The art; and importance, of learning to swim

Every year, hundreds of children and adults drown because they cannot swim.  Learning to swim; at any age, is crucial.  Especially in a country where we most of us head to the swimming pool, coast and/or dams, during the upcoming summer months.

I recently spoke to Patricia Groenewald, owner and swimming coach of “Pat’s Swim School” (in South Africa), about the importance of learning to swim.

“Every child needs to know how to swim in order to survive in and around water,” says Patricia.  She believes that swimming lessons should be compulsory and non-negotiable and part of every child’s education.  Patricia added that, although swimming is mainly an extramural activity, it must not be seen as an extravagance, but rather as one of the best investments made by a parent (s).

The latest statistics for drowning in South Africa are increasing; with over more than 600 reported and recorded cases every year!  These figures paint a grim picture and is all the more reason to enrol a child (ren) in swimming lessons.  Not only to teach them a vital life skill, but it will also greatly enhance, promote and improve their auditory and visual skills.  Add to that building overall muscle tone and bone density, optimises respiratory function, teaches coordination and body space awareness, is a low-impact sport / exercise regime, teaches children to work on their own and in a team, teaches children about managing their time properly, and it is something that can be done for years and years!

As a parent / guardian / teacher, there are a few tips for keeping children safe:

  • Be responsible:  teach the child(ren) to ask and adult if they may swim or not; and always ensure that someone is on hand to keep an eye on them while they are in the pool;
  • Drop the distractions while you, as adult, supervise:  no phone call, reading, looking at photos on your phone or having an intense conversation, is more important than vigilant supervision. The American Red Cross said that most children who drown at home were out of sight for “less than 5 minutes and in the care of one or both parents at the time!”;
  • Know the numbers:  it is important to pre-programme emergency numbers into your cell phone and/or memorizing it;
  • Be prepared:  make sure everyone in the family can swim.  If not, sign up for lessons as it is important for everyone not to just swim, but also to hold your own in the water.  It is also not a lost skill to enrol in a water safety course and/or basic fist aid.  The NSRI has plenty of online resources to get you started, as well as Netcare 911.  If uncertain where to go, ask your local gym or a swim school coach.
  • Be vigilant:  pool toys like noodles, boards and floatable ducks, and water wings, can help, but it should never replace adult supervision;
  • Secure the surroundings:  use proper fences, netting or covers, and exercise caution when the deck and areas around the pool is wet.  This year a new law has been passed with regards to the proper closure of pools – make sure everyone knows about it.  Unfortunately, your private pool might be properly secured but your neighbour / friend’s pool not…
  • Wear the required gear:  boaters, kayakers and even anglers should always wear a life jacket.  It might not “look cool” but it can save your life;
  • Act fast:  when a child is missing, check the water first!  It can take a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes for a child to drown.  The longer a person stays under water, the bigger chance he / she has to either die or be left with a permanent disability;
  • Caution when diving:  if you don’t know how deep the water is (especially in a dam or river), do not dive in.  I know of a young man who did it, only to be paralyzed from the neck down, because it wasn’t as deep as he thought!
  • No swimming when drinking:  best to not swim when you had alcohol and/or drugs.  Even painkillers and/or other medications can make you drowsy (especially when you are in the sun as well);
  • Stay within the parameters:  when you are on the beach, listen to the lifeguards and stay within the safety of the beacons.  Teach your children from a young age to always keep an eye on the beacons too;
  • Listen to lifeguards:  whether at a municipal swimming pool, the beach, or at a common property pool (for example in a complex), always adhere to the rules.  Rules are not meant to dampen your fun in the water, but it is there to keep you and your family safe!

According to Netcare 911, parents and guardians must remember that it is not just swimming pools and the sea that can pose a danger to children.  Any water mass can potentially be dangerous (especially if the child is still young).  A shallow bathtub or bucket filled with water can also be harmful, because a small child can easily drown in a few centimetres of water!

Keep in mind that “our world is 71% water; and your child(ren) is(are) 100% curious.”

Therefore; be vigilant, stay safe and take the necessary steps to protect your child(ren) whilst enjoying the water! 

Happy summer to all my followers in the Northern Hemisphere!

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