Seventy five percent of the world is made up of water, and with 11,000 kilometres of stunning coastlines, 3,820 glass-topped lakes and backyard swimming pools dotted across the country, New Zealanders have access to their fair share of H20.
But it isn’t just our beautiful beaches and summers by the pool that make New Zealand water so well-known. New Zealand has the third highest drowning rate in the developed world and it’s estimated that less the one quarter of kiwi kids under twelve can swim to save their lives.
110 Kiwis each year die in water related incidences and seven percent of those are children under the age of four. Almost three quarters of the infants who drown annually in our country die in immersion incidences, when they end up in a body of water accidentally and unsupervised. Children older than four are still at risk, with an average of 21 young people under the age of twenty four drowning annually.
With funding cuts forcing over three hundred schools to close their pool gates permanently in recent years, and more than 1,650 schools without their own pool facilities, the responsibility of teaching kids how to swim falls on the shoulders of parents more than ever.
So when and how should we teach our children how to swim and save their own lives in potentially life threatening situations? Unless you are proficient it is best to leave the instruction up to the professionals. Most local swimming pools hold lessons and professional swim schools are accessible across the country. However, as a parent your role in your child’s swimming education is important. During infancy and into childhood most swimming classes require a parent or guardian in the pool during lessons and safe, supervised extracurricular swimming and water engagement is encouraged.
Most New Zealand swim classes are offered for children aged six months and over, with some even starting at three months. Early classes encourage babies to become comfortable in the water and help form the basis of the swimming skills they’ll learn once they have better motor skills and coordination.
Swimming lesson providers, like Swimgym, a swim school based in South Auckland, offers beginners through to advanced classes, with beginners starting at six months. These classes build on a baby’s natural love and ability in water and also focus on teaching parents how to keep their budding swimmers safe. They’re fun, active and are a great way of bonding with your little water baby.
Even if professional swimming lessons are inaccessible to your family, swim safety is an important skill to teach our children. Building confidence in the water with your child and teaching them how to hold their breath, blow bubbles, float on their back and stomach and kick their legs are life saving skills that you can teach at a local pool, at home or at the beach. Ensure you are aware of current CPR procedures and have confidence in your own and your child’s abilities.
So why teach children how to swim before they even know the multiplication tables? Most children have not yet developed a fear of water that some adults, especially those who didn’t learn to swim as children, develop. This fear can hinder swimming progress and can even stop a person from ever choosing to enter the water.
The most important aspect of child water safety is supervision. Swimming classes and even an ability to swim do not negate the need for adult supervision while in the water, and it is suggested that until a child is ten years old a parent or other responsible adult supervises from poolside where they can act in an instant if necessary.
Swimming is a skill that stays with a person throughout their life, and not knowing how to swim can be isolating for children and adults alike. In a country surrounded by beautiful swimming beaches and affordable local leisure centres non-swimmers will find themselves sitting in the sand, or on the bleachers.
With spring and summer right around the corner now is the perfect time to head to the local pools and enquire about lessons or take a dip as a family. For more information on the importance of learning to swim young visit www.sealordswimforlife.org.nz or www.watersafety.org.nz