In the land of 10,000 lakes, it is important that everyone knows basic water safety and the fundamentals of keeping afloat. We can thank our area's lifeguards for keeping our kids in the know in southwest Minnesota.
Tracy, Slayton and Marshall all had swimming lessons this past week. Students and teachers alike woke up extra early to get in water, that may or may not be warm, so they could dive into learning.
"There are different levels of swimmers based on their skills. The young kids start at level one, and they work their way up to level five. We evaluate them at the end of the week, but the key is to not let them know you are testing them or they get nervous. If they can do all the skills on our checklist, they can go up a level next summer," said Blythe Bell, a Marshall lifeguard.
Photo by Samantha Downing
Brooke Larsen helps Mason O’Donnell with his back float at Marshall’s swimming lessons.
Slayton and Tracy have similar systems in place for their swimming lessons.
"You can really see the progress as the younger kids move into higher levels. They go from only wanting to play games to learning the strokes and getting good at them," Molly Bass, a Slayton lifeguard, said.
"We learn how to do the breast stroke, diving and flip turns," said Zach Towne of Marshall, a level five swimmer.
Children all over the area are excited about what they get to do at swimming lessons. In no way is it an activity they dread.
Towne and Noah Blomme, also a level five swimmer of Marshall, were some of the first to be waiting in line at 7:45 a.m. for lessons at the Marshall Aquatic Center at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"I like swimming lessons because I get to play in the water in the morning," Jaden Deacon of Slayton said. He is a level three swimmer.
"In the lower levels, we just want the kids to be comfortable in the water. You really can't do anything else with them until they are. It's also important that they learn the back float because it is an easy way to prevent drowning if they are somewhere they can't swim. Once they get into levels three and four, they are learning the basic strokes and how to dive. Swimmers are just refining their skills by level five," said McKindra Butman, the head of swimming lessons in Tracy.
Swimming lessons are not focused on being perfect at each stroke to get them ready for a swim team.
"We just want to teach them how to be safe about having fun. We use fun sayings like 'look before you leap' that help them remember what it is we are teaching. There are games that are used to incorporate learning," Butman said.
One of the activities the Tracy swimmers like to participate in is getting the 10-pound brick from the bottom of the diving well. It is one of the tasks that has to be performed for lifeguard training but isn't required for swimming lessons.
"The level five and six swimmers love to try to go get the brick. It is fun to watch them get better at it. Usually, they can get it up to the surface but can't quite get it to the side. They never give up until they get it though," said Reed Salmon, a Tracy lifeguard.
Minnesota is known for its aquatic activities, so it is important that the lifeguards emphasize how to put the skills they are teaching into practice.
"We make sure to teach them how to put on a life jacket and to use it when they're boating. Part of each lesson is just basic water safety," Bell said.
Swimming lessons also give the younger kids a chance to get to know their lifeguards.
"For lessons, we have one guard for every five swimmers. That gives a lot of one-on-one time. The kids love to play games with the lifeguards, and I think the lifeguards like it just as much. Everyone has lots of fun," said Sharon Henderson, manager of the Slayton pool.
Not only do swimming lessons ease the worries of parents but of lifeguards too.
"You can tell the kids who have had lessons and who haven't. You know what their strengths and weaknesses are so you can watch them accordingly," said Rachel Swan, a Marshall lifeguard.
"Our goal for swimming lessons is to get the kids comfortable in the water and be able to apply what they learn if ever needed," Henderson said.