July 09, 2012 05:00 PM

Neilson Barnard/Getty

When Mariska Hargitay isn’t collaring criminals on Law and Order, SVU, she’s spending her days off with her family in the Hamptons.

Hargitay’s son, Andrew Nicolas, who turns one this month, is taking the beach by storm.

“He’s crawling all over town!” Hargitay — pictured here with Project Runway executive producer Desiree Gruber — told PEOPLE at a shopping event to benefit the Joyful Heart Foundation at East Hampton shop Theodora and Callum on Friday.

How does Hargitay keep tabs on her three children, including August, 6, and Amaya Josephine, 15 months? Easy, they’re all in one place: the pool!

“August is in the pool like 10 hours a day,” she says.

“With Amaya, I blow out bubbles through my lips. And she thinks it’s so hilarious so she’ll do it too. Andrew has a round floatie that he sits in, and while he’s in there, I’ll hold Amaya and do the bubbles.”

Though her two younger kids are still getting used to the water, Hargitay says, “I make sure all of them go in because I don’t want them to ever be scared of the water. My kids are all fearless and they love the pool!”

Of course, for Hargitay, even more important than her kids’ water-baby status is their connection to the work that she does with Joyful Heart to empower and educate people about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

“August knows that we help people, and he knows that what we do is important,” Hargitay says. “He’ll say, ‘Mommy, is that for Joyful Heart?’ And we’ll talk about it.”

Because of Hargitay’s devotion to safety and helping her kids develop their own boundaries, “August has a real sense of himself,” she says proudly.

— Catherine Kast

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