Kim Leonard and her husband, Stew, never expected an unimaginable loss to propel them into the world of advocacy. “When Stew and I lost our 21-month-old son, Stewie, in a drowning accident in 1989, it was a lapse in supervision, not a lack of supervision,” says Kim. “We had eight adults around a pool area as we were setting up for my daughter’s third birthday party. I thought Stew was watching him, and he thought I was, and we experienced the unthinkable.” The loss propelled them to write the first of two books teaching children about water safety and the importance of asking permission before swimming. “We then started the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation in memory of our son and started raising money to provide swim lessons to children who otherwise couldn’t afford them,” adds Leonard.
In that spirit, here are three vital tips courtesy of the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation.
Nine out of 10 drownings occur when a caregiver is supervising but not paying attention. However, drowning is preventable when one adult commits to being a water watcher and never leaving children unattended. The water watcher should be an experienced swimmer, should refrain from using their phone, and be within arm’s length of young children or inexperienced swimmers. Adults can take turns being the water watcher, however they must not leave the water area without first finding an adult to replace them.
Stew and Kim urge caregivers to talk directly to their young children about not going near the water without first asking for permission. To help facilitate these conversations, Stew and Kim are the authors of both the Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim book, written for children ages 3 and up, and the Swim Time with Stewie the Duck board book, which is geared to children under the age 3. Both books are available for purchase at all Stew Leonard’s locations and online at stewleonardsgifts.com. The Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim mobile-book app can also be downloaded for free through Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes. (All book-sale proceeds benefit Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation.)
Children who take swim lessons are 88% less likely to drown than children who do not. The American Red Cross estimates that nearly all parents (94%) expect that their children will engage in some sort of water activity; however, nearly 61% of those parents report that their children cannot demonstrate all five basic skills that could save their lives in the water. While swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning in children, the Leonards also recommend children wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket whenever they are near a body of water.