Swimming is a recreational activity that dates back to pre-historic times. It emerged as a competitive sport only in the 1830s in England, where the very first indoor swimming pool was made accessible to the masses. Today, whether competitive or purely recreational, swimming is an activity that is enjoyed by individuals of all ages worldwide. Purposes of leisure aside, swimming is probably the only sport which also doubles as a lifeskill. Hence, taking up swimming offers several benefits, some of which include increasing the body’s stamina and being equipped with the crucial skills to keep oneself safe in open waters. Not yet convinced that you should send your child for swimming classes? Mr Danny Ong, a coach with SwimSafer, a national water safety programme introduced in July 2010, offers his expertise on why parents should strongly consider introducing swimming to their young children.
Why The Need to Learn Swimming?
First and foremost, we live on an island nation; this translates to us being surrounded by water on all borders. In fact, approximately seventy percent of our Earth is covered in water. Although enjoying oneself in a body of water can be fun, it can turn dangerous should one not be able to control his or her body in the water. According to statistics compiled by the United Nations (UN), drowning is the fourth leading cause of death in the world. Hence, it becomes extremely important to equip children with lifesaving and water survival skills when they are young. Swimming lessons will teach our young ones skills such as proper floating techniques and the correct protocol to follow should they or someone else be in danger in the water. “Once a child learns how to swim, he or she can enjoy the water, and can also be safe,” says Mr Ong, who has been a swimming coach for two decades.
So, what is the ideal age at which you should commence swimming lessons for your child? There is no such thing at all as a recommended age to begin taking up swimming; it is entirely based on the individual child as well as how comfortable parents are with the notion of their child being exposed to water at a tender age. It is encouraging to note that “parent-and-child” type swimming programmes have gained popularity in recent times. Infants as young as four months old can experience the feel of water with the aid of floatation devices, while assisted by their parents. If you are extremely enthusiastic about the idea of your child learning swimming as soon as possible, you can even start as early as a month old – yes! You may choose to kickstart your child’s journey with water in your home, in a shallow bath tub. The ultimate aim is to let your baby start getting used to the feel of water on his or her skin. The child’s comfort level should remain the utmost priority of all parents. Do take note that any infant under the age of four months should not be exposed to the water in a public swimming pool. This is because a baby’s immune system is still not yet fully developed at this age and is highly susceptible to germs and bacteria. Even past the four month mark, it is advised that your infant should be exposed to warm water first; babies tend to feel cold very quickly as the surface area of their little bodies is small.
Making The First Experience A Positive One
How do you find a swimming pool with warm water? There are some private swimming schools in Singapore which offer classes for infants in indoor warm water pools. Apart from these, you can also consider visiting public swimming pools between certain hours; 10.30am to 11.30am in the late morning or 4pm to 6pm in the evening – the water is usually lukewarm during these timings on a regular day which has not seen rain. If that is not feasible for you, here is a suggestion from Mr Ong: “Bring a hot flask with you and mix the hot water into the pool water. Then scoop up the now warm water and gently pour it onto the child’s skin as he or she is lowering into the water. This will make the transition very smooth.” This method can be used with babies and toddlers as well, especially on days which are notably chilly. Mr Ong continues, “We must always respect the child’s feelings when it concerns the temperature of the water. We should be positive and encouraging and not resort to using force.” The child’s learning environment is of importance as it is capable of influencing the learning process for better or worse. Singapore tends to experience significantly lower temperatures during the months of January and February. Thus, it would be best to avoid these months when making a maiden visit to the swimming pool so that children are not put off by the extra icy water. The first experience should always leave a positive impression.
