Overnight camp is taking its toll on this mom

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Amy Sue Nathan, Chicago Moms Blog

My daughter is away for four weeks of overnight camp, where she is communing with nature, goofing off with girls and canoeing, sailing and swimming in a lake. She is rock climbing and zip-lining, singing songs, making jewelery and s’mores and making friends and memories that will last a lifetime. My 14-year-old has an adventurous spirit, a streak of bravery and a light-hearted demeanor. She’s the kid who wanted to go away to camp, at ten, when she knew no one there.

Many parents send their kids off for a week or two or seven each summer and revel in the lessened loads of laundry, the adult time and the wide smiles they see on the photos that pop up daily on camps’ Web sites. And while I am thrilled about the lessons she’s learning and fun she’s having, with two weeks to go, I’m ready for her to come home.

That’s right. Overnight camp? I am so over it.

For me, that is. And that seems to set me apart from my parenting peers who delight in every day their kids are gone. Yes, there’s more freedom to come and go — there’s knowing you did something wonderful for your child — and that is what balances the empty bedroom and makes it more than ok. But I miss the late-night beeping of her texts to her friends, the huh’s, the eye-rolling and being reminded every five minutes that I have no idea what I’m talking about, and that, no, that shirt is not cute.

And yes — I’ll send her back next year if she wants to go.

But I’ll be honest, my fingers are crossed behind my back.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post ( Amy Sue Nathan blogs about life behind the picket fence at Suburban Kvetch and is a published writer and freelance editor who blogs about the writing life at Writer, Editor, Single Mom. Amy is the mom of two teenagers, and grateful one of them didn’t want to go to camp.


Tips for a backyard camping staycation

Posted by Lorain County Moms


August 10 is National S’mores Day and to celebrate this deliciously fun summertime event, get out the marshmallows and plan a backyard camping staycation.

The s’mores recipe first appeared in a 1927 edition of the Girl Scout handbook. Americans buy more than 90 million pounds of marshmallows and The Hershey Company produces enough Hershey’s milk chocolate bars to make 746 million s’mores annually, according to Hershey.

“I have so many great childhood memories of s’mores, and now I’m sharing the classic family treat with my kids,” said Jen Singer, mom and author of multiple parenting books including the recently released Stop Second Guessing Yourself parenting series.

Hershey did a survey that shows 60 percent of consumers are considering replacing their traditional vacation with a stay-at-home vacation this year, so Singer has come up with some tips to help families turn any summertime stay-at-home vacation into an authentic, yet affordable backyard celebration.

  • Treat a staycation as a traditional vacation. The fun of a backyard getaway is making it feel like a real vacation, but with the convenience of being just steps away from home. Families can pack items in their own backpack just as if they were packing for a camping trip. Include water, snacks, warm clothes and blankets for those cool summer evenings. Also, ask each family member to choose one campfire game to play. This way you’ll have plenty of activities to keep busy while under the stars. Singer says, “We love to create a continuing story, where we each add a sentence until we have a full story.”
  • Make it authentic. Turn your backyard into a campground featuring all the camping essentials. Pitch a tent to make the experience both fun and realistic. Setting up a tent will help to foster family teamwork and allow for a comfortable night’s sleep. Building a campfire is another essential element to every campout, especially on National S’mores Day. In addition to making s’mores, campfires are great for storytelling, singing and, of course, keeping everyone warm. Remember to supervise children at all times when around the campfire.
  • The perfect campfire companion. If you have a campfire, you have to have s’mores. Start by placing half of a chocolate bar on top of half of a Graham cracker. Then, lightly toast a large marshmallow over the campfire, and place it on top of the chocolate bar. Finally, top the toasted marshmallow with the remaining graham cracker half and press together. Remember to supervise children at all times when around the campfire. Feeling adventurous? Singer suggests turning to the experts at Hershey’s Kitchens who offer unique twists on the classic favorite. Variations families are sure to love include adding peanut butter, cherry slices or dark chocolate to the gooey treat. Visit for more delicious s’mores recipes the whole family can enjoy.
  • Capture memories. Every vacation has special family moments that you want to capture. Remember to have a camera on hand, and snap away. Have the kids take pictures of their own. Later, you can pick out family favorites to frame or add to a vacation scrapbook.

