Teaching your child to swim

Developing confident swimmers.
Developing confident swimmers. Photo: Getty

With the weather well and truly heating up and the long summer holidays just around the corner the thoughts of many children will be turning to time spent swimming with family and friends. Whether still at the sandcastle-building and paddling stage or jumping off the jetty with your mates stage, water confidence and safety is paramount. In their 2014 Drowning Report the Royal Life Saving Society reported that from July 2013 - July 2014 30 children aged between 0-14 lost their lives by drowning and 40 more aged 15-24.

The RLSS believe 'that a large percentage of children will leave primary school this year without the swimming and water safety skills and knowledge they will need to be safe around water for the rest of their lives.' Hence their publication 'No child to miss out: Basic swimming & water safety education - The right of all Australian children'. This outlines the minimum requirements that would, in their opinion prevent deaths by drowning which together with their initiative 'Swim & Survive' promotes the importance of swimming and water safety lessons.

One mum who has firsthand experience of the value of swimming lessons, is Holly Whitson. Growing up in the UK she says, "I used to hate swimming lessons, I stood on the side of the pool and cried". 

This made her determined to see her own kids have a different experience. "I want them to love the water as well as being able to swim, especially as we have a pool. They started doing lessons early with me in the pool and they took to it really well. They are now confident, keen swimmers."

Something Holly is very thankful for, after a close call around the pool last year with her then four-year-old daughter.

"Last year my daughter slipped into the pool without us realising it. She had just slipped in quietly and when we noticed she was managing to swim to the edge."

It has taken Holly a while though to find the right lesson format for her kids, "We've been to four, the first one had them wearing bubbles and I think if I'd left them there they'd still be wearing them. Now we go to one that is more disciplined which suits them better."

The importance of the right kind of lesson is invaluable according to AUSTSWIM, Australia's national organisation for the teaching of swimming and water safety.

Jared Wilson, General Manager for Programme Delivery says, "Finding a swim school where they teach water safety as well as stroke skills is important. This year we launched the AUSTSWIM Learning Pillars, Knowledge, Skill and Understanding which provide a clear outline defining the value of swimming and water safety education. Teachers and parents use these to teach the children in an all-round way so that children enjoy the aquatic learning experience in a positive environment that offers a range of fun and educational activities."

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"If you have doubts or your child is not enjoying their swimming lesson, change it." Such is the advice from former swimming teacher, now nanny, Rachel.* "It is so important for kids to want to be there, for the class to suit them, otherwise it's no fun or benefit to anyone." Rachel taught at a Carlile swim centre and also held an AUSTSWIM Teacher Licence. "The approaches are quite different, one being focused heavily on stroke development and one more balancing water safety with swimming skills. Both are brilliant in my opinion, but it's important to do your research for your own family needs."

Having grown up in a beach suburb and worked as a Surf Life Saver, Cassie Dunn understands the value of being able to swim well and confidently. She has made sure her kids are taught in a way that best suits them, explaining, "I changed swim school for my daughter as I felt the first one she attended didn't take it seriously enough. She spent more time talking and splashing around than swimming. Eventually I found a swim school that took it seriously, they didn't allow jumping around and splashing, they kept the momentum so the kids weren't standing and waiting too long."

Swimming lessons are very important to the Dunn family, who continues to send their children to lessons even though they are confident swimmers.

"We believe it's a great form of discipline for them and it's good to balance formal lessons with the fun we have together as a family. We always swim together, at home in the pool and surfing at the beach and I will feel much more relaxed knowing my kids are strong swimmers."

For another mum, Heidi Osborn, swimming lessons have been a tougher learning curve, with each of her three children responding differently. 

"I did swim lessons with each of my kids starting at 2 1/2 years old, and it was only my son that kept going. The girls just weren't ready, they screamed and cried and every trip to the pool became a nightmare. We decided it wasn't worth the pain and money."

The Osborn's also tried different types of classes, "My son was in group lessons for the first two years and then when I moved him to individual ones, he started to really learn. He could do the basics in group lessons, but really didn't excel until individual ones."

It was a different story for her two daughters who have only come into their own since moving to Australia from the USA.

"My older daughter didn't actually start to swim until she taught herself after we moved here, she saw other kids at the pool swimming and wanted to be like them. I think with her, it came down to being developmentally ready. She did it all on her own time. My younger daughter has yet to attend an entire class, but as with her sister, I feel okay about letting her do it on her own time."

While every child will learn to swim differently we need to make the most of the opportunities available to us and help our kids to enjoy swimming with confidence by finding the method that works best for them. That way we can all look forward to long, lazy summer days spent around the water with family and friends.