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Summer vacation in Wisconsin wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Water Park Capital of the world. To help keep it a fun day in the sun for everyone in the family, there are a few important steps you should take.
Before you go
Consider your kids' ages and water skills Waterparks often mean long days in the hot sun. Kids (and adults) will get physically and mentally tired. What a child can do during a 30-minute swim lesson at the YMCA may not be possible especially later in the day at a waterpark. Don't assume kids are safe in the water just because they know how to swim — lots of bodies, heat, fatigue and strong currents can create a risky situation for unaccompanied kids.
Remind kids that if they're feeling tired or overheated, they need to take a break in a shady or air-conditioned spot throughout the day. Have a plan and make sure everyone knows it Because waterparks feature several different structures and are often crowded, it's important to have a plan for how the day will go.
Some questions to consider include:
Is the family going together or are the kids going with another family?
How will kids keep track of their belongings — especially if they have money for concessions or a phone?
Who is supervising the kids and will they be on-site or just dropping off?
Do the kids know where to go if they can't find the adults they're with or get separated from the group?
Can adult supervisors wear something easily identified in a crowd — a bright hat or swimsuit or swim shirt? That way they're easy to pick out when looking at a sea of people.
Where will the central check-in place be — a table near the concessions stand? A beach chair near the bathrooms?
Where and how will young kids nap during the day? Rest is important for their well-being, so consider how to help make that happen.
If someone is ill with diarrhea, fever or has any open wounds they should not go in the water.
While you're there
Divide and conquer With so much to do, kids will likely want to split up — especially if they are different ages. It's reasonable to do, but adults need to think about how they'll manage supervising the group.
Toddlers should always be within arms' reach and wearing floaties
Preschoolers can be within a few steps reach, but also wearing floaties
School age children should be within eyesight (a bright swimsuit or one that is easily picked out from a group can be helpful)
Middle school and older children can be more independent, but should be expected to check in at a regular time (and before going to a different part of the waterpark)
Also remember that floaties are meant to be used as an aid for flotation, they are NOT a safety device and do NOT reliably prevent drowning or other injuries in small children. While it may be tempting on a hot vacation day, adults responsible for supervising should not be intoxicated or otherwise impaired.
Kids will be kids. It's important for everyone's safety (and enjoyment) to make sure kids aren't behaving in a way that puts others at risk or is unsafe. If they are, then limits need to be enforced.
Walk, don't run — It's a water park and the ground can be slick. Wear water shoes, if possible, not only for traction, but to help keep feet safe from injuries and even infections.
You must be this tall to ride — Pay attention to size restrictions on rides and slides. It's not a matter of whether a child is mature enough to handle the ride. The design of the slide is based on a minimum height and weight. A child can be seriously injured if they're too small for the ride.
Don't assume lifeguards are paying attention — Despite the number of lifeguards stationed throughout the park, don't assume they will see everything and everyone. Parks are chaotic. Their attention may be focused on kids acting out or someone asking question.
Safety first — Know where the first aid stations and AEDs are in the area where you are. Being out in the sun can also lead to heatstroke and other health concerns, especially in younger children who are more susceptible.
Take frequent breaks from the sun and heat so everyone can regroup physically and emotionally
Watch for signs of heatstroke: appears flushed, acts sleepy or irritable, isn't showing signs of sweating or no tears.
No hot tub for children under 6 — They do not recognize symptoms of overheating and may not leave the pool when they should.
Sunscreen, no exceptions — We need more sunscreen than we realize — about two shot glasses worth. Apply it regularly and remember a higher SPF or "waterproof" doesn't mean you don't have to re-apply — re-apply every 2 hours. And don't leave it up to kids — make sure the sunscreen is thoroughly applied. Also, consider additional protection like sun-protective shirts or hats.
Eat and drink regularly — It's easy to underestimate the degree of added physical activity from being in the water all day. Drink lots of water throughout the day. Pack extra snacks and schedule breaks for everyone to eat, drink and rest.
But don't drink the pool water — Ingesting the water from the waterslides can make kids very ill. If kids can't comply, they shouldn't be in the water.
Shower and wash hands — Wash hands after using the bathroom and always before eating. The chemicals used to sanitize the water on the slides and in the pool are strong. Always shower after leaving the water when you will be out and drying off, eating or leaving the park. Apply emollient to younger children and those with sensitive skin after showering to hydrate the skin and prevent rashes.