In addition to celebrating National S’mores Day on August 10, Hershey and Kraft Foods are offering the chance to win a backyard makeover with the “S’mores Truly” photo contest. Families are invited to capture and share photos of their s’mores-making experiences on The grand prize winner will receive a backyard makeover.


Fear and technology keeping kids in their houses

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Krista Jahnke, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Joy Passatta loaded her two children, a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son, onto their bikes on a hot summer morning. They rode a mile to swim class, where the kids burned off more energy in the pool. Then they biked home.

Later, she had more active plans: a T-ball game and a mile-long walk with the dog.

And despite all that, Passatta, 37, still worries her kids don’t play outside like she did growing up.

“We rode bikes everywhere, and we knew everyone in the neighborhood,” the Roseville, Mich., resident said. “At night, you’d hear my mom scream down the block, ‘Hey, the street lights are on, come in already!’ You don’t hear moms screaming for kids to come home anymore. In the summer, I don’t think I was in the house at all. At least part of the day, they want to watch TV and play the Wii.”

Her kids are not alone. It’s no secret that even in the warm, sunny days of summer, children don’t play outside like they used to.

U.S. children spend 50 percent less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago, says the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The lack of running or biking or splashing around in the sprinkler is one likely factor in rising childhood obesity rates, said education professor Rhonda Clements, who conducted a 2004 study, “An Investigation on the Status of Outdoor Play,” for Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. In it, 85 percent of mothers reported their children spend less time playing outside than they did growing up.

And obesity is not the only concern.

“One of my fears is that next generation won’t appreciate the out of doors,” Clements said. “Summer vacation used to mean you could get outside and play with your friends. … This generation, when they won’t experience that, they won’t see the need for public parks. When it comes time to say, ‘What do we need for the city, more parking spaces or a new public park?’ they’re going to vote parking spaces. The next generation is the one I personally worry about most.”

What’s keeping kids indoors? No doubt, technology plays a part. With video games, hundreds of TV channels, DVDs delivered to your doorstep, endless Internet browsing and clips of hilarious cats on YouTube, kids have many more entertainment options than previous generations.

But Clements said fear plays a role, too. With tragic headlines — such as the recent story of Nevaeh Buchanan, who was taken from her Monroe apartment complex and found dead weeks later — parents are often reminded about the danger of letting kids roam free. So Clements said, they tell their kids they can’t play outside alone. And that carries a dangerous message of its own.

“You don’t want to become the hovering parent,” Clements said, “so protective and fearful of letting kids go outdoors and making use of play spaces.”

Jill Kathan’s daughter is 2, but the 32-year-old mother from Livonia, Mich., is already conscious of trying to encourage her to be active and play outside. She takes her outdoors every day for walks, wagon rides or just to play in the yard.

But she admits that as her daughter grows, she isn’t sure how comfortable she’ll be letting her, say, ride her bike around the block on her own.

“I live on a dead-end street, and we know all the neighbors,” Kathan said. “But we live right off a mile road, and I’ll still be strict, not wanting her to go near that road. I don’t know when I’d let her go to the mall to walk around, or go to the park by herself. We did that in third grade. But everything is so different.”

How to get kids moving

Set a positive example by having an active lifestyle yourself.

Make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine, such as a daily family walk.

Provide equipment that encourages activity — sporting goods, jump ropes, water guns.

Be positive about what physical activity your child does.

Make it fun and suited for your child: That might mean a structured activity like Little League or free time to ride a bike.

Institute “no electricity time,” when the kids can’t turn on the TV or video games.

Busy parents who can’t supervise their kids outdoors could form playgroups and take turns playing baby-sitter.


Boredom busters: 15 toys to cure summertime blues

Posted by Lorain County Moms

FamilyFun magazine

Just a few more weeks until school starts again for most students; but the cries of “I’m bored” are only getting louder. Put the kibosh on the complaining with these amazing toys, books and games that will keep the kids busy right up until the first bell rings.

