Swimming lessons are a great way to introduce your child to the water in a safe, controlled environment under the guidance of an instructor. During swimming lessons, you should be learning several water safety skills and drills that will assist your child in becoming safer in and around the pool.
Ensure your child has the best chance of learning water safety skills by giving them opportunities to practise outside of the formal swimming lesson. If you are lucky enough to have a pool at home, you will be able to practise with your child on a regular basis. This will speed up the learn to swim process. If you don’t have a home pool you may be able to venture down to the local public pool or visit a neighbour who has a pool for some extra water time.
Spend 5-10 minutes practising safety skills at the start of each play session as a refresher for your child each time they go swimming to ensure water safety a priority each time they enter the pool.
The following water safety skills are great to work on at home or somewhere away from lessons and may help your child if they ever get into difficulty while swimming.
- Return to safety.
Set a designated safety zone in the pool. This area should be shallow enough for the child to be able to stand up independently or somewhere they can hold onto, for example a pool deck, entry steps, ramps or the shallow end of the pool. Educate your child about the safe swimming area, and if the pool is lacking a safe area you will need to designate yourself as the safe zone.
Younger swimmers may need your assistance in the beginning. If they have been conditioned in lessons and are comfortable being submerged, you can physically turn them back to the safe area so they learn where to go. Be consistent and always use the same key words when teaching swimmers certain skills. For example, each time you practise turning to safety, use the phrase “turn to safety (their name) ready go”, then submerge the swimmer and turn them to the safe zone. If your child is ingesting water, showing signs of discomfort, or hasn’t learned to hold their breath to go under water yet, skip submersions and practise the skill on top of the water so they are still learning where the “safe zone” is situated. Repeat this skill 6-8 times and then enjoy some play time with your child.
Older swimmers who are more independent and confident in the water can be encouraged to swim into deeper water and return to the “safe area” under close supervision – remain in the water within arm’s reach if necessary. Encourage your child to repeat the skill 6-8 times and then allow him/her to play and explore the water while you actively supervise.
- Hold on to the pool deck / side of the pool
It may seem simple, but learning to hold onto the side of the pool while supporting their body weight could make all the difference to your child in an emergency. This skill can be done easily in any pool. If swimmers are comfortable with submersion and can grip and hold on to your t-shirt or fingers without letting go, you can encourage them to hold onto the side of the pool. Always remain close so that you can gently guide your child back to the surface to hold the wall if they lose their grip. Encourage older, more confident swimmers to experiment during this activity by voluntarily letting go, submerging and feeling the water float them back up to the surface where they can reach out and grip the side of the pool again. Supervise closely and remain within reach to assist your child if necessary. Repeat this skill 6-8 times before enjoying some play time with your child.
Extension Activities: Once swimmers are gripping well and are strong enough, they can work on monkeying along the wall back to the” safe zone” or climbing out of the pool depending on their age or physical capabilities.
- Climb out of the pool.
This is a great skill for swimmers who are physically strong enough to pull their own body weight up and out of the pool. If swimmers are confident to jump into the water, turn around and climb out independently, check that the water depth is appropriate and encourage them to do so under strict supervision. If it is a pool your child isn’t used to, ensure they can climb out and provide support or assistance where necessary. Some pools may have an overflow deck and others may have a high wall so this activity may have varying levels of difficulty depending on the type of the pool you are using. Always assess each venue and communicate with your child what they will need to do or any rules to follow prior to entering the water.
For swimmers who are less confident in the water, simply encourage them to jump to you so you can guide them back to the side and assist them while they climb out of the pool to safety. Remember to always use the same key words or instructions when doing safety activities with your child. For this activity use a simple phrase like “jump, turn and climb out (child’s name) ready go.” Repeat this activity 6-8 times then enjoy some play time with your child.
Take home tips:
- If any of these safety activities are part of your regular swimming lessons, use the same key words your instructor has taught you to keep it consistent and avoid confusing your child.
- Remember each pool you visit with your child will be different and the pool that you have lessons in may be different to your home or neighbour’s pool, the local pool, or a resort pool if you are taking a family holiday. Always communicate with your child about the “safe zone” and pool rules in new environments. Practising water safety skills in various environments will assist your child in becoming safer around the water.
- No child is ever “drown proof” and you should always exercise close supervision.
- If you have small children it is a good idea to keep the water level of your pool topped up as it will be easier for them to climb out and reach for the side of the pool. They will be able to rely more on the buoyancy of the water to support their body weight while holding the edge or climbing out rather than their arm muscles having to do all the work.
The age of your child will be a factor in determining which safety skills are appropriate for due to their growth and development stage. If you are unsure, ask your instructor at regular lessons for some “homework” or safety skills that will be appropriate for your child to practice away from lessons and enjoy making the learn to swim process happy for your family.