Scarlett Varwig encountered an unusual dilemma during swim lessons at Aqua-Tots Swim Schools on May 22: Her soaked sneakers and clothes weighed her down.
“I got water in my shoes — lots,” said Varwig, a student in level 3 of 8.
Fortunately, she was able to solve the problem by leaning her head backward and floating on her back.
That was exactly the type of solution the school hoped to teach during its “Swim With Your Clothes On” lessons the week of May 22, held for Aqua-Tots students in honor of National Water Safety Month.
“Chances are, if your child falls into a pool, they’re not going to be in their bathing suit,” said Lindsay Leary, who owns the franchise alongside her husband David Leary and mother Annie Rosman. “It’s a great experience for them, because if it ever happens, they’re not scared or alarmed; they’ve done this before.”
The lessons have been held for the past three years, ever since the school opened more than two years ago.
While they used to be limited to Saturday, the lessons have now been extended for the entire week, which Leary said was done in recognition of their importance.
Despite the serious purpose of the lessons, they offer an experience kids look forward to, Leary said.
“It's almost like you're doing something you're not supposed to do normally, and so they're excited about it,” she said.
"It's really fun to work with the kids and see their reaction, like this is so cool, this is so different,” said Dani Auld, the general manager of the location, who has also taught the class.
Staff members such as Auld can also speak from experience about the need for the class, as last year, during preparations, the school had the coaches try swimming with their clothes on as well.
“Your clothes definitely weigh more and they will pull you down, especially your shoes,” said Auld. “Learning how to compensate for how that feels helps the kids — it helped me, too — to be like, OK, I know what I need to do.”
Also included in the class is a chance for students to remove their shoes in the water, something Leary said can be a challenge, along with information about what to do when they see someone fall in the water (alert an adult).
Many parents recognize the need for the lessons, Leary said.
“It’s not something I would ever think to do, so I think it’s cool that they set it up and made it a priority,” said Anna Hernandez, whose children Daniel and Mateo Hernandez attend the school. “And it’s good to get kids out of their comfort zone once in awhile.”
“The depth of knowledge in this comprehensive program shows up today,” said Hernandez’ mother, Cathy Bilyeu.
She complimented the swim school’s program, including its multiple levels through which students can graduate, the instructors’ communication with the parents, and the ease of watching the lessons through the glass wall in front of the pool.
The swim school offers eight levels of instruction which extend from four months of age to 12 years. Levels one and two are based on age, while three and above are based on mastery of the skills.
By the end of Level 6 — at which point students are declared safe swimmers for life — they know all the strokes, including a time and tempo.
After a lesson, the coaches discuss with parents what skills they have worked on, and what students can practice at home.
Staff also hope students will be a little safer around the many pools they will encounter in Florida.
“Once you've given them the tools, once you've told them and help them understand, they get it fairly quickly,” said Auld. “It's just that initial, ‘Oh this is different, what do I do?’ kind of moment. That's why doing things like this where they practice really prepares for that emergency situation.”
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.