The Benefits of Learning Swimming
Swimming offers numerous benefits, some of which are increasing one’s cardiovascular function, building up one’s self-esteem and confidence, and preserving one’s joints by exerting less impact on them as compared to sports on land. It has also long been believed to improve the lung function of asthmatic children. However, if you should decide to enrol your asthmatic child in a swimming class, do ensure that they bring along an inhaler and inform the coach of their condition prior to the first lesson. Swimming is a skill that is all the more important and relevant to Singaporean children as they are surrounded by water. Our young ones these days are also frequent travellers. “They should know what to do in order to keep themselves safe at overseas water parks and beaches,” says Mr Ong. Simple but crucial skills such as allowing oneself to be rescued during a crisis in the water and opening one’s eyes underwater are best learned progressively. The former might seem redundant, but according to Mr Ong, a person in distress in water would not be inclined to grab onto a floatation device. Instead, they would be more willing to hold onto another human being. The latter is an essential skill that will provide the brain with a pre-conditioned signal that the eyes must feel comfortable when exposed to water. This would hence prevent a child from panicking in a real-life crisis in open water.
The SwimSafer Programme
SwimSafer is a national water safety programme introduced by the National Water Safety Council (NWSC) five years ago. Manulife Singapore is the presenting sponsor of SwimSafer. It consists of six progressive stages, each constituting twelve hours of lesson time. Water survival and activity skills are taught in each stage, working steadily towards the next stage. At the end of each stage, each child will receive a stage completion certificate showing his or her individual skill achievements. A badge will also be awarded upon the completion of each stage. SwimSafer is a comprehensive programme which transits from play to stroke competency. It covers all aspects of water safety, water survival and rescue procedures. While most swimming lessons emphasise on swimming strokes, SwimSafer’s syllabus is aligned with what other international swimming bodies, such as in the UK, USA and Australia, are teaching currently. It is also a very much child-centred course as instructors do not dictate the period of time within which a child must finish the six stages – it is left entirely to the pace of every child. Mr Ong states, “We must take into account the self-esteem of the child and not emphasise on finishing the course quickly. The instructors will know best as to when to put the child through a swimming assessment – only when he or she is fully ready.”
Handling A Child Who is Afraid of Water
How are children with a phobia of water handled during their first swimming lesson? They are never forced into the water and they are allowed to stay with their parents and first watch the programme being conducted. “You do not have to enter the water if you are not comfortable. This prevents fighting with the child and also the wastage of time.” The intention is to not trigger a negative image of the pool in the child’s mind. Only then can skills learnt during a swimming course be fully and positively utilised by the child in the future. As many malls these days have rooftop water playgrounds, allowing children to frequent them and enjoy themselves splashing about in the shallow waters would be a good fundamental activity which can pave a path that culminates in fully grasping water survival skills.
Swimming: Ultimately A Lifeskill
44-year-old Director of Advocacy at the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, Charlotte Goh, has enrolled her four year old son, Jonas, in the SwimSafer programme. “My husband and I are water lovers and we wanted Jonas to learn to love the water and to enjoy water, not just the sport of swimming. We wanted him, therefore, to be water-safe. The benefits have paid off as he is proficient in taking care of himself in water.” Her ultimate focus for now is on her son having fun in the water. She says, “Water play and swimming lessons must be fun at this age. It’s not about building a national swimmer… yet.” She adds that Jonas’ love for water is pronounced and that he has learnt swimming strokes that will take him further. Ms. Goh would also highly recommend the SwimSafer programme to other parents as she considers swimming to be a lifeskill.
In Singapore, the majority of drowning cases do not occur in swimming pools, but in open waters. Thus, there is a need to be familiar with water safety, and rescue and survival techniques. There is no such thing as being able to “drown-proof” oneself; the closest we can come is to say that we are trained to prevent a drowning incident. “Natural disasters such as tsunamis and man-made mishaps at sea are beyond our control,” admits Mr Ong. “Parents should encourage their children to take up swimming because it is ultimately about water safety. Once you master it, you are pretty much safe in the water.”
SwimSafer is conducted at all ActiveSg public swimming complexes as well as at selected private condominium pools. Click here for more information on SwimSafer.