Swimming Lessons Save Lives

Drowning is a devastating and often preventable cause of death in young children in New Zealand.

Matt Claridgem General Manager of Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) says of drownings, ‘What is particularly tragic is that we know most of the deaths by drowning could have been avoided through a positive mix of appropriate supervision of young children, greater awareness of water safety as a serious issue for all communities, and by ensuring that our youth have the opportunity to learn to swim and survive.”

Making sure your child has swimming lessons is a good start.

“Many parents start swimming lessons out of a concern for their child’s water safety,” says Swim Australia CEO Ross Gage. “Although swimming lessons are never a substitute for parental supervision, they play a crucial part in building layers of protection for young children.”

Here’s one compelling reason to have your child learn to swim by enrolling her in swimming lessons: In 2009, USA’s National Institutes of Health concluded, “Participating in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88 per cent reduction in the risk of drowning in children between the ages of one and four.”

Four layers of protection against drowning

Gage says that they have come up with a four-layer SwimSAFER system that encompasses “layers of protection” to protect children from drowning. The thinking is that if one layer fails there are others behind that may save a life. The layers are:


Children around and in water should always be under constant and active supervision by a competent adult.

Supervision means being in constant visual contact, being within arm’s reach of a non-swimmer or a child under the age of five, not being distracted by anything like phones and doorbells and being ready to respond quickly.


This refers to measures such as ensuring pool fences and gates are in place and meet regulations, and any temporary potential water hazards, like wading pools, are emptied when not in use.

“Children, however, can climb fences.  Children as young as two years old, have drowned in backyard pools after using chairs, bins, pot plants, eskies, etc, to boost themselves up to open the gate or climb over.”

Ensure that there are no items in the yard that children could drag over and use to climb the fence. Outdoor furniture must be secured or too heavy for a child to move.

Swimming and water safety skills

Being able to swim well is one of the greatest gifts that can be bestowed upon a child. The basic swimming and water safety skills for young children should include:

  • Water familiarisation, where small children explore and become comfortable in water environments, developing a respect for the water.
  • Gaining confidence through various water activities such as “safe entries and exits, breath control, submersions, floating, propulsion with arms and legs, turning and back-floating”.
  • Developing formal strokes so that the child can efficiently cover much greater distances.

There are swimming classes available in New Zealand for children as young as 3 months. Find classes near you, here.

Emergency action plan

Because every second counts in a potential drowning, all parents should have an emergency action plan in place, particularly if they have a home pool.

“If you haven’t already done so, revise, refresh or enrol yourself in a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course so you are prepared in case of an emergency.  CPR accreditation is current for a year.”

More water safety tips for parents

Kids’ affinity with the water starts in utero – and parents can build on this at bath time with bub, says Ross Gage.

“The baby doesn’t need to go underwater at this early stage. Using a secure and gentle hold lets them feel the buoyancy and the movement of the water over their skin. These early bath experiences should be free from stress and be a lovely way to build rapport with the water,” he says.

The other tip for parents is to try to keep swimming lessons running all year round, particularly when the kids are young.

“The skills and behaviours taught in lessons need constant reinforcement throughout the year,” Gage says. “The risks posed by drowning don’t go away in the cooler parts of the year, so neither should the lessons – they are one of the most proactive things a parent can do for their child.”

This article was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, New Zealand. Sources include Swim Australia and Water Safety New Zealand.

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  1. gillymama 08/03/2018 at 12:08 pm

    I grew up in the 70’s with swimming lessons from a very young age, I have my 50m backstroke certificate at age 3! It sounds ridiculous that I did that but I did. Mum took us every week for years. My hubby grew up with zero swimming lessons so that when we had kids he didn’t see any need. We went back/forth over the discussion until he agreed our kids needed them, But the cost is actually a really big factor! If we did 4 terms for our 3 kids it would be $1500 a year, even 1 term of lessons is a big shell out however your look at it. I think if I was to do it all again I’d put aside money each week in the early early years and start swimming lessons at age 5, rather than wait till 7/8 and have my kids struggle. My youngest is 7 now and he luckily has had some lessons at school but I’m going to get him in at term 3 to set him up with more skills for summer.

  2. Shelz69 28/02/2018 at 10:25 am

    Swimming lessons are essential but so expensive. I can never afford to do it all year around. I still make the kids attend lessons as I think it’s important they can swim, but they are older than others in the class and it makes them embarrassed. I wish I had the money to do it every term.

  3. Alezandra 27/02/2018 at 10:54 pm

    I agree with Jen’s comment that swimming lessons should be subsidised. It’s expensive to enrol for swim classes but we still take them coz we know how important it is to be water safe. I would like to learn CPR though. That should be on my goals’ list.

  4. danielle2211 27/02/2018 at 9:10 pm

    I agree every child should learn to swim. New zealand is surrounded by water we forget we are actually quite a small island. It frustrates me that schools are getting g rid of pools most sighting that the cost of maintaining them is too high. Now less kids are getting exposed to the water. Last year we received funding for lessons from the Layton swim fund my kids got 2 terms of lessons and the improvement was huge. Lessons do cost alot but most places will let you pay them off, look put on grab one for school holiday deals too.

  5. kymmage 26/02/2018 at 1:03 pm

    I really need to get my youngest into a block course for swimming. They are lucky to have a pool at school and it has been great for water confidence for my eldest. Youngest still is unsure. School has had some free sessions with instructors available as well which has been so good. It’s a life skill that is so necessary here. There’s water everywhere. Whether you are at the beach, by the river or hanging in a gully with a creek.

  6. Jen_Wiig 19/02/2018 at 12:43 pm

    I really wish swimming lessons were subsides or abit more affordable for EVERY NZ child as our statistics are just horrendous… I remember growing up down at the Mt every single one of us as soon as we turned 5 had 3 years of free nippers classes that the regional council paid for (well out parents rates really) but it was a sound investment as we have all grown up to have a healthy respect for the sea and are all confident in the ocean because of it… Something like this in our lounge Al council pools just to take it that step further would be amazing…. For the first 2 years of all my boys schooling they’d been at a school that had a pool (very lucky) as I’ve learnt as they are both now at schools that don’t have pools so only get 3 weeks a year in swimming through school… If we could afford 160 per child per term for lessons we would do it but we can’t and I doubt many can yet there’s a real need for it in our country… I hope regional councils or government will look into this but in meantime we do our best to take our boys to free local pools and do abit of spying on the swim lessons and then do it ourselves hehee

  7. Bevik1971 14/02/2018 at 4:35 pm

    Our 5 year old started school this year and will be going swimming with the school starting this week! I will be likely taking her to separate swimming lessons as well though as it’s very important to be able to swim and cope if you are ever in a situation that calls for it

  8. SarahBlair 13/02/2018 at 4:33 pm

    Swimming lesson are so important! I will be looking into starting my kids next term!

  9. MuddledUpMolly 12/02/2018 at 1:42 pm

    I like the idea of this action plan as we are looking into erecting a permanent pool on our property now that the fencing restrictions are in place. We also would like to look into swimming lessons for our son during the school holidays only as we feel his school have done a great job teaching him the basics 🙂

  10. Mands1980 09/02/2018 at 10:54 am

    My kids do swimming lessons after school as I feel the schools don’t do enough we don’t have a school pool. A few years ago we put in our own pool and we ha e rules that the gate stay shut especially when younger kids are around. There are too many drownings in nz. An emergency action plan is a good idea as well I hadn’t really thought about that.

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