Summer Camps + Water Safety: What To Consider
Updated: May 19
Summer camp is a rite of passage for our children- friends, crafts, fresh air, and swimming...right? Well, it depends!
If swimming is offered at the camp you are considering, you should be asking a TON of questions, even if your child is a skilled swimmer. Remember- swimming is an activity that takes place in a completely unforgiving environment and when it comes to camp, you won't be there to supervise your child yourself.
Here is some guidance that can help you to choose a camp that is well suited to your child's age, ability, and your comfort level as their parent:
Guidance for Families with Children Under Age 5
It is both my personal and professional belief that children under 5 years old are best suited to partake in water play at camp vs swimming. Toddlers and preschoolers are a handful to supervise on dry land, let alone in water! It is a huge responsibility for camp counselors to bring groups of children into the pool, especially given the likelihood that not all of their campers will be skilled to manage an aquatic environment independently. If the camp does offer swimming for this age group, the question should be asked if it is "free swim" or Instructional swim. If they do free swim for children under 5, they will need to use flotation devices. Flotation devices are dangerous to use in general but setting that aside for a moment, we have to be honest with ourselves that flotation devices can fail. A child can easily slip out of a device or tip forward in one they are not used to wearing, putting them straight down or face in the water without the strength or skill to right themselves. Without their own personal caregiver keeping eyes on them and only them, a child in distress can be easily missed for precious seconds or longer in the chaos of group swim. If 1:1 swim instruction is offered for this age group where the camp aims to teach your child instead of putting them in a device, that's certainly better than a free swim scenario. However, for toddlers specifically, even swim instruction is best done while in your care. We don't drop our 2 and 3 year olds off at music class alone with their instructor, and I think the same rules should apply to swimming given the potentially deadly environment. However, for children on the older end of this age bracket whose parents want them to learn to swim at camp, please see the "Over Age 5" section for some important questions to ask to help ensure your child's learning experience away from you is a safe one.
BOTTOM LINE FOR KIDS UNDER 5: A camp offering water play- sprinklers, water tables, inflatable water slides, water squirters - is a fun and safe setup for toddlers & preschoolers with little to no drowning risk.
Guidance for Families with Children Over Age 5
If your child is over age 5 and swimming is offered at camp, regardless of whether or not your child can swim you should ask a lot of questions prior to enrolling. Here are some important ones that camp should be able to answer:
How often will my child, age X, go to the pool during camp?
Is swim time Instructional swim or Free swim?
If Instructional swim, what are the instructors qualifications?
Is there a swim test my child can take to be able to swim without the use of flotation devices? If so, what exactly does the swim test entail?
If they pass the swim test, what are they allowed to do/where are they allowed to be in the pool?
If the swim test includes treading water, will a back float for an equal amount of time be acceptable instead? (This question is specific to ISR skilled students or any students who have been taught to float rather than tread. Treading is antiquated, exhausting and unnecessary if a person is able to freely get air in a back float. Camp should honor this ask!)
What are the ratios of lifeguards to campers?
What are the ratios of total adults to campers? (ie: How many counselors + lifeguards combined watching the campers during swim time)
Are your counselors all CPR certified? Are any lifeguard certified?
If instructional swim is offered, what are other students doing during one child’s instruction?
If I don't want my child to participate in swim at camp, would you be willing to provide an alternative activity?
BOTTOM LINE FOR KIDS 5-7: If camp offers swim, an instructional program for non-swimmers and tight ratios for all are a must. For swimmers, clarity on the swim test and a willingness to honor survival skills (ie: float instead of tread) are also important.
Camp should be fun, but it also needs to be safe! Don't assume a camp has the correct protocols in place...be a mama bear or papa bear and don't be afraid to get all the info you need. Happy hunting <3