Swimming for Survival: Little Sharks Swim Academy for Kids
Samantha Barth’s Little Sharks Swim Academy teaches water-survival skills to children starting at six months old.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Megan Deitz
Life has a tendency to take us down unexpected paths, and no one knows this more than Samantha Barth, wife, mother and now business owner of Little Shark’s Swim Academy in Leland. An unforeseen twist in Barth’s life led her to a passion that she has turned into a vocation.
Barth already knew that she and her husband, Daniel, were answering a calling in life to help with the planning of REACH Community Church. They moved to Leland from Columbia, S.C., in July of 2012 to do just that. But she did not know what else was in store for her.
Something new started one day when she read an online news article about infant swim survival.
“My son was four months old at the time,” says Barth, “and I told Daniel that our kids have to learn this one day.”
She couldn’t stop thinking about that article and started doing her own research on drowning prevention and survival tactics. With that, an idea began to take shape.
“I found that the number one cause of accidental death of children under the age of 4 years old is drowning,” says Barth. “Drowning is silent … kids can drown in front of you without you realizing what is happening. Drowning accidents don’t occur because of a lack of supervision, but because of a lapse in supervision. ”
She saw video footage of infant water survival and thought it was amazing.
“I just really wanted to learn how to teach it,” she says. “I thought … why stop with my own children, why not teach others? Swim survival is such a need in our area with all of the community pools and beaches.”
Barth had been looking for possible job opportunities, and now she knew that she wanted to equip children with this much-needed survival skill of saving themselves in the event of a water accident. With her psychology degree, she knew this would be a perfect fit.
“It’s neat seeing how my college major is useful in a unique way because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” she says.
With more digging, Barth found an organization called Infant Aquatics that trains adults to teach water-survival skills to children ages six months to 6 years old. Infant Aquatics is found throughout the country, but the closest training center is near Atlanta, Ga. She and Daniel packed up the family with their three boys in tow (ages 15 months, 2 years and 3 years at the time) and temporarily moved to Georgia for her six-week, in-depth training. She accumulated 100 hours of hands-on education. Instruction also included child behavior and psychology, trouble shooting, behavior modifications and sensory issues management.
While Barth was training to be an instructor, her boys went through the program as well. She saw improvements in her own children not only with swimming, but also with other things.
“My youngest took his time learning how to walk,” says Barth, “but I noticed that after the lessons, he was not only swimming, but also he was walking more and his confidence was building.”
Within one and a half weeks after returning home, Barth began Little Sharks Swim Academy and is currently the only certified Infant Aquatics instructor in North Carolina.
Infant Aquatics instructors are unique in that they teach the Swim*Float*Swim survival method to children. Infants as young as six months are taught to float on their back and breathe.
“Infant Aquatics teaches instructors how to retrain instincts,” she says. “So if a child falls in the water, they are taught to instantly flip over and float.”
Students start their lessons in swim suits or swim diapers. Gradually, clothes are added so that the swimmer gets used to the weight of clothing. This is to simulate an actual water emergency situation in which the child is fully clothed, including shoes.
Barth provides the benefit of safe, private lessons in which children learn a life-long love and respect of the water.
“With one-on-one instruction there are no distractions,” she says. “My focus is solely on one child, and I observe everything that is going on with my student.”
Barth is so confident in the training methods that she guarantees her students will learn the survival technique relevant to their age within the instructed time frame.
“If a child takes longer than that amount of time, I will continue teaching them until they test out … at no extra cost,” she says.
Barth teaches several levels of instruction: Infant Survival (6 to 12 months or pre-walking), in which infants learn to hold their breath under water, roll over, float, relax and breathe; Infant Aquatics (walking to 3 years), where they learn Swim*Float*Swim; and Swim Stars (4 years and older), designed for the older child learning the Swim*Float*Swim technique. Lessons range from 10 minutes four times a week for four to six weeks for younger children to 20 minutes two to four times a week for up to six weeks for older children.
Barth hopes to get the word out about the importance of water-survival skills.
“Ideally, in my heart, I would like for all kids to know these skills,” she says. “It is literally a matter of life and death.”
She feels so strongly about the importance of swim survival that she is willing to work with parents’ budgets so that they can offer their children this life skill.
“I don’t want anyone taking the risk of something happening to their child because they can’t afford it,” she says.
In the future, she would love to be able to set up scholarships to give lessons to underprivileged children and would also like to train other adults in the Infant Aquatics program.
Barth finds joy in teaching her students and loves the fact that she and her family have bonded with so many other families.
“We make so many new friends doing this,” she says. “I love the feeling of a tight-knit community where it seems like we are making the world a little smaller.”
For more information, go to swimlittlesharks.com.
A FEW OF Samantha Barth’s Water-Safety Tips
– Always have one adult whose sole purpose is watching children near water — with no distractions like conversation or checking cell phones. Switch the duty with another adult every 10 to 20 minutes.
– If you have an above-ground pool, remove the ladder when not in use.
– Install gates and pool alarms around your pool.
– If you are ever missing a child, always check the water first. Seconds count.
– Learn to recognize the signs of drowning:
“It’s silent, so if you see a child’s head bobbing whose mouth doesn’t come above the water (it’s usually the second or third submission when they don’t come up out of the water), call to them and if they don’t answer quickly go to them.” Another rarer type of drowning is called secondary drowning. “If you know a child has breathed in or drank a lot of water, or has had a near-drowning experience, watch for signs of lethargy or loss of bowel or bladder control. Check on them during nap times,” says Barth. “It’s always best to take them to a doctor first, to be on the safe side.”