SB Family Life Article

Lessons shouldn’t be saved for summer, says longtime Santa Barbara swim school owner Wendy Fereday

By Leah Etling

Summer is here, and it’s the best time of year for afternoons at the pool, beach, lake or water park. Even as the drought continues, water is truly everywhere around Santa Barbara County.

“There is water around us all of the time,” says Santa Barbaran Wendy Fereday, owner of the Wendy Fereday Swim School. Then she goes straight to the soapbox.

“Every child should learn to swim. We should not be having kids drowning – they should be swimming by four years of age. They don’t have to be competitive swimmers, but they should be strong swimmers, especially with the beach in our backyard.”

When it comes to swimming lessons, best practices are quite different now than when today’s parents were growing up.

Fereday is exceptionally passionate about this topic. We reached out to talk to her about the longevity of her Swim School and her personal story, but spent most of the interview talking about swimming safety and drowning prevention. It’s an important conversation.

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children between the ages of 1 and 4 years old,” according to literature distributed by Fereday’s program. “Preschoolers primarily drown in home swimming pools and hot tubs or spas.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. And for every drowning death, there are another five cases of emergency room visits for nonfatal submersion injuries.

“When infants start to crawl, that’s when they are in danger of a body of water – just two to three inches of water and three seconds is all it takes for a drowning. It can happen so quickly and with people all around,” Fereday said.

The solution isn’t just swimming, of course. Adults must be exceptionally vigilant when children are near water, whether that’s the ocean, a swimming pool, bathtub, or even a fountain at the shopping mall.

But when it comes to swimming lessons, best practices are quite different now than when today’s parents were growing up. Private lessons are more common and year-round swimming instruction, beginning in infancy, is advocated by teachers like Fereday and the National Swim School Association.

“It’s a commitment on the parent financially, as well as ensuring the child is exposed to it on a weekly basis like anything else. You don’t let them stop learning their math, so they shouldn’t stop learning the skills they need to be in the pool,” Fereday said.

She’s now on her second generation of students, teaching the kids of children she once taught. And her own sons are now grown up – Brendan is a sixth-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School and Stephen teaches with his mother at the swim school.

Even with the knowledge that her sons were strong swimmers, Fereday still cringed when she saw a Facebook video of her oldest son jumping off a high cliff into the ocean in Italy.

“Only thing I could l say is that I was thankful he is a swimmer and he could hold his breath for a long time,” she said. “But the reality is you’re not going to be there with them when they are in their late teens or in college. If they are strong swimmers, they will be better prepared for life.”

Kite Strings of Connection: 5 Keys to Build A Heart Connection with Your Child



One of the most important values we cultivate as parents is the priority of heart connection

Within seconds after birth as you hold your child in your arms and look into those precious eyes, you know it–this life is completely dependent upon you.

The power of love parents have for their children is a force unmatched. As parents, we have a built in capacity to love and shape the lives we have been entrusted with. We may have the best intentions when they are born to love them to the best of our ability, but unless we spend time cultivating what we value, our best intentions will fall short.

One of the most important values we cultivate as parents is the priority of heart connection.

Our family likes to talk about the priority of relational connection we have with our children using the analogy of a kite string. During the teenage or young adult years, when the kite is flying high, it is important the string of the kite (connection) is in good condition to keep it grounded to the source–you. If the string has been frayed and damaged over the years, it will be difficult to keep the kite connected. We must develop good parenting habits to ensure the storms of life will not disconnect us from our children.

Easier said than done, I know!

In light of this, I thought I’d share a few (5) tips on how to build a heart connection with your child today. I’ve listed them as affirmations or statements we can make as we pursue this kind of a connection.

  1.  I will be a safe place by remaining calm and gentle.

When your child is doing things that might be frustrating, from spilled milk to common struggles with chores or homework, it is important to remain calm. In doing so, you are sending the message that your child does not control your emotional state. This protects them and helps them to feel safe.

