Family

Teach your children the ways of the water

For the past two years, schools have not been required to teach children how to swim. Between 2001 and 2008, pools were closed at 300 schools around the country. As a result, some of our children aren't learning how to swim in a country that's surrounded by water.

Half of all 10-year-old kids can’t swim 25m, and a quarter can’t even keep afloat, according to the Water Safety Council. Teaching your child to swim is no longer something you can rely on schools to do, as they did in our childhood. Today it’s the responsibility of the parent to make sure children are safe in the water, and this confidence can be instilled very early on.

If you can afford it, swimming lessons are the best way to get a child in the water, but many parents can successfully teach their child to swim and have fun while they’re doing it. Here are some tips:

  • Always supervise your children in water, even if they can swim.

  • When it comes to teaching your child to swim, it’s best to start in the bath or paddling pool and then at a local pool. Progress to the beach when your child has some basic skills.

  • From their earliest association with water – whether at the beach or in a pool – take the opportunity to get them active and interacting with water by splashing around and lying on their stomach in shallow water and kicking.

  • Hold your baby in a pool and gently rock, turn or tow them through the water, while holding them under their armpits.

  • In the bath or paddling pool, gently squeeze a sponge over their head to get them used to water running over their face. As they get older, encourage your child to put their face under the water and blow bubbles for you.

  • In the bath or pool, hold them under their tummy so that they’re stretched out on top of the water, and encourage them to kick and use their arms under the water doing a dog paddle.

  • once they’re confidently doing that, you can experiment by taking your hands away for a brief moment to give them the experience of floating on their own for a few seconds. Progress to longer periods of this without you supporting them.

  • You can also do this with your child floating on their back, for some variation.

  • In a shallow pool, get your child to wear some goggles and both duck under the water to see what’s under there. You can put heavy objects such as stones for them to find and give to you.

  • once your child can float for a little while on their own, you can get them a kickboard and work on their kicking skills and travelling some distance.

  • With the kickboard, get your child to stretch out their arms in front of you and practise breathing in the water by taking a breath, submerging their face, then turning to get another breath as they swim freestyle.

  • once they have mastered that, get them to do their breathing and kicking at the same time, moving along the pool holding onto the kickboard. They’re nearly ready to swim!

  • When you feel that your child is confident doing a length or two with the kickboard, it’s time to introduce the arms. It helps to do this on dry land first. Lie on the ground next to your child and both practise kicking, breathing and moving your arms as you would when swimming freestyle. When your child is doing this with confidence, get into the shallow end of the pool and get them to have a go. They will want their kickboard, but try to encourage them to have a go, even if you have to walk alongside them holding their tummy to give them extra flotation.

  • When your child swims those first few strokes, make a big fuss. Now all they have to do is practise, so give them plenty of opportunities to do so.

  • Don’t make it all about lessons. Break up the teaching with some fun things like floating on your backs with arms and legs spread out in the shape of a star. Mr get them to dive to the bottom of the pool to retrieve heavy objects such as stones. The more fun your child has in the water, the more confident they will feel.

  • Teach your young one safety basics, such as never swimming without an adult, obeying pool rules, and always calling for help if they’re in trouble.

  • If you can, enrol your child in swimming lessons at a local pool. Practise makes perfect! Visit www.watersafety.org.nz

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