Blast bubbles (almost) into space: There’s no NASA training needed to fly the foam-tipped Gazillion Bubble Rocket. Just pour some of the included bubble solution into the base, set the 12-inch-high spacecraft in place, and stomp on the launcher. You’ll send the rocket soaring — with an iridescent, sudsy vapor trail floating behind it. Ages 6 and up. Funrise, $17. — Faye S. Wolfe

Read more


Tips for keeping TV time under control

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This morning I felt myself wishing there were fewer TV options for kids. When I was growing up there were times and days when I could honestly complain: “There’s nothing good on TV.” Then I went outside to ride my bike or read a book in my room.

But now, there’s always something good on TV.

The average American household receives 118 cable television channels and the new digital over the air television signal now allows people without cable to view more than twice as many television channels as before, according to the Smart Television Alliance.

“Now is a perfect time for families to think about their televisions and be honest about who controls who in that relationship,” said Susan Scanlan, Co-Chair of the Smart Television Alliance, and Chair of the National Coalition of Women’s Organizations, in a press release.

Parents can feel like they are under attack from the electronic devices in their homes, the TV, Internet, cell phones, and gaming systems but hiding from them is the worst thing to do.

“Watching TV is not the only way to learn, but it is one way to learn. Rather than banning TV this summer, parents can use carefully selected shows as a springboard for a creative summer learning program,” said Claire Green, President of the Parents’ Choice Foundation.

Here are their tips for parents on how deal with excessive summer television viewing:

  1. Have a plan — Reduce impulse TV watching. Find and select great kids programs on TV by visiting the STA Smart Summer Campaign. Schedule your family’s TV time by using cable channel guides or locating quality programs online.
  2. Take control — Use technology to your advantage. Use your TiVo, DVR, or On Demand as a library for great television the family can view on your schedule.
  3. Make it educational — Use great TV to learn. Quality programs and specific episodes can assist in learning concepts and skills. Complement a child’s learning by viewing movies, documentaries, and programs on their interested subjects.

STA’s tools and resources for can be found at


Stay safe this summer with swimming safety tips

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Jackie Burrell, Contra Costa Times

For all the beachy joys of summer, it’s also a season of tragic drownings. And this year’s statistics are more horrifying than ever.

A California mother and her 5-year-old daughter died in the riptide off Montara State Beach just south of San Francisco, and a 27-year-old woman and 15-year-old girl drowned in a riptide off the Jersey shore. In Las Vegas, two toddlers died in swimming pools this week, and 50 died in drowning accidents in Texas before summer had even started.

So if your family is headed for the seashore, a lake or anyplace with any body of water, please take a moment to read through these five water safety tips from, then click over to the National Weather Service site for tips on surviving riptides.

  1. Never turn your back on your child around water. At the beach, it’s important that the supervising adult is no farther away than 10 feet from a young child. Segment the supervision responsibilities so there are never questions about which adult is responsible for watching the child and be aware of the distractions unique to the beach/shore setting: heat, noise, people-watching, sun glare, and the monotony of a young child’s repetitive play. Even professional beach lifeguards guard the beach in timed segments … you should too.
  2. Dress your child in bright colors when going to the lake or the beach. Use a consistent bright color and style of swim suit so all family members have a consistent image of what the child is wearing.
  3. Bring a cell phone — just tuck it in a plastic bag to protect it.
  4. Paint or create a “go no further line” on the dock or the beach.
  5. Life jackets must be worn in a boat or around the water, but life jackets are not a substitute for the ability to swim nor for adult supervision. Do not rely on floaties, inflatable rings, etc., which provide a false sense of security for parents and children. These items can easily deflate or fall off your child’s arm leaving them in a potentially dangerous situation.

Kids’ summer programs thrive in tough economy

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Chris Collins, The Fresno Bee

Because of the sagging economy, many churches are doing more to work with cash-strapped families this summer, such as cutting prices and offering more scholarships for Vacation Bible School programs.

“People are a lot more aware of the huge needs in our community,” says Jessica Pittman, director of missions and young adult ministries at Fresno First Baptist Church in west-central Fresno.