  1. I will send messages of unconditional love.

It is so important to discover what makes your child feel loved. It might be playing their favorite game, giving them specific words of encouragement, telling them what you love about them, or even doing a project like yard work together. Whatever it is, find the ways your child receives love the best, and send those messages of love regularly.

Never let, “I love you” be a secret.

  1. I will not remove my affection when you make a mistake.

When you feel angry at your child’s mistake, a first response is often to remove affection as a form of punishment. Loving connection is strengthened when you stand with your child in the middle of a “mess”, letting him/her know you will help them “clean it up.”  If your child feels your judgment and removal of affection instead of sympathy, they may become angry, making you the enemy. The goal is to help your child figure out how to resolve the problem, knowing you are a strong ally.

  1. I will regularly check in and meet your specific needs.

All of us have basic needs in common, but each person has an individualized set of needs that will change regularly. Your child needs to feel seen, accepted and loved in specific ways on a consistent basis. It might be a hug after falling down. It might be talking through emotions after a tough day at school. It is important to ask questions and check in to know what those needs might be so you can meet them.

  1. I will always be there for you.

You can let your child know you can be counted on by being consistent in the relationship. Finding ways to share common joys and laughter will send the message you are happy to be around them, and will develop positive experiences together.

Unconditional love is the greatest skill to master & we won’t be perfect at it.


The goal isn’t to be PERFECT, but to simply PURSUE the connection!

-by Brittney Serpell, Loving on Purpose Blog.

How to Prepare Your Baby for Successful Swimming

Children must master four skills to be able to swim: submersion, buoyancy, balance and breath control. The “big hairy monster” in all of this is submersion. Being underwater can be scary. The job of professional swim instructors is to break this process into steps, remove the fear and give children the tools and confidence they need to be comfortable above and below the water.
Here are some “homework” lessons for parents—tips that will help prepare babies for the sensations they will experience during swim class so they are less likely to become fearful or panicky in the pool. With all of these suggestions, keep it fun. Make it a game. Give children the skills to enjoy it. And be positive! Your attitude makes all the difference.
Shower early and often with young children. They will learn to ignore the splashing and become conditioned to holding their breath as the water hits their head. Get them in the shower as soon as the umbilical cord falls off. Start by letting the water splash over the baby’s back. Then let the water spray the back of the head, then splash over the head, then over the face. Use your damp hand and fingers to create the sensation of water over the baby’s face.

Newborns and babies up to about 6 months old can get in the tub with you. To help a baby float on his or her back and enjoy freedom of movement not possible on land, hold the baby behind the shoulders and cup the head so the baby can’t turn his or her mouth into the water. This is really fun for babies; some “startle” with their arms and legs, kicking and splashing themselves. Others lie peacefully as you sway them in the water. They get used to the water and leave the bath relaxed and worn out from using their full range of motion. If at first you don’t have a happy baby in the tub, keep working on it. It’s worth the effort!

When babies are old enough to sit on their own, drag a damp washcloth from the back of the head, over the head and across the eyes, nose and mouth areas three times in a row, until the child doesn’t startle. Use a sprinkling can or a soaked washcloth to drizzle water over the child’s head on the count of three. Repeat this three times.
Blowing bubbles helps babies learn that they are in control of their breath. Teach children to blow bubbles on the cue of “one, two, three, blow!” Try long bubbles, slow bubbles, quiet bubbles…variations teach them to relax. Once they are comfortable doing this with their noses above the water, encourage them to try with their noses under the water, then eyes in the water. Or have them try blowing a ping pong ball across the tub.

Allow children to feel what buoyancy is all about. Fill the tub until the water is under their armpits as they sit, so they can feel the water lift them. If they begin to slide under, sit them back up. They quickly learn to put their hands down to right themselves. Let them explore the bottom of the tub with their face in the water. Put toys on the bottom. Soon your child will be spending tub time on his or her tummy, face in the water, bubbles blowing and bottom in the air. Get towels ready for your floor!

– by Kathy Hubbard co-founder and owner of Hubbard Family Swim School.