I’ve moved!

23 Feb


My weekly blogs have moved to my new web-site. I hope you’ll visit me there so that we can keep the conversation about keeping kids safe in the water going.

Mr. Rogers had it right.

17 Feb

Children are not small adults. Children do not have the emotional development that adults possess. (Well, some possess more, but that’s another story.) Children are continuing to develop at a rate that boggles the mind, that boggles their own small mind. And ‘children’ means birth through age 19, sometimes even 21, until the brain and the body have stopped their tumultuous and rapid changes.

Water can help that development. I’m going to be doing a series of blogs on the ways water positively helps children’s development – all children – disabled, autistic, gifted, ‘average’ (though I believe all children have exceptional, unique gifts – they just might look different).

Mr. Rogers had it right 42 years ago. He understood children. He understood how to reach children positively. I think we all need to listen to Mr. Rogers one more time. Oh yes, relax and remember what it was like watching Mr. Rogers – he speaks slowly and deliberately – almost jarring to our modern-day bombardment of information – but Mr. Rogers knew about that as well.


Are you a young enough dog to learn a new trick?

10 Feb

I discovered a very cool app for your iPhone this week – teaching your child to swim. Check out uSwim Australia, http://www.uswim.com/ or go directly to iTunes to download the free app http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/uswim-teach-kids-to-swim/id411167209?mt=8

As a mom, I love how this program works. It embraces critical aspects of keeping kids safe in the water – it is a gradual, fun and positive introduction to the water for very young children. It follows building blocks of skill development through repetition, age-appropriate and positive lessons. And, it centers on one-on-one interaction with a parent/caregiver so your child feels safe and associates positive time in the water with an adult.

But what’s really intriguing about this initiative is how it turns accepted wisdom on its head and embraces new technology to reach a wide range of people. It uses technology to reach parents and caregivers who have regular, easy access to water where they can teach their child every day. Yes, it’s aimed at people affluent enough to own an iPhone or iPad, and yes, it’s important to get your child in regular structured classes with a professional, but but who’s to say the concept can’t be expanded using available technology to reach an even broader range of people?

Let’s look at the evidence: third world country economies are being transformed by the ability to transfer small amounts of money via cell phones; governments are toppling, aided by Twitter and Facebook. With one child drowning every minute across the globe it seems like high time to take a good hard look at how new technology can end an old problem.

Kudos to uSwim for pushing the envelope!


One child drowns every minute. Why aren’t we talking about it?

2 Feb

Yes, you read that correctly. One child drowns every minute. 600,000 children a year.

My 9-year old son asked me the other day how many kids drown and when I told him one every minute he asked, ‘Then why isn’t everyone talking about it?’ Good point. If a 9-year old gets it immediately, why doesn’t everyone?

So let’s get people talking. How?

Ask Oprah to dedicate a show to childhood drowning. Join us in sending official requests to her by February 14. “Us” includes everyone from the Australian Surf Life Savers to a bunch of Navy SEALs.  We hail from a range of countries from Argentina to New Zealand.  We’re olympic swimmers, swim schools, Channel Swimmers. We’re doctors, aquatics professionals, concerned parents and devoted grandparents. Join us to save kids’ lives.

Simply click on this link to ask Oprah to showcase this issue:

Here’s what I submitted (stats from www.ilsf.org and other sources), but feel free to put your own perspective in there:

One child drowns every minute across the globe.  600,000 children per year.  An estimated 3-4 children almost drown every minute and are permanently impaired.

Drowning is as serious a threat to childhood mortality as many diseases, and it is entirely preventable.  I believe we need a global strategy to address the issue and local solutions to address cultural and geographic differences.  I believe that the joy of water needs to be recognized and embraced and that children must be taught a positive and safe relationship with water from infancy if drowning rates are to drop.  We need to change how we relate to the water, permanently.

Thank you for considering putting childhood drowning as a subject of a show – I know of no one but Oprah who could make such an immediate impact on an issue which affects all of us.  Too much has been fear and guilt and the statistics haven’t changed – we need to bring empowerment and joy and positive change if we want our children to be safe.


Is your child house-trained?

