Swimming a skill for life

TESTING THE WATER: Leanne and Olivia Burns at yesterday's learn to swim class.
TESTING THE WATER: Leanne and Olivia Burns at yesterday's learn to swim class.

NO sport could be more important than the one that might save a life.

“It's very important that kids get into swimming early," Orange Ex-Services’ Club swimnming instructor Nat Archer said.

“For safety reasons, nothing is more important than learning to swim.

“You hear too many stories about drownings that could have been avoided.”

As Orange's summer swim season kicks off, more than 600 children have been enrolled in learn to swim classes.

Each week, on average, one child drowns in Australia, making it the greatest cause of accidental death in children under five.

While more advanced classes focused on stroke correction and technique, Mrs Archer said beginner lessons aimed to build confidence and encouraged children to have fun in the water.

“Basically, they're learning how their body moves through the water,” she said.

“If they're having fun in the water and they're confident in the water, if there was to be an incident, they've got the confidence to get themselves out.”

Assisted lessons, where a parent also participates, incorporate singing and games in the teaching of basic skills, such as opening the eyes underwater and breathing.

Mother Elita Bird took her 10-month-old son Max for his first swimming lesson yesterday.

“He's a really active baby and I thought it would be fun,” she said.

“I also wanted him to learn water safety early.”

From birth to the pool

IT'S never too early to teach a child to swim, says Olympic gold medal coach and water safety expert Laurie Lawrence.

“In terms of starting, I believe in starting as soon as you get home from hospital,” he said.

“If they learn early and at an early age, they’ll learn not only the skills that may one day save their life but a respect for the water.”

Since 1988, Mr Lawrence has been running his Kids Alive - Do the Five water safety program to combat drowning.

For the second year in a row, the website is offering five water safety lessons online for parents who are unable to get their children to swimming classes.

“There's a lot of people in this country that can't afford lessons for themselves, I figure this is one way we can get out into the community and encourage people to do things,” he said.

Orange Ex-Services’ Club swim instructor Nat Archer said if parents were forced to choose between swimming and another sport for their children, they should make swimming their priority.

"If you can't afford to do both, do swimming first. Swimming will save their life," she said.