope knew her boundaries but what we all didn’t know was how marshy that pond got near the grassy area. As she ran fast down the hill she came a short distance from the water, a distance we felt safe with her being and she stepped one foot into the marshy area and fell face forward right into the pond. It scared us and thankfully we were right there and all we could think was how glad we were she had just finished safe start too. So I’m glad this summer we were able to take time to let Jaylen be better prepared.


And yes, for Jaylen it was great because shortly after one of his last lessons he had been jumping in the pool to me. There was lots of laughter, until a little boy about 4 years old came walking by and pushed Jaylen in. Thankfully Jaylen felt confident enough in the water and knew how to react. All I could think was…what if he hadn’t been through Safe Start? Yes, all those lessons filled with tears and crying were worth every minute and dollar because it has given us the piece of mind that our little ones have the confidence in the water to survive.


I suppose I share this not only after having many people ask questions about the program but after hearing every summer about babies and young children drowning in a pool, a bath, a lake or a pond. It’s so sad and I suppose what is the saddest part is that every parent should want to take the time to make sure their children are prepared to react to situations in the water. Unfortunately too many parents are far more concerned with their child’s emotions and keeping them from crying that they don’t realize that programs like Safe Start could someday save their child’s life.

If you live in the central Florida area you can check out the Safe Start program online they do lessons year round. If you live outside of the Orlando area you can look into Infant Swimming Resource who have similar swimming survival programs all across the country.

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