There's more to teaching children to swim

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Learning to swim is almost considered 'a rite of passage' for water-loving Australians.

Most parents are eager to ensure their children are familiar with water from a young age, believing 'swimming' education is an essential part of their child's life learning.

However, ask parents when they believe their child will be safe in water and they'll invariably reply: "When they know how to swim".

Delving further into their answers often reveals that many parents believe their child has 'learnt to swim' when they can 'swim a length of the pool'. Any industry professional will tell you this is a fallacy, but it can be a tough one to shake.

Just as what goes on in a school classroom today is almost unrecognisable from the classroom of our own childhood (thank goodness!), so too is what happens in the best of today's swimming programs.

Fortunately, most programs now include water safety elements. However, a review of lesson structures and classes reveal a water safety element often left to the last five minutes of any 30 minute class, and often consists of little more than an introduction to treading water in the pool's deep end.

As a parent, you need to know what to look for when researching where to take your child for 'swimming lessons'.

Given the continued tragic, and largely preventable, loss of life and permanent disability caused by aquatic accidents, you want to make sure your children know what to do in all kinds of water environments, not just how to make it from one end of the pool to the other.

The best of today's swimming lesson providers should equip your children with skills which teach them how to be safe in all aquatic environments - for example the sea, a dam, a river, a lake. For example, would your child, or you, for that matter, know what to do if caught in a rip at one of our popular surf beaches? If they slipped down a river embankment?

At the YMCA, we prefer the term 'aquatic education' to 'swimming lessons', because being safe in and around water is about much more than just 'learning to swim'.

You might be surprised to learn that open water environments can be simulated in a swimming pool, under the supervision of appropriately qualified teachers.

It's never too late. Don't get anxious if your children haven't had formal lessons as babies. There are a number of entry points for children to get started, many of them during primary school years, through your children's schools or in after school hours or weekend programs.

There are also some great school holiday swimming programs on offer for primary and second school students.

Lessons for adults

At the Y, we also offer aquatic education for adults. So if you want to brush up on your swimming strokes and learn personal water safety and survival skills, at the same time as your children are learning, it's not just possible - it may just save a life.

Visit the website at www.victoria.ymca.org.au to find your local YMCA pool.

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