Importance of swimming for children

| June 17, 2013

Being confident in and around water from an early age is an important part of growing up in Australia. Jasmin Forsyth from Swim Australia urges all Australians not only to swim, but to swim well.

No matter whether it’s fresh, salt or chlorinated, being able to swim and enjoy the water to its full capacity is not only a rite of passage for every Australian child – it’s a way of life!

Learning and knowing how to swim is the most wonderful gift any parent can offer their child. Personally, I love sharing the class experience with my two-year-old daughter, Asha. Every lesson I can feel our bond strengthen, and it’s always a joy to watch as her concentration, behavior and physical coordination are challenged and inevitably enhanced.

In turn, I’ve noticed how her overall confidence has improved, which is wonderful for her wellbeing as she grows up, interacts with others, and faces new challenges.

The Griffith Institute for Educational Research recently revealed that children who had learned how to swim from a young age reached many developmental milestones earlier than other children the same age who had not.

Some of these milestones included visual-motor skills such as cutting paper, colouring-in and drawing lines and shapes; mathematical-related tasks; as well as literacy and numeracy

While children should never be forced into lessons, especially if they are genuinely afraid of water, it is a necessary and potentially life saving skill.

Sadly, accidental childhood drowning claims a great number of young lives in Australia every year. The National Drowning Report for 2011/2012 has shown 21 children between zero to four years drowned in water-related tragedies.

The fact is that drowning can be prevented. But sadly accidents are almost inevitable – and I know all about it!

Nearly thirty years ago, when I was a young three-year-old whipper-snapper, I accidentally fell in to our backyard pool. I was busy ‘helping’ my mother clean the pool, when she turned momentarily to un-kink the hose, only to turn back and find I’d left her side, slipped on the top stair of our in-ground pool, and bubbled to the bottom.

Within seconds, mum had pulled me from the pool, and despite the splutters and shaken nerves, I was absolutely fine. It was certainly a life lesson – no matter how cautious you are, accidents can and do happen!

While my confidence around water took a long time to return and my memory of that day has remained quite vivid, I was one of the lucky ones.

The Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association (ASCTA) recommends infants can start a formal program as young as four months of age – giving them enough time to allow a medical history to develop, the infant’s immune system to strengthen and bonding to occur with the primary caretaker.

At Swim Australia, we have a few tips to help parents and soon-to-be-superfish of all ages settle into the right class and enjoy the aquatic experience.

  • Is the centre and its staff appropriately qualified and accredited by a reputable authority?
  • Does the centre have a good reputation – whether through friends or online?
  • Is the swim school welcoming, friendly, and are the staff members approachable?
  • Is the centre well maintained, visually stimulating, and are the facilities, pool and equipment clean?
  • Is the air and water temperature comfortable for your child?
  • Is there adequate spectator room?
  • Will the classes cater for your child and their needs?
  • Is the curriculum developmentally appropriate, allowing for children to progress at their own rate – e.g. smaller class numbers and short lessons no longer than 30 minutes for youngsters?
  • Does the centre have flexibility in rescheduling classes, and are the class times appropriate for your child?
  • Does the class encourage parental involvement? Babies need a parent/carer in the water providing physical and emotional support until around two or three years of age.
  • Does the swim school offer water safety education material for parents?

While swimming lessons are not to be substituted for supervision and proper barriers, learning to swim could make a huge difference, should your child ever accidently come in contact with water.

Swim Australia’s aim is to encourage all Australians to not only learn to swim, but swim well, and enjoy a lifetime of aquatic opportunities. Vitally, this will also significantly contribute to preventing the tragedy of drowning and ensure all Australians are safer in and around water.