“We’re trying to be more intentional. It’s affecting everyone.”

In the central San Joaquin Valley, VBS programs are one of the biggest outreaches of the year for churches. They are promoted to both church and nonchurch families as safe environments where children can have a fun time learning about God.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s kids camp, Fresno State’s academic summer programs for young students and inexpensive getaways close to home — like shuttles to the Sierras — all are attracting more people this summer than usual.

Organizers and participants point to the economy as one reason why some parents are turning to affordable local programs and camps to keep their children entertained this summer.

Fresno grandmother Susan Medina said she’s found that day camps are a cheap alternative to joining a country club, for example, for expensive swimming lessons.

She’s enrolled her 7-year-old granddaughter and 10-year-old grandson into two weeks’ worth of science camps at the California State University, Fresno, Continuing & Global Education program.

“You get a lot of value for your money and the kids are really enjoying it,” Medina said.

Berta Gonzalez, associate vice president for the program, said she anticipates having 500 to 600 students attend the camps this summer. Last year, there were about 400, she said.

The program, which costs between $100 and $300 per week, offers two veterinary camps this summer that have a waiting list of 30 kids. The fashion and design camp, the science and adventure camp, the space and rocketry camp, and the gizmos and robots camp all are full, as well.

Gonzalez said the camps are popular because they are an affordable way to keep kids academically engaged and entertained during the summer.

“People are making choices and they are being very practical” in how they spend money, Gonzalez said.

The deep recession has people all across the central San Joaquin Valley looking for cheap ways to enjoy the summer.

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo is seeing just as many visitors as last year despite the poor economy, reflecting a national trend of steady or increased zoo attendance. Zoos in cities including Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, Kansas City, Mo., and Memphis, Tenn., are reporting higher attendance as families look to stay closer to home. The Fresno Chaffee Zoo attracted about 430,000 visitors last year at $7 a ticket.

“We tend to be a pretty good value for families,” said Director Scott Barton. “We’re less expensive than a movie.”

The zoo’s summer programs for kids also have been popular this year.

Last year, the weeklong camps attracted about 500 kids ages 3 to 17. So far this year, about 650 have registered for the camps, said the zoo’s education director Adrienne Castro. The weeklong camps cost $205 for nonmembers.

“I was kind of worried it was going to be lower due to the recession, but it looks like families are staying closer to home and not going on vacation,” Castro said. “This gives kids the opportunity to do something fun and their parents can still afford it.”

Some families are looking for ways to escape the heat without paying for a coastal vacation.

The city of Visalia’s summer shuttle to Sequoia National Park already has attracted 2,000 riders in the last month, said Gamaliel Anguiano, a transit analyst for the city. During the entire summer season last year, the shuttle transported about 5,000 people.

The shuttle costs $15 for a round trip and a park pass is not required.

“We find that a lot of our local folks are looking inward for a vacation,” Anguiano said. “We expect our ridership to be just as good if not better than last year.”

Not all summer programs are seeing an uptick, however. Pamela Scribner, who owns the Aur Destiny Ranch in Easton said her weeklong horseback riding camps haven’t attracted as many kids as last summer. The camp cost $100.

“People think they can do it, but then they call back and say they can’t put together the $20 per day. I feel real bad for them,” Scribner said. “People are looking for anything free to put their kids in to keep them busy.”


Plan your weekend! Here’s what’s going on around Lorain County

Posted by Rona Proudfoot

Amherst Old-Time Jamboree

A local singing contest, bike-decorating contest, pizza-eating competition, entertainment and a big parade are all part of Amherst’s 36th annual Old-Time Jamboree. Most events during the free, three-day gala take place in and around the downtown city parking lot between Park and Tenney avenues. Hours are 5:15 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Get more info or check out the jamboree itinerary.

Sacred Heart Festival

Sacred Heart Chapel holds its annual festival 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday, and from after noon Mass till 11 p.m. Sunday at the church, 4301 Pearl Ave., Lorain. The parade is noon Saturday. For more info, call the church office at (440) 277-7231.

