New ways of teaching swimming survival skills

Retaining crucial survival skills is the focus of a novel new water safety programme for 7- to 11-year-olds in Otago.

One hundred and twenty children from around Dunedin took part in a new initiative teaching water safety and survival skills in real-world open-water environments such as beaches, harbours and rivers over the summer holidays.

University of Otago water safety expert Associate Professor Chris Button was now waiting to see if children who took part in the programme would retain the knowledge they had acquired.

 “What we’ve found previously when we teach the children in the pool is they quickly improve, but they don’t retain information for too long,” says Associate Professor Button, of the University’s Department of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise.

In order to see if the programme was not just a fun week at the beach, the children will be assessed in three months.

“So we really want to see and hopefully find that the children have been able to remember what they have been taught; that they will be able to understand and see what a rip current is, for example. That will give us more confidence that in the future as they become adults that they have learned some of these things.”

Yet even if the programme proved successful, Button believed it would be currently unrealistic to expect it to be added to New Zealand’s primary school curriculum.

“I understand it’s difficult for schools. You need expertise when you take people into the open water environment. I’m not sure schools have that capacity to deliver what we’ve done this week, so maybe it’s a question of partnering as we’ve done with support organisations, all of whom have been keen to share their knowledge and information with children.”

Mark Lindsay, the manager of Policy and Advocacy for Water Safety New Zealand, said the project would “add to our knowledge around how children respond to water survival skills training and how well they understand and retain that knowledge”.

“Ultimately, this work will help to keep all New Zealand children safe while enjoy our water,” he said.

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