During the preschool stage, your child is far more independent. They will dress themselves, feed themselves, clean their teeth and take themselves to the toilet. During this stage, many parents have their hands full with new additions to the family. Very often, this results in the older child being given more responsibility and independence. While children seem far more mature and capable of making more complex decisions, they still need their parents or caregivers for supervision and direction. This helps to maintain a safe learning environment, particularly when water is concerned. Here, we discuss water safety for preschool children and how you can contribute to it.
Preschool Children’s Capabilities
During this stage the unsupervised child may be capable of
- Filling the bath, laundry tub or play pool with water
- Climbing the fence
- Pulling objects up to the pool fence to help them open the gate
- Opening the front door and wander into the neighbours unfenced pool or fish pond
As a result parents need to continue their diligence with supervision and check and secure the home from potential water hazards. This is also a great time to set some ground rules with your child around water. Remember your child’s comprehension is improving and they will begin to learn their boundaries.
Creating a routine in preparation for water play will also play an important role in water safety. For example teach your child that before playing in water they must get dressed into their swim wear and collect their towel, sunscreen and toys in preparation. In doing so you may actually be alerted to your child displaying signs that they want to play in the water.
Ground Rules from Parents
Parents should set ground rules for playing in the pool. Children should learn not to
- Jump into shallow water
- Run around wet surfaces
- Hold other children underwater
- Push or play rough in the water
- Play dares e.g. holding their breath underwater
If you are a parent or caregiver and take your children to a public pool remember lifeguards are not baby sitters. It’s important to supervise your children at all times. No child is drown proof and preschool children are best kept at arm’s length even if you think they are safe in shallow water. Even children who are very confident and competent with swimming skills can find themselves in dangerous situations.
Exploring in Deep Water
Once children have learnt to swim and are independently mobile in the water, it is important that they are given an opportunity to explore and play in deep water. Parents must remain within arm’s reach closely supervising but allow children the freedom to do things for themselves so that they learn their limitations and boundaries. Doing things for themselves will help in teaching children a respect for the water.
If you are in a situation where you have to supervise more than one preschool swimmer it may be advisable to use personal flotation devices. But nothing beats active one on one supervision and keeping a preschool child at arm’s reach at all times. Personal floatation device are also commonly known as life jackets or buoyancy vests. When choosing a PFD make sure it complies with Australian standards and fits children comfortably and securely. Do not choose a PFD that the child will need to grow into as this can be dangerous.
Supervision in Shallow Water
Total non swimmers should be supervised in shallow water play areas. Here they can learn their capabilities and learn to enjoy the water through exploration and play. Learning to swim must be fun and forcing children into deep water before they are comfortable in the shallow will frighten them. Using parental demonstrations to encourage children to do things like submerging their face underwater, floating and kicking will help to make children feel relaxed.
Parents are strongly urged to teach their children to swim before they start school. While some schools offer swimming lessons as part of the physical education program, many don’t. In most cases schools don’t provide enough lessons to teach children to swim competently. Learning to swim will take years to accomplish.
Parental Involvement in the Swimming Lesson
During this age we recommend parental or caregiver involvement in the swimming lesson. Being with your child in the water will promote
- A safe and secure learning environment
- An expectation by the child that they should always swim with Mum, Dad or the trusting adult
- Maximum practice time in the swimming lesson
Remember learning to swim takes a long time to accomplish. Progressive learn to swim should follow
- Water familiarisation
- Breath control
- Free floating
- Learning to breathe
- Safety skills
Learning to swim can open up a myriad of sporting opportunities for our kids. Children will be able to choose to participate in recreation activities or competitive sports like, snorkelling, kayaking, water polo, surfing, or surf lifesaving. Water safety is about creating a safe environment around water. The Kids Alive program encourages parents to
- Fence the pool
- Shut the gate
- Teach your kids to swim – it’s great
- Supervise – watch your mate
- And learn how to resuscitate
Visit the kids alive website for some great free water safety resources