Give the Gift of a Life-Saving Skill! – by Sarah Barnett

A young child floats on his back in a pool doing the backstroke

A young child floats on his back in a pool doing the backstrokeManassas Park Parks and Recreation Operations Manager Sarah BarnettThe holiday season is here! I know we haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving yet, but with Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa less than five weeks away, it is time to start thinking about what gifts to get everyone on your list. A few years ago, I realized that I spent a lot of money on toys that my kids only played with for a while, only to throw or give them away a few months later. Sick of wasting money and cluttering up my house, I decided to spend less money on toys and instead I would buy experiences for my kids.

Over the last few years, they have gotten Christmas presents that include horseback riding lessons, art classes, and even a family ski trip. These experiences don’t clutter up my house or get thrown away.  Instead, they give my children the joy of learning something new and making memories in the process.

This holiday season, I encourage you to try giving the children in your life the opportunity to gain an important life safety skill – swimming! Learning to swim at a young age is not only easier, it is essential.  Studies have shown that if a child does not learn to swim by third grade, chances are they never will.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is the single leading cause of injury- related deaths in children ages 1 to 4 years old. It is also the third leading cause of injury-related death in children ages 5 to 19 years old. Formal swim lessons that not only teach children how to swim, but also how to be safe when around water greatly reduce a child’s risk of drowning.

The AAP encourages parents to introduce their children to swim lessons as early as 1 year old.  While your child will most likely not learn to swim at that age, they will be exposed to techniques that could help them in a situation that could lead to drowning. This includes gaining comfort in the water so they don’t panic, learning to float on their back, and learning to bounce to safety. Most swim lesson programs with children under the age of 3 require that a parent or guardian is in the water with the child during the lesson. This provides a one-on-one supervision ratio for the young swimmers, but it allows the parents to learn water safety tips as well.

The Manassas Park Community Center offers many different options for swim lessons. Our winter MOSAIC is now available, which has swim lesson sessions from now until the end of February. Give your child the gift of learning to swim this winter so that they are ready to have fun in the pool come summertime! In addition, it’s a great way for your child to burn off some energy during the cold winter months when they may not be able to play outdoors. If you enroll in an evening class, you can hasten the bedtime routine by showering your child off in one of our showers after the lesson and changing them right into their pajamas before heading home!

If you have questions regarding the swim lessons we offer here or aren’t sure which level to enroll your child, please email Sarah Barnett at

Sarah Barnett is the Operations/Aquatics Supervisor for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at

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