Friday, June 25, 2010

It’s a WHALE of a Time!

W.H.A.L.E. stands for Water Habits Are Learned Early and Longfellow’s W.H.A.L.E. Tales is the American Red Cross’ water safety program for kids. In the past few months, AmeriCorps members have taught thousands of elementary school children about the importance of being safe in, on and around the water.

The kids have been really excited to talk about water safety and all of the swimming they will do this summer! The course emphasizes that whether it is swimming at a pool, Lake Michigan, Six Flags, Wisconsin Dells or any other body of water, everyone should always swim with a buddy in a supervised area. Swimming with a buddy is a lot safer and a lot more fun! Next, the kids learn about all of the different things that a lifeguard does to keep them safe. This gets them to a great activity where they pretend to swim in the classroom and the instructor blows the whistle to test how quickly they stop, look and listen to the “lifeguard.” Initially, it usually takes 3 to 5 whistle blows for everyone to stop. They are reminded that it should only take one and they do it again until they get to one. This can be a mix of kids going too far and jumping on the floor or kids not moving much at all.

With posters in hand, AmeriCorps members test the kids’ knowledge on the basics of pool safety. Kids discuss what rules are and why we follow them. This is a great way to get them thinking about safety and taking it seriously. After that, pointing out safety issues is easy and exciting. Students point out that it is unsafe to run on the pool deck and that we should never dunk someone under water. When asked if it is okay to push someone into the water, the response is usually an adorably loud “no!” They also learn to Look Before You Leap. In this section, students find various safety hazards that could be lurking in the water, especially in lakes, oceans and rivers. As they search the poster, they find jellyfish, stingrays, eels, crabs, sea urchins, rocks, broken glass and an anchor. They also learn about what a current is and to stay out of the water if it is strong. This information is very important, especially in light of recent incidents.

One of the kids’ favorite parts of the class is trying on life jackets. Students demonstrate how to put them on and talk about when they should wear them. They are put into scenarios where someone is drowning and someone else has to save them. They learn how to throw a rope and how to pull someone to safety. Again, there is an emphatic “no” when asked if they should stand up in a boat.

Then the best part comes at the end: coloring books!

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