Going to the pool can help young children grow their confidence in the water and gives you an opportunity to teach them the basics.
At a young age 'swimming' is essentially about children exploring and discovering water at the pool with their teachers, parents or caregivers, while also watching their parents and friends role modelling good water safety skills.
Parents will see their children’s confidence grow as children are able to blow bubbles, put their heads under the water, etc.
Within reach of an adult at all times when near water
Water Safety NZ’s 2013 provisional report states that of the 81 drownings for the year five were pre-schoolers. A closer look at the statistics reveals that young children drowned in circumstances when adult supervision was insufficient.
Problems with adult supervision, not the lack of a child’s swimming skills, are a key cause of child drownings.
Water Safety NZ says an adult must always be within grabbing distance regardless of how proficient or confident the adult thinks the child is.
Being in the water with the child can help the adult to know better their child’s level of proficiency and chatting with the child while in the water can reinforce water safety awareness.
An often bandied about phrase is ‘learning confidence in the water’. Some argue that water confidence can help avoid panic thus reducing risk of drowning. How relevant this is to young children is questionable, especially when the key message to prevent drowning is that parents or another responsible adult must always be within grabbing distance of the child.
Young children should never be left alone near water. This is the message early childhood education services should promote,
Water safety knowledge and skills for young children
- To not be in the water without an adult
- How to enter and exit the water safety - depending on child's age this may include holding onto the ladder with two hands
- Practice blowing bubbles on the surface e.g. using toys such as ping pong balls to blow. Then under the surface with nose submerged, then whole head under
- Practice floating, practice kicking with adult holding child's hips
- In shallow water help child to gain confidence using flotation devices, such as noodles
Singing songs that encourage movement and playing games in the water is part of developing water confidence and skills at a young age.
Remember formal swimming lessons can come later when children are ready for instruction, including as part of the primary school curriculum. If your child associates water with fun times and is interested in swimming then your child will pick up swimming easy-peasy and enjoy practise times.
A well-intentioned mum who saw other parents taking their pre-schoolers to swimming lessons began fearing her 3 year old would be left behind. This and seeing all the flyers and brochures displayed in the foyers of the child’s ECE services made her decide to enrol. At the first (and only) lesson mum’s worst fears were realised when noticing her child seemed old by comparison… “oh no… what have I done, I’ve left it too late”.
The 15 minute one-on-one trial lesson was hilarious. Her child had a bewildered look while wondering what the stranger (swim coach) was doing. Mum then realised that the coach was in effect giving her child a bath… much like mum would give, pouring water over the head, blowing bubbles in the water, etc. Mum was then charged $20 for it!
Mum left relieved knowing she’ll be saving annually around $700 and was comforted to know her child wouldn’t be left behind. Mum realised she could do a better job of it. Some weeks later at a public pool mum discovered the power of goggles… these gave her child all the confidence needed to have fun under the water waving, watching and blowing bubbles.
Mum discovered the concept of free play relates equally well to swimming… just letting her child enjoy, explore and discover for as long as needed. Mum showed her then 3.5yr old how to hold a breath before going under the water and now her child’s most fun activity is holding mum’s shoulders and riding on her back as she swims under the water. Mum feels certain that the sheer pleasure (and many cuddles) they have had playing together in the water will set her child up to reap the benefits of swimming over years to come.