Marchers carry flags in the 2007 Sacred Heart Festival. (CT file photo.)
Marchers carry flags in the 2007 Sacred Heart Festival parade. (CT file photo.)

Battle of the bands

The Oberlin Area Chamber of Commerce hosts the second Annual Battle of the Bands on Tappan Square 7 to 9 p.m. Friday as part of the 17th annual Summer Concert Series. Preregistered musical performers of all ages will share their musical talent.

Dishing out ice cream at last year's social at the Lorain County Historical Society. (CT file photo.)
Dishing out ice cream at last year’s social at the Lorain County Historical Society. (CT file photo.)

Ice cream social

Enjoy ice cream and entertainers 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Lorain County Historical Society’s Hickories Museum, 509 Washington Ave., Elyria. Cost for ice cream and dessert is $5, which gets you admission to the museum and grounds as well. Other food items will be available at an extra cost. Get more info.

Citywide sale in Vermilion

Vermilion residents citywide will hold yards sales, and merchants will offer shopping bargains 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. An open-air market 2 to 6 p.m. at Victory Park will have locally grown fruit, vegetables, herbs, fresh flowers, meat, cheese and other goodies. Local artists also showcase and sell their work. A public auction will start at 5 p.m. at Millet Auction House, 728 Main St. Get more info.

Swimmers take off in the 2007 Lorain triathlon. (CT file photo.)
Swimmers take off in the 2007 Lorain triathlon. (CT file photo.)

Lorain triathlon

A sprint distance duathlon ($40 to enter) and triathlon ($65 to enter) start at 8 a.m. (registration starts at 7 a.m.) Sunday at Lakeview Park in Lorain. Get more info or check out the course map or look at photos from a past Lorain triathlon.

Car show

American Legion Post 717 hosts a classic car and truck show 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the post, 8820 Bender Road, North Ridgeville. Cost is $8 to enter, and there will be trophies, dash plaques to the first 50, door prizes, a 50-50 raffle, and food and beer. Registration at the show is 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Get more info.

Youth revival

Arising Generation Youth Ministry presents a youth revival complete with guest speakers, praise and worship, gospel rap, praise dance and step team performances. The event is 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Lorain. In case of rain, it will be held at the church, 1125 North Ridge Road E., Sheffield Township.

Charity events

    Gay Zurcher of Henrietta Township walks in the 2005 Relay for Life. (CT file photo.)
    Gay Zurcher of Henrietta Township walks in the 2005 Relay for Life. (CT file photo.)
  • Relay for Life: The American Cancer Society Elyria Relay for Life is 11 a.m. Saturday through 9 a.m. Sunday at Elyria Catholic High School, 725 Gulf Road. A luminary cer­emony as the sun sets Saturday will highlight the event. Get more info.
  • Walk with Me: Easter Seals’ seventh annual walk and steak fry is Fri­day at the Black River Landing. Fligner’s Market will be serving Walk With Me steak dinners from 5 to 9 p.m. for $20. Registra­tion for the walk is 6 p.m., and the walking (either one mile or four miles) begins at 7:30 p.m. After the walk, there will be drawings, music and dancing. A minimum of $25 is required to walk and includes a T-shirt. Get more info.
  • Night at the races: This event, which benefits the American Cancer Society, starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at St. John Ukranian Catholic Church, 3038 Charleston Ave. Tickets are $15 and include dinner, pop, dessert and beer. Horse sales are $15. There will also be a 50-50 raf­fle, side board raffles, a lottery tree, door prizes and a silent auction.
  • “A Local Flavor”: This annual fundraiser for Genesis House domestic violence shelter will have food, wine tasting and a live auction of artwork by the children of Genesis House. The event, 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Puskas Family Flowers, 2493 North Ridge Road, Sheffield Township, costs $40 per person. Get more info.

Free concerts

  • Lorain: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Lakeview Park featuring The Girls Band, unique harmonies and rhythmical arrangements of rock, pop, R&B and country music, and 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Black River Landing featuring Lorain County High School All Stars.
  • Vermilion: 7 p.m. Sunday at Victory Park featuring the Elyria Cascade Cordsmen Barbershop Quartet.
  • Mill Hollow: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Bacon Woods Amphitheater featuring Elvis impersonator Hail to the King.
Tomatoes at the Elyria farmers market. (CT file photo.)
Tomatoes at the Elyria farmers market. (CT file photo.)