26 Jan

Meet Neptune, the latest member of my family. We adopted 7-month old Neptune (named after the god of the sea, of course) on Saturday. He is an adorable, smart, push-the-limits and rambunctious bundle of love, not much different from the average 4-year old (which is roughly his age in people years). But, just like any young child, Neptune needs to learn about his surroundings and how to behave safely and appropriately. We seem to instinctively understand that dogs need training, but we sometimes forget that our children need the same kind of training.

‘Off!’ for my new counter-surfer is no different from ‘Hot!’ for a toddler’s wandering hands near the stove.

‘Out?’ for the dog equals ‘do you need to go potty?’ for the younger child.

So why do we train our dogs and our children? To keep them safe. To set boundaries and teach behavior that will make them acceptable adults. Because we love them and more than anything we want them to feel loved, secure, accepted, safe. Which brings me to water.

Just as I’m teaching Neptune the acceptable places to drink water I may have to restrain his natural golden retriever instincts to dive into any available body of water. The retention pond at the end of the street after a heavy storm? Very tempting but not a good idea – those drains can be sucking water out at a tremendous rate. Lake Michigan? Only where the signs and the lifeguards say it’s safe to swim, those rip tides can be scary. A fast-moving stream? It may look shallow but easy for a small one to get swept away. Storm drain? Never, never, never – the thought of anyone being sucked into the sewer is terrifying, and it happens too often.

But when we find safe places to play in the water, my son and Neptune will have hours of memorable fun splashing and playing fetch together – the stuff that makes the best childhood memories.

Your child needs to understand which water is safe and when to be cautious of the water. Surely you’d want to teach your children as well as you teach your dog.


Bored kids?

19 Jan


It’s looking like a loooooong time until warm weather hits here in Chicago. If you’re like me, you are trying to figure out how to keep the kids entertained during the long mostly-indoor winter months.

I’ve got two suggestions. First, print off some coloring sheets from Jabari’s web-site and have your kids enter our coloring contest. Here’s the link: https://www.jabariofthewater.com/content/coloring-contest

It’s easy to do. Just download the coloring sheet to your printer, hand your child some crayons or markers and then scan and upload the image. Convince your friends and family members to vote for your child’s drawing and you could win two copies of ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’, a fun and whimsical book about water safety for 2-5 year olds. The first copy is a downloadable copy for you to print on your home printer. The second copy is a paperback version of the book that I’ll send to the school, preschool, library or day care center of your choice.

Why am I doing this? Simple – 1-5 year-olds are at the highest risk for drowning. If we don’t start talking to them about how to be safe in the water while they are young, it could be too late. If you want to know more, check out the rest of the website: https://www.jabariofthewater.com/

Second suggestion? Head to your local indoor public pool. A couple of hours playing in the water pretty much guarantees happy, worn-out kids who crash at the end of the day. In my house that also guarantees a happy mom.


Water, Water everywhere….

13 Jan

Water is everywhere. It is a source of life – only oxygen is a more immediate physical need. Water is a central theme in all of the world’s religions for its cleansing, purifying and life-giving properties. Ancient cultures around the world have deified gods associated with water and appeased and worshiped them. Water is the source of battles – from the ongoing conflict over the Colorado River to the development of the Panama and Suez Canals. And what will happen to the region when Yemen runs out of water? How about all those archipelago nations with the ocean lapping ever higher at their doorsteps?

We can’t live with too much, we can’t live with too little. Just as with any other healthy relationship, we need a balance.

For thousands of years water has been revered, feared, fought over, but most of all, respected. So how have we lost our connection with water? Why have we dumped it into the large and controversial bucket of ‘natural resources’? That’s kind of like saying the sun is just an exploitable source of light. Yes, water is a natural resource. Coal and timber are natural resources, but they do not have an elemental force beyond human control, water does. Does the word ‘tsunami’ mean anything to you?

I’m voting to have water elevated back to the status it deserves – a fundamental life source. A powerful force of nature. A source of healing. A source of cleansing. A source of health. A source of joy.

Water is not our enemy. It’s our life.


Where is your joy?

