Learning on land

Kindergarten students at Horace Mann Laboratory School practice swimming motions with Tara White, left, Josh the Otter, and Shelly Hersh of Maryville Parks and Recreation during a water safety presentation Wednesday morning. White, Hersh, and health educator Christy Tapps are scheduled to visit every school in Nodaway County this spring. 

Another season of summer swimming is approaching and that means it’s time for parents and teachers to talk with their young children and students about water safety.

Christy Tapps, health educator with the Nodaway County Health Center, and Shelly Hersh of Maryville Parks and Recreation have once again teamed up to teach water safety with Tara White, who lost her nephew Parker to a drowning accident in 2011.

The three women have scheduled “Josh the Otter” water safety presentations for kindergarten classes at every school in Nodaway County, reaching around 300 students.

Josh the Otter is a character created by a Lincoln, Nebraska father whose son drowned in 2008. The family created the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation with the goal of “educating children and adults worldwide about water safety.”

During the presentations in Nodaway County, students read the book “Josh the Baby Otter” before discussing what they learned with Hersh.

The lessons are simple but effective: learn to float, swim with a buddy, and never go near a body of water without an adult present.

“It doesn’t matter if the water goes to your toes or all the way up to your shoulders,” Hersh told the students at Horace Mann Laboratory School.

Josh and his cohorts visited Nancy Farlow’s kindergarten class Wednesday morning. The students were excited to welcome the friendly animal, although guesses as to his species ranged from beaver to gopher to seal.

After exchanging hugs and high fives with the larger-than-life otter, students learned a dance that helped them practice the motions involved in swimming and floating.

Each child also received a copy of the book and a ticket for free admission to the Josh the Otter event to be held at the Maryville Aquatic Center on June 10.

“After we’ve talked to them, we want the kids to actually get some hands-on experience with floating as well,” Hersh said.

Funds to supply the free books have come from Rotary International and a Maternal and Child Health grant supplied by the state. The Health Center was also able to procure a Josh the Otter costume last year through the Safe Kids Coalition of Northwest Missouri.

Hersh and Tapps agreed that parents should begin exposing their children to swimming early. Even as infants, children can begin becoming comfortable with water to encourage them to be better swimmers in the future.

“The sooner that you can expose kids to it, the more comfortable they’re going to feel and then they’re going to thrive from there,” Hersh said. “It can start in the bathtub at home; it doesn’t have to be at a pool.”

Hersh added that the parks department would distribute at the event a list of area pools that provide swimming lessons.

“We want to make sure they have access to lessons whether it’s at our facility or another facility,” she said.

The water safety event at the aquatic center has been held since 2012, but White, Tapps, and Hersh just began giving the presentation in Nodaway County schools last year.

“It’s an awesome program and more schools are calling us all the time to do it,” Hersh said. “If every year we hit the kindergarten class where we have kids who are at that point where they’re adventurous, we’ll be ahead of the game.”

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