Theodore Ng sits on the edge of the pool, waiting for his mother’s cue.
As soon as Carmen Tan calls out to him, the 15-month-old toddler leans forward and plunges into the water. Within seconds, Tan raises him out of the water and takes him back to the pool’s ledge. Theodore then climbs out of the pool on his own, using his little hands and legs.
“Elbow, elbow, lift the bum bum, knees, knees,” Tan coaxes him. “Good job.”
Shortly after, Tan repeats the process with baby Kingsley while showing his father, Kelvin Siah, how to do what she just did.
For Kingsley and Theodore, their time at the pool with Tan is not just all fun and games.
Tan is actually teaching them water survival skills. She is a certified baby swim instructor who believes it’s important to teach children to be safe in the water from early on.
According to the Malaysian Statistics Department, an average of 596 people died from drowning annually between 2009 and 2013; nearly half of the drowning cases involved children and teenagers. In 2014, drowning was classified as one of the top causes of deaths among children aged between one and four.
Water Activity Safety Council (WASC) member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye has urged parents, teachers and relevant authorities to conduct more water safety campaigns.
While learning how to swim at a young age will never “drown-proof” a child, Tan says it adds another layer of protection.
“I feel it is important for babies to learn how to swim and how to save themselves, first and foremost, and then enjoy the pool,” says Tan who resigned from her job as a marketing manager to focus on bringing up Theodore.
“I wanted to venture into something more educational, especially for children, so that I can play with (Theodore), grow with him, and at the same time help my friends’ kids grow with (their parents).”
Her 30-minute classes are centred around “fun learning”. Babies, some as young as six months, learn to listen to instructions at the pool and more importantly how to react if they accidentally fall into water.
They also learn how to flip over and float, latch on to safety as well as climb out of a pool. “The more classes they do, the more confident the child will be,” Tan says.
Siah, who is a brand manager, realised the importance of water safety after his son dipped his head in the pool during a family vacation and came up choking.
After a few sessions with Tan, Siah says he feels more comfortable taking his son to the pool now that Kingsley has learnt to hold his breath underwater.
For other parents, enrolling their toddlers in swimming class is a way of introducing them to new activities. “We realised that he likes swimming,” says Jason Lim, who attends the classes with his son, Jayden, “Who knows this could be his hobby.”
The swimming classes are also opportunities for parents to bond with their children.
“After learning and going through this, I understand how to handle kids and their emotions,” says Tan. “It’s important to just let them have fun first, after that everything will go as what you want.”