Longfellow, Clawdette and the WHALE Tales characters.

Water Habits Are Learned Early

WHALE Tales Introduction

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children in the United States. Prevention is the key to saving lives.

The Red Cross believes that one way to prevent drowning is to teach children about being safer in, on and around the water in a fun and entertaining way.

This complimentary and reimagined program comes complete with interactive videos, posters and lesson plans that will inspire your students while learning to recognize and understand risks of water safety.

Ready to report your activity?

WHALE Tales Water Safety instructor with students.

Who Can Teach WHALE Tales?

Anyone! No special certification is required to teach this material.

WHALE Tales can be taught by:

  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Aquatics Facilities
  • Youth Program Leaders
  • Injury Prevention Agencies
  • Red Cross Clubs
  • Water Safety Ambassadors
  • Swim Instructors
  • Drowning Prevention Coalitions
  • And more!

Longfellow’s WHALE Tales may also be integrated into American Red Cross swim lessons.

WHALE Tales Lessons and Topics

Build your Leader’s Guide here! The sections that follow include links to access a robust collection of water safety content and resources. Download them and print each section or just what is most relevant to your participant needs.

By downloading or streaming these materials, I acknowledge that I may use these materials subject to the license granted below solely for education purposes consistent with all requirements provided by American Red Cross for use of these materials. See below for additional information.

Getting Started

The Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children Leader’s Guide starts with administrative information on How to Lead Longfellow’s WHALE Tales. This content will help you get to know everything this program offers, including:

  • Nine Unique Lessons: Access the comprehensive water safety content that makes up this program including complete lesson plans, course presentations, videos, posters and more. You can also print more activity sheets and the activity sheet answer key, coloring sheets and caregiver letters individually from this page to make preparing for class a breeze.
  • Closing Ceremony & Certificates: Help participants celebrate their new water smarts! Includes three options for certificates you can print and hand out.

Download this Section

Get a Binder Cover and Spine

Section 1: Being Water Smart - The Basics

Lesson 1 introduces participants to basic guidelines and rules to help them be safer in, on and around the water. It lays out foundational concepts that one should never be in, on or around the water alone and should only swim in areas designated for swimming and supervised by a capable adult water watcher and, where possible, lifeguards.

These principles form the basis for all other lessons. It is strongly recommended that leaders start with this lesson before conducting any other lessons.


Lesson 2 takes a closer look at one of the key water safety rules: a person should never swim alone. Lifeguards, other capable adult water watchers and a water buddy are all part of the water safety team that helps participants stay safer in, on and around the water. The lesson reinforces the importance of learning to swim to help oneself be as safe as possible.


Lesson 3 provides more information about what a designated swimming area should look like and why it’s important to know how deep the water is before getting in. The lesson wraps up with sun safety information to help participants keep their skin and eyes safer from harm while enjoying their time by the water.


Lesson 4 participants learn about when to wear a life jacket in, on or around the water. This includes always wearing a life jacket when boating regardless of swim skill level. This lesson also covers some basic boating safety guidelines.


Section 2: A Deeper Dive into How to be Water Smart

Lesson 5 explores water safety at pools and waterparks. Some water safety rules are the same wherever you go, and some are more specific to certain settings and situations. It also covers other places a participant might encounter water in their home and near where they live or visit that require water smarts.


Lesson 6 takes a deeper dive into specific considerations for different types of waterfront settings where a participant might be in, on or around the water from oceans to ponds, rivers to lakes. As with other lessons, it emphasizes the role of basic water smarts as the foundation for helping keep participants safe.


Section 3: Being Water Smart in an Emergency

Lesson 7 provides basic information about how participants can help themselves if they are starting to have trouble in the water or if a water emergency occurs. This includes the importance of staying calm as well as specific actions to take based on the situation.

If you will be teaching Lesson 8, Reach or Throw, Don’t Go, you should first cover the material in this lesson.


Lesson 8 provides information to participants about how they can best help others in the event of an aquatic emergency when help is not available from a lifeguard or other capable adult. The focus is on how to do so without putting oneself in harm’s way by using a reaching or throwing assist.


Lesson 9 includes weather-related water safety hazards that participants may encounter depending on where they live or travel: thunderstorms, floods and ice.

It’s recommended that this lesson is taught after participants have completed Lesson 7: Think So You Don’t Sink and Lesson 8: Reach or Throw, Don’t Go, which cover some of the basic skills a person should have in a water emergency situation to help themselves and others.


Whether your group does one lesson or all nine, the closing ceremony is a way to mark the journey they have made toward learning how to be water smart through Longfellow's WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children. The final activity reminds them that water should be fun, plus they can take a safety pledge together as a group.



Thank you for teaching the Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children program! Every student counts! Help us track our impact and make water safety accessible for all by recording your outreach effort below. The process is quick and easy!

Red Cross Instructors

Log in first to the Red Cross Learning Center and then select button below or Resources > Learn to Swim/Safety Outreach > Record Safety Outreach and complete the brief form.

Learn to Swim/Safety Outreach

All Other Leaders

Select Record Safety Outreach and complete the brief form.

Drowning Prevention & Safety Outreach

Longfellow WHALE Tales cutout activity.

More WHALE Tales Activities

Take a photo or make fun crafts with our Flat Longfellow. Your participants can create their own Longfellow cutout and take him on an adventure. Share stories and recount what they have learned from Longfellow's WHALE Tales program.