Farmers markets

  • Elyria: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Cedar and Broat streets.
  • Grafton: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Grafton Town Hall parking lot, 960 Main St.
  • Lorain: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Black River Landing.
  • Oberlin: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 85 S. Main St. (next to Oberlin City Hall, parking at the Public Library).
  • Vermilion: 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Victory Park.

To submit events for future “What to do this weekend” articles, contact Rona Proudfoot, 329-7124 or


Baby names: Just look around for summery ideas

Posted by Lorain County Moms


Summer is one of the nicest times of year to have a baby, the warm weather and slow pace making it that much easier to relax into new motherhood (and, from your baby’s point of view, into life). Here, some names that summon the season:


As a seasonal name, Summer may not be your top choice. It’s feeling a tad shopworn after coming close to cracking the Top 100 in 1977; it’s been above number 200 for the past fifteen years. Autumn is more popular but Winter is cooler.

Summer also has three excellent months names that include several usable variations. These are:


The hip middle name du jour, was out of favor for many years but now is back in a big way. The name, and the month, are derived from JUNO, the Roman goddess of marriage and finances (great role model!) whose name got a big boost from the teenage heroine of the eponymous film. The related and obscure JUNIA is a New Testament name. Male versions include the Spanish JUNOT, popularized by Pulitzer winning writer Junot Diaz, and JUNIUS, Latin for “born in June.”


Julius Caesar gave his name to this month, which has spawned many attractive first name variations. JULIUS itself is being dusted off by a new generation of parents. JULIO is the attractive Spanish variation. For girls, JULIA is one of the most enduring and appealing classics, fashionable now. The French JULIETTE or English JULIET has a tremendous amount of style and grace, along with JULIANA. Sixties-style JULIE is the only variation on the wane.

Of course, in July you may want to choose holiday names such as AMERICA or LIBERTY.


All variations of summer’s last month, named for the emperor AUGUSTUS, are also stylish now: AUGUST (for girls as well as boys), AUGUSTINE and AUGUSTEN for boys, even the somewhat grandmotherly AUGUSTA for girls. And GUS is the new MAX.

Summer calls to mind many nature names, from LAKE to RIVER to DAISY to LILY to SKY and BIRCH.

But covering all of them is too much for the scope of one blog, so we’ll focus on names connected with the sea. The full list is here but some of the most intriguing examples are:

  • DENIZ, Turkish boys’ name that means sea.
  • DYLAN, Welsh god’s name that works for both genders, means “son of the sea.”
  • HALI, Greek name used for both boys and girls, though in English speaking country, its closeness in sound to Hallie et al may disqualify it for boys.
  • KAI, Trendy Hawaiian name that works for both genders.
  • MORRISEY, Irish name that means, oddly, “sea taboo” and has rocker associations
  • MORWENNA, Ancient Cornish name meaning “waves of the sea,” newly popular in Wales
  • MURPHY, Irish surname that means “hound of the sea” and works as well for girls as for boys.
  • NERIDA, Greek name that means mermaid.
  • NERISSA, Shakespearean name with Greek pedigree
  • OCEANE, Popular French choice for girls.
  • PELAGIA, Another obscure Greek beauty, name of several early saints.
  • SEATON, English surname meaning town by the sea
  • THALASSA, Greek sea goddess
  • Or you might want to go with one of these other names related to the sea: BAY, BEACH, CORAL, DUNE, PACIFICO, ROCKY, SANDY, SUNNY, TIDE

Nameberry ( is a baby-naming site produced by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, co-authors of nine bestselling baby name guides, including “The Baby Name Bible” and “Cool Names for Babies.”


Early swim lessons encouraged for pool safety for kids

Posted by Lorain County Moms

By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BRENTWOOD, Mo. — Early on, the 4- and 5-year-old pupils at Little Fishes Swim School were scared.

