In November we held Water Safety Week at Fulton Swim School where we encouraged the children to wear a pair of pyjamas for their usual swimming lesson, our teachers wore Christmas themed pjs and we got to play with life jackets and pretend to fall in the water. All tonnes of fun for the kids in the water with an important underlying theme - learning how to be safe in water and how to save their own life!
During this week we had some fantastic conversations with family members who wanted to learn how they too can reinforce at home what we were teaching their children. There was lots of interest and great questions from parents and caregivers about how to go about teaching their children how to be safe in and around water from a young age.
This blog post is an outline of what was taught during water safety week and how you can adapt each message to suit your child’s age and development, just as we do in our swimming lessons!
Fulton Swim School’s “DO THE FIVE” Method
At Fulton Swim School we have a ‘do the five’ method which teaches your children to count off the five most important things to remember when they are around water and before they go swimming.
Firstly as adults, always supervise your child around water. We have a 3 second rule when they are in or near water where you check on them every 3 seconds. A child slipping under water or getting into trouble happens incredibly quickly. Our teachers at Fulton Swim School see every child in their swimming lesson every 3 seconds while teaching.
“It’s important to always stay with your child and watch them whenever they’re near water – even when they can swim. Supervision means constant visual contact with your child and keeping them within arm’s reach at all times. You should be in a position to respond quickly, whether you’re at the beach or the swimming pool, near dams, rivers and lakes, or at home near the bath or spa” - Raising Children Blog
When teaching your child about the importance of always being supervised in water, encourage them to think critically about where you are in relation to where they are. At a young age, children have less awareness of others than adults but it is something that is developing! A fantastic way to create awareness about themselves in their environment is by using questions.
Here are some examples you can use:
Can mum/dad/your name see you from where I am?
Have your child stand next to you and look at the water from your perspective so they see what you see.
Can you see me from where you are in the water?
Before they get excited about swimming show them where they are allowed to swim and have them check they can see you at all times
Is there anywhere you think I might not be able to see you?
Especially when outdoors if there are corners or blind spots where you are swimming. Have your child point out where supervision isn’t possible if they go there.
2. Learn to swim
The best way we can enable our children to be safe in water is to teach them how to swim. Children are their own first response when they are in water and learning how to swim gives them more confidence and the ability to instinctively keep themselves safe should the need arise. As Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines says, ‘supervision around water is always critical but what’s especially important to note is there is an 88% reduction in drowning risk for children if they learn to swim.’
In addition to learning formal swimming strokes, we teach your children survival swimming strokes in their lessons. There are important differences in these when using them to get out of trouble in water, even for adults! We strongly encourage you to practice these with your child when taking them swimming as it reinforces what they are learning in lessons.
Survival swimming strokes (age and swim level appropriate)
- Kick and paddle (from 6 months old through to early primary age): teaching children to move their arms and legs to get themselves to the side of a pool to hold on or to surface and back float.
- Doggy paddle (for those learning the beginning stages of freestyle): teaches children to swim with their heads up so they can breath, see and navigate their way to the edge of water
- Survival breaststroke (for full length swimmers through to adults): using circular motions with the arms and legs and head up so they can see and breath. This survival swimming stroke uses the least amount of energy which is important if it’s needed for a longer period of time. It also allows the child to breath and see where they are going to get to safety.
- Back float (every age): this is the resting stroke. Always teach your child that they can float on their back at any point if they are tired and call for help.
3. Search for hazards
This is another way to teach your child to develop awareness of their surroundings and what might create a safety concern for them in water. This can be practiced even if your child isn’t going swimming and you’re just near the water (when walking past a beach or lake).
The types of hazards we encourage children to search for are; water depth, current, big waves / rips, floating debris, boats, surfers etc. Great water safety activities for your children are to stand near water and ask them to identify what might be a hazard or danger to them if they went near it.
Water depth is one of the biggest hazards for small children. If your child is too young to understand what hazards are, one of the ways to begin encouraging this awareness is to have them enter a pool safely by holding onto the side and not letting go until their feet touch the floor.
4. Never swim alone
Another important message taught to your child during water safety week was to never swim alone and is one we strongly encourage families to reiterate. This goes hand in hand with always being supervised in and near water. This is a message to teach your child from a very young age by saying things such as; ‘not without mummy or daddy’ or ‘wait for me to say yes’. Having your child wait for permission to do things such as turn on a tap, climb into their bath or enter a swimming pool will teach them to think twice before entering water even as they get older.
At Fulton Swim School this is integrated into our lessons every week with your child. We teach them to wait for the teacher’s permission to enter the pool even if they are nearby, as well as things such as going to the deep end, diving, or going beyond where their level swims to in the pool.
5. Learn first aid
Time Magazine suggests parents learn basic rescue techniques and CPR so that they are able to respond in case of a water emergency. “Kids like to play when they’re in the water, you need to watch them when they’re going under, make sure they’re coming up to the surface.” If you have a swimming pool or plan on taking your children to swim where there are no qualified lifeguards on duty it is even more important that you have the skills to respond in a water emergency.
When teaching this to your children we teach them how to help someone else that is in trouble in water. The first and most important lesson is they are to never jump into water to help someone else as they too can get into trouble. We encourage children if they see someone struggling in water to find an adult or lifeguard immediately.
When teaching your children how to both ask for help in water and to also recognise someone in trouble the hand signal is one arm straight in the air and calling for help. Waving in the water can be easily misinterpreted.
Always being supervised, learning to swim, searching for hazards, never swimming alone, and learning how to help others are the five most important things you can teach your child about water safety. These five points are integrated into all our swimming lessons at Fulton Swim School and as your child gets older or their swimming ability increases we adapt to ensure they continue to learn the best way to keep themselves safe in water.
If you have any questions about teaching your child any of these messages you are more than welcome to ask us at the pool!