Recommended Products for WHALE Tales

Longfellow's WHALE Tales Lesson 1 Poster.

Longfellow's WHALE
Tales Posters

Longfellow's WHALE Tales Swimming Stickers.

Longfellow's WHALE
Tales Stickers

Commodore Wilbert Longfellow training volunteers in the Red Cross Lifesaving Corps.

Did You Know?

In 1914, Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow started the Red Cross Lifesaving Corps to train volunteers in the methods of lifesaving and resuscitation. The Commodore's teaching philosophy was to "entertain the public hugely while educating them gently." This program does just that.

In tribute to Commodore Longfellow, who was known as the "amiable whale," the mascot for the WHALE Tales program and animations is Longfellow, a blue whale. WHALE is an acronym for Water Habits Are Learned Early.


No. The Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children program curriculum is made available for free for use by the public. The Red Cross does not control anyone who downloads and offers this curriculum in their community. Those who use the curriculum must comply with their local and state regulations.

No. Anyone can teach the Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children program. To teach Longfellow’s WHALE Tales, you simply need to orient to the new materials. You do not need an instructor certificate to teach.

Longfellow's WHALE Tales Water Safety for Children curriculum is made available for anyone to download in their community. The Red Cross does not exercise any accountability over people who may offer this program in a community.

No. There is no basic-level certification requirement to teach Longfellow’s WHALE Tales. The only requirement is to orient to the materials. Leaders are encouraged to take the free Becoming an Ambassador for Water Safety online course. This course can be found at www.redcross.org/take-a-class.

No swimming ability or water safety knowledge is required to deliver the lessons.

You should access the program materials in these ways:

  • Red Cross instructors: Sign in to the Red Cross Learning Center, then navigate to Classes > Course Materials > Longfellow’s WHALE Tales
  • All others (leaders) who wish to deliver the program: redcross.org/whaletales
  • Parents/caregivers who wish to discuss water safety with their children: redcross.org/watersafetyforkids or Red Cross Swim mobile app

The following materials are available for purchase on the Red Cross Store (redcross.org/store)

  • Longfellow’s WHALE Tales Printed Poster Set (Stock No. 751332): Contains nine 17” x 22”, full-color posters, one each lesson.
  • Longfellow WHALE Tales Stickers (Stock No. 751333): Contains 9 unique sheets of stickers with one lesson/topic per sheet of 18 stickers.

Thank you for reporting your teaching activity! This important step helps the Red Cross learn more about how this program is being used, who is being reached and how well we are meeting the needs of leaders and participants.

The way you report depends on whether you are a currently certified Red Cross instructor or not.

  • Leaders Who Are Not Red Cross Instructors (such as schoolteachers, youth leaders, Red Cross Club members, public safety personnel, etc.): Go to redcrosslearningcenter.org/s/learn-to-swim. Select Record Safety Outreach, then complete the fields.
  • Red Cross Instructors: Log in to the Red Cross Learning Center at redcrosslearningcenter.org. Select Resources > Learn to Swim/Safety Outreach > Record Safety Outreach, then complete the fields.

The same information will be collected regardless of the type of leader reporting. The primary difference is that the leader’s name and organization will be auto populated for Red Cross Instructors while all others will need to complete those fields. Additionally, required information includes organization type, lessons taught and students reached. Teaching activity should be reported for each “complete teaching event.” The following provides examples as a complete teaching event:

  • One time session with one or more lessons covered.
  • A planned series of sessions with the same participants, such as one lesson, one time per week for 9 weeks for a class of elementary school students.

No. There are flexible delivery options. Leaders can choose which lessons and the number of lessons to deliver. Guidance is provided on the sequence of lessons. Leaders are encouraged to follow the lesson plans provided as closely as possible. Leaders are also encouraged to adapt the language and activities as needed based on the age and learning level of the children, teaching setting, available resources, local references and available time.

If you feel this program was delivered in a way that is inconsistent with the values of the American Red Cross, please contact support@redcrosstraining.org.

Life jackets play an important role in helping keep children safer while surfing. Life jackets help them stay warm. Children are often less experienced in the water and may not have the same strength and endurance as adults. Children may also be less aware of ocean hazards, such as rip current or changing tides. Wearing a life jacket can provide children with the needed extra buoyancy, allowing them to stay afloat more easily and conserve their energy. For more information about surfing and safety precautions, be sure to consult with surfing professionals local to the area.

In this lesson, Mateo calls for help because he is starting to get tired. He recognized that he was having trouble and was able to call for help.

Some models of external processors have waterproofing options and can be used in the water. Anyone with cochlear implants should discuss these options with their audiologist.

August 30, 2024

American Red Cross grants you a limited, revocable right to download, publicly perform and publicly display these materials solely for education purposes consistent with all requirements set forth by American Red Cross for use of these materials. The license granted to you by the American Red Cross will terminate immediately if you use these materials in any manner that is unsafe or inconsistent with the mission and values of the American Red Cross or instructions provided for use of these materials by American Red Cross ; if your use of these materials violates any local, state or federal rules or regulations; if you misrepresent your relationship with the Red Cross as other than providing instruction in free course materials made available by the American Red Cross without instructor qualification to further public safety; if you modify the materials in any way; or if you charge a fee for offering a course using these materials.