Australian summer safety warning as children's swimming skills slide during COVID lockdown

Kingswim Deakin swimming instructor Olivia Foley teaches Indie Delac, 8, and Ella Dufty-Noffke, 9 ahead of the summer swim season. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Kingswim Deakin swimming instructor Olivia Foley teaches Indie Delac, 8, and Ella Dufty-Noffke, 9 ahead of the summer swim season. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Swimming instructor Olivia Foley enjoyed getting back into the pool after the Canberra lockdown forced pools to close.

But in the month-and-a-half when children missed out on their swimming lessons at Kingswim Deakin, she's noticed a drop in their skills, stamina and confidence in the water.

"You've got to make sure that your kid has both the capabilities and the confidence in the water because one without the other ... can be really dangerous," she said.

Water safety advocates are urging Australians to improve their swimming skills and be extra vigilant as we head into the summer season.

University of Newcastle's Dr Drew Miller has noticed children have lost some motor skills and fitness during the lockdown when organised sport and exercise came to a halt.

"Swimming is a motor skill ... that unfortunately has really high risk. So if we're seeing that kids' motor skills have dropped, and their fitness levels because their activity may have dropped as well, then that's a bit of a double whammy," he said.

Dr Miller said students needed to progressively ease back into their swimming lessons, or other physical activity, in a supportive environment so that they don't feel shame if their skills or fitness declined.

Royal Life Saving Society Australia chief executive Justin Scarr said last summer there was a spike in drowning as lockdowns lifted and people went to unfamiliar swimming spots, including rivers, lakes and beaches.

"We are fearful that this summer with the number of people that will be moving around, holidaying domestically, perhaps doing day trips down to local rivers, that we will again see significant drowning emergencies," Mr Scarr said.

"So we were just urging people to be cautious around water to know the limitations not take unnecessary risks. Avoid alcohol and drugs around water of course and wear a life jacket if boating."

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Research from Royal Life Saving Society showed 532 children aged four and under drowned in the past 19 years and that 40 per cent of these children were just one year old.

"I think it's really important to stress that child drowning, unfortunately, is the most significant issue in children under the age of two," Mr Scarr said.

"And so the moment a child turns one, their drowning risk triples and quite often they're drowning in the home environment in a backyard swimming pool.

"Swimming and water safety is vitally important, but we should also stress that swimming lessons are about fun, they're about health, and they're about safety. And they're something that are a long term investment in a child's safety."

Active supervision and keeping backyard pools secure was key to preventing drowning, Mr Scarr said.

Kingswim is gearing up to offer a fast track program over summer where children can do a 30-minute lesson each day for four consecutive days to brush up on their technique and confidence in the water.

Ms Foley said the school provides lessons to 12-week-old babies through to adults.

"It's a really important life skill, I think, especially in Australia considering how much of our culture is centred around water sports and swimming," she said.

"I think that no matter when it is, no matter what level your kid is at, no matter where you are, it's really important to make sure that you start that skill and it is not ever too late."

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This story Summer safety warning as swimming skills slide during lockdown first appeared on The Canberra Times.