5 Jan


Kids know how to have fun. Adults? Well, sometimes we forget. I let my joy get kicked curb-side recently while traveling through Heathrow (this Chicago girl still can’t wrap her head around flights being grounded for a week by 2 inches of snow). By Sunday afternoon my son was yelling in frustration, “You never have fun! You never play with us!” Being a sane, mature and in-control adult I yelled back, “Do you think I really want to do the dishes, the laundry, the shoveling, the bills, etc, etc, etc.!” Yup, a fine moment in the annals of good parenting.

I was already at that uncomfortable, guilt-inducing can’t-wait-until-school-starts-again countdown when it hit me. Unlike adults, children do not deny themselves joy. They seek it out and revel in it. How cool is that?

But how often do we, as adults and parents, try to put a damper on their joy because it’s inconvenient for us or some other stupid excuse? Yes, we need to keep our kids safe while they have fun. Yes, boundaries are necessary for a number of reasons. Yes, sometimes we do have to drag them from the sledding hill because we have lost all feeling in our toes. But the other excuses? Are they really valid or are they just stuck-in-a-rut thinking?

So, the dishes waited because I cranked the music and my kids and I danced until the laughter drowned out the yelling. So, my yard looks like crap because it’s the go-to playing field for my neighborhood. So, sometimes we ride our bikes to the ice cream store for dinner or have pizza-and-movie night in the basement, crumbs, no vegetables and all. All the responsibilities of adulthood will still be there, but don’t deprive your kids or yourself.

Let JOY be what your kids remember most.


New Year’s Resolution

29 Dec

This time of year puts me in a contemplative frame of mind. I’m certainly not adverse to a good party, but December 31 is one night I’d rather stay home and think about what I’d like to accomplish in the next year. Of course a glass of champagne and a roaring fire are required – it is a festive evening after all.

Speaking of goals, I was interviewed recently by Jayson Jackson of Diversity in Aquatics (here’s the link if you’d like to watch): http://www.diversityinaquatics.com/video/using-jabari-to-make-an-impact

Jayson asked about my goals for the next year, so here goes. My #1 goal is to raise awareness of drowning as a serious threat to children across the globe. Roughly 600,000 child drown each year, and by some estimates, 1,400,000 almost drown, yet very few parents know that drowning is such a risk to their children. My goal for 2011 is to change that.

We can not fix a problem until we acknowledge it’s existence. Help me make 2011 be the year childhood drowning hits everyone’s radar screen.


Reaching – and positively influencing – the 2-4’s

15 Dec

Children ages 2-4 are at the highest risk of drowning of any age group. And, while the drowning rates for older children are slowly decreasing, the rates for toddlers are actually increasing.

I have yet to find a study that explains why. Based on my research (and my own experience as a mom), I’d venture to say it’s because water is everywhere and it’s fun. It’s a magnet. It draws those little rascals in. At that age, kids not only don’t stay where we put them, they are busy exploring and pushing boundaries. But the biggest reason? Most kids aren’t learning how to relate to the water safely.

So, what do we do about it? The status quo is not working, unless we think it’s OK that children keep dying. I don’t. I think we need to reach them on their own turf, in ways their brain can understand. We need to teach children as young as one to respect the water and how to interact in the water safely and we need to do it in a way that acknowledges that water is fun.

We know kids learn best from repetitive, positive, age-appropriate messages. We know kids are hardwired to learn through stories. We know kids like to engage with characters they like, trust and want to emulate (Disney anyone?).

So let’s introduce a central character—the Smokey Bear of water safety—to American kids. Surround him with a band of characters that represents a broad range of kid personalities from rascal to responsible; distracted to know-it-all; twirly girlie to sporty. And, launch them on a variety of platforms, from books, activity pages, beach signs and posters to DVDs and children’s television.

Yes, it’s a big vision. But it can be done. In fact, I’ve already started. Meet Jabari, a lion cub who teaches young children about water safety. https://www.jabariofthewater.com/content/jabari-book Currently in book form, I’m ready to put him and his band of buddies to work on a variety of platforms to make a real dent in some dismal statistics. I’m looking for someone who shares my vision to pilot the concept.

Any takers?