Sitting poolside, it’s fascinating to see how different children approach the water. The fearless ones bomb into the pool and create a large ripple of waves, much to their parents’ disapproval. At the shallow end, other armband-clad youngsters pace the perimeter, gazing at the wet, wavy stuff, sniffing that alien chlorine, trying to look brave, and fearful of taking the plunge. Yet, the only way for a water-averse child to progress is to persevere with swimming pool visits until he or she feels comfortable enough to dip those little toes in! Rewards for such early bravery will be repaid by the bucket-load, as children grow older. And, happily, two thirds of the world’s surface will suddenly become less threatening.
The huge importance of teaching a child to swim cannot be better highlighted than by the fact that drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death amongst children. Tragically, around 160 people drown each year in Ireland. Most accidents are known to have happened in inland waters, such as lakes, rivers and canals; followed by accidents around the coast; and then in swimming pools. So, it goes without saying that children need to learn a healthy respect for water and understand not to push the limits of safety. Basic water safety tips are available from your local lifeguard or visit the Irish Water Safety website - www.iws.ie where you will be flooded with water safety advice and information.
Yet the greatest way to learn basic water safety is simply to learn to swim. And the teasing appeal of crystal-clear water on a scorching day makes summer the perfect time of year to start swimming or to refresh techniques. With this natural attraction towards water at this time of year, it is also a great time for your child to learn to swim or to improve that swimming technique. In addition to basic water safety, the advantage of learning to swim is that it is a healthy activity which can be continued throughout life. As it exercises the whole body, regular swimming also builds stamina, muscle strength and cardio-vascular fitness. Plus it helps combat obesity and improve poor levels of fitness. There are also non-physical advantages to swimming, such as learning self-discipline and gaining a sense of sportsmanship. Research has shown that, in general, as a group, swimmers seem to do better in school than non-swimmers.
Swimming at School:
The aquatics programme, part of the Primary School Curriculum, is concerned with gaining competence and confidence near, in, under and on water. The term ‘aquatics’ is used to include not only the teaching of swimming strokes but the provision of opportunities for enjoyment of water play. The aquatics programme is presented without division into class levels and aims to extend a child’s knowledge of swimming strokes, plus make them appreciate the dangers of water.
Outside of school many local pools run crash courses designed to significantly enhance swimming performance during the summer. Ask at your local pool or check out the Swim Ireland website: www.swimireland.ie
Once a child can learn to swim, there will be oceans of access to a wide range of other water-based activities. We’ve listed some of the more popular ones here:
The appeal of kayaking continues to grow and children can learn the basic skills at some local swimming pools, rivers, lakes or reservoirs. For more go to the Irish Canoe Union website at www.canoe.ie.
As soon as children can swim they can learn to snorkel and as they get older, master the basics skills of diving. For more information on becoming a SASY member (Supplied Air Snorkelling for Youth) go to www.padi.com. Children aged 8 and over can join the Bubblemaker programme or Seal Team, both designed to teach the fundamentals of diving. Or alternatively you can visit the Irish Underwater Council website at www.cft.ie.
The aquatic sport of sailing will appeal to any water baby. The Irish Sailing Association ‘Youth Sailing’ is run by its Olympic Division and invests in squads and coaching programmes in Ireland, to develop the standard of young sailors and help them to progress. They currently provide classes for sailors from 9 years old. For details visit the Irish Sailing Association website at www.sailing.ie. Or check out the youth sailing Bebo Site at www.bebo.com/ISAYouthNationals.
The popularity of surfing amongst girls and boys has exploded over the last few years. No longer considered an extreme sport just for their teenage peers, some surf schools are now offering private one-to-one tuition to children as young as six. In general, most surf schools teach youngsters from age eight upwards. Soft boards otherwise known as foamie’s are used for beginners as they are easier to balance on and will not hurt the novice surfer the same way a hard board would. If your child would like to try this exciting sport, you can find a list of registered surf schools at the Irish Surfing Association website - www.isasurf.ie.