Zoe wouldn’t put her face in the water. Neither would Rose. And David? He wouldn’t even dip his toes in the pool.

Months later, all that’s changed. One by one, the three dived into Little Fishes’ warm salt-water pool recently and paddled just beneath the surface like wind-up bath toys.

Ruthie Zarren, instructor and owner of the swim school, has seen this before.

Timothy Jay Hill II, 16 months old, of Elyria, splashes in the water at the West Park pool in this photo from 2007. (Chronicle-Telegram file photo.)

Timothy Jay Hill II, 16 months old, of Elyria, splashes in the water at the West Park pool in this photo from 2007. (Chronicle-Telegram file photo.)

“The kid who wouldn’t put his head under water, all of a sudden doesn’t want to come up,” she said.

Zarren and other swim instructors say that getting children comfortable enough in water to float, paddle about and submerge their faces is a good first step toward protecting them from drowning. But they stress that it’s just a start.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children learn to swim as soon as possible. But the group does not recommend swimming lessons as a primary means of preventing children younger than 4 from drowning. Rather, parents must watch their children constantly.

Look away for a minute, experts warn, and a splashing child could become a sad statistic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 900 children younger than 14 drowned in the United States in 2005, making it the second leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children and adolescents.

For each drowning death, the CDC estimates that four children are rescued but require emergency medical treatment. Many suffer brain damage, ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to a permanent vegetative state.

“With these little tiny kids, I tell their moms that it’s going to be a long time before they can have cocktails by the pool. They have to be 100 percent vigilant,” Zarren said.

Next summer, Zarren plans to expand her business by hiring certified lifeguards to work at home pool parties and to give advice on creating the safest home swimming environment.

“They’ll teach parents how to scan the water, counting heads, how to figure out which kids might need more attention and where to stand on the side of the pool,” she said.

Meanwhile, Zarren recommends that parents station one adult with life-saving skills on the side of the pool and another in the water during parties.

She urges parents to test the skills of every child at a party to see if they can swim from one end of the pool to the other. Those who can’t should be required to wear a flotation device.

Comfortable in water

Spending time in the water is critical to feeling comfortable in it, Zarren says. And the sooner children are comfortable, the quicker they learn to swim.

“As they get older, you can’t force them to learn to swim, because it’s scary and it’s hard,” she said.

Zarren says babies are comfortable in water at birth because they’ve been living in amniotic fluid for nine months.

“And the longer they are out of it, the more they lose that comfort,” she says.

Babies as young as 6 months may join classes at Little Fishes, if they can control their necks enough to keep their heads above water. Lessons take place in a 4-foot deep, above-ground pool that measures 9 feet by 17 feet and sits in an industrial warehouse.

Instructors use games, toys and songs to get the youngsters splashing water on their faces, blowing bubbles, floating on their backs and even swimming beneath the surface.

Several mothers stood in a half circle in the pool one recent afternoon. One by one, they handed their toddlers to an instructor who led them in a song. She swirled the children around on their bellies, then at a pivotal moment in the song she gently pushed them under water, head and all. Everyone watched the tiny wriggling figures swim-crawl to their moms, before popping up to applause and cheers.

They all looked confused by what just happened. They all sputtered, coughed and spewed water. But not one cried.

The instructors cautioned the mothers ahead of time: “No matter what you feel, you clap and you smile. If they come up and see a horrified expression on your face, they will cry.”

Toward the end of class, Zoe, David and Rose swam under water through a hula hoop, then practiced leaping as high and as far as they could from a submerged position. It’s a useful skill for kids to maneuver to the side of the pool if they unexpectedly drop off into the deep end, Zarren said.

Kelly Vogl of Webster Groves, Mo., watched her son, David, 5, from the side of the pool.

David, she says, is apprehensive about new activities, including learning to swim.

Her younger son, Patrick, 3, is so fearless, that Vogl worries he’ll end up in the deep end before she can get to him. He’s taking classes too.

“I just wanted David to get used to the water, but he’s enjoyed it so much that now we’re looking at making it a sport for him,” she said. “…It’s also given him confidence to do other things on his own.”