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Majority of children end swimming lessons classes before they’re safe in water
Three out of four children quit swimming classes by age eight, long before they have learned skills that could save their lives, according to a new report that says learning to swim at an early age is not always the best option.
The new Royal Life Saving Society - Australia report shows that children are also starting lessons earlier today than in the 1980s and 1990s, with Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Justin Scarr explaining that there had been a "massive transformation" in the way swimming was taught, with many children starting lessons earlier and quitting sooner.
Scarr told Fairfax media “younger is not always better, and our concern is many children exit swimming lessons at an age where they are less likely to learn the lifesaving skills that will protect them.”
In particular, they would be more vulnerable later as teenagers when swimming and undertaling related activities such as boating and snorkelling when they're less likely to be supervised.
The report also finds that parents often pulled children out of lessons because of lack of time, competing after-school activities and cost.
Children who had regular weekly lessons were most likely to reach national safety and swimming benchmarks at age nine and 10. Yet only 25% were staying in lessons long enough to reach this standard, the analysis revealed.
The benchmarking report analysed 61,260 children from birth to age 15 - including 43,201 in primary school - who attended private swimming school lessons in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.
It found there were more four-year-olds doing classes than any other group, with 15%. Young primary aged children five to seven accounted for 53% of all children in classes. But the numbers of children doing swimming lessons fell sharply from eight years of age to only 2% of children aged 12 (about the same number of two-year-olds).
Because children were being pulled out of lessons too soon, 83% of 12-year-old children couldn’t tread water for two minutes - the goal for children by the time they finish primary school – 40% couldn't swim 50 metres of freestyle or backstroke, and one third couldn’t swim 25 metres of survival strokes.
More affluent families accounted for 57% of all children who attend swimming classes.
The report found it took an average of 30 private lessons - at a cost ranging from $15 to $22 per lesson - over 12-to-15-months before a child could swim 50 metres.
Matthew Griffiths, Manager of the Aquatic Safety Training Academy in Sydney’s Seven Hills, said swimming lessons were "right up there in cost" with other children's activities.
Griffith advised that many families start parent and baby swimming lessons and then dropped out, and came back a few years later. Another group of parents tended to start their children later, and then drop out in early years of primary school when there was pressure on time and money.
Griffith advised "it is an activity that they do for a while, until parents feel comfortable with their level of competency.
Yet studies have shown parents overestimated their children's swimming and safety abilities.
Griffith added that swimming was one of the few public health interventions that was low cost with a high return on investment, adding "but parents' attitudes are often that it is sport, a physical pursuit, and not a life-saving intervention.”
Parents sometimes assumed that their school would provide lessons but that wasn't always the case. NSW public schools may choose to provide swimming, but many schools don't because parents are unwilling to pay extra.
As well as training swimming instructors and lifeguards and offering swimming lessons, Griffth's academy also ran discounted programs for schools.
However, he advised that it was common for schools to say, "our parents cannot afford to do this activity."
Scarr is urging parents to reassess the swimming and safety skills of children aged between 10 and 14 years, and to use winter to inmprove their water safety skills, and apply for the $100 Active Kids rebate voucher from the NSW Government.
Images: Justin Scarr (top) and lessons at the Aquatic Safety Training Academy (below).
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30th September 2010 - RLSSA TRAINING ACADEMY TO PROMOTE AQUATIC SAFETY
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