Home » Blog » Swimming » Swimming vs Survival Skills for a School Aged Child

Swimming vs Survival Skills for a School Aged Child

Parents are enrolling their children in water-familiarisation lessons at a younger age than ever before to ensure their child’s acclimation to the water at an early age.

Also, given we inhabit a continent surrounded by coastline and live in a climate where aquatic recreation is available to many, becoming aquatically adept can be regarded as an important element in making the most of what Australian lifestyle has to offer.

Swimming technique vs Survival Skills

As strong a reasons as these are to have a child taught to swim, there is a tendency for parents to get caught up in how far their children can swim, rather than to focus on how long their child is able to stay afloat or if their child can get themselves or others out of danger if required.

While the #1 reason indicated by parents for taking their child to swim lesson is to enhance their child’s water safety and survival skills, are parents confused as to the relative importance of their child becoming a strong ‘technical’ swimmer as opposed to becoming a strong ‘survivor’ or ‘rescuer’?

Water-survival skills

If water-survival skills are indeed regarded as so important to parents, swimming lessons should not only how to teach the child to swim laps with correct technique, but should also equip them with the necessary skills to assist their survival in water should they encounter.

All swim Schools conduct a “Swim Safer Week” or “Safety Week” in which rescue and survival skills are revised and practised with a view to teaching the child to respond automatically in a water-related emergency situation.

However, a parents’ perception (and by association that of their child) of Swim Safer education is often negative. To better appreciate the value of “swim safer” lessons, parents need to be educated on the skills that are taught in these lessons, and to understand the importance of regularly reinforcing these skills in situations away from the lessons.

In the first place, swim safer lessons incorporate an education about fundamental water safety rules including always swimming with an adult, swimming between the flags at the beach, and the inherent potential dangers (such as entries and exits, depths, temperature, obstacles, rips, waves, currents and tides) in a range of aquatic environments besides swimming pools including beaches, lakes and rivers.

These commonsense matters are taught as a means to help prevent the swimmer exposing themselves to danger in a variety of aquatic environments and a variety of conditions, rather than as a means for having the swimmer resolve such danger.


The majority of drowning fatalities occur when the victim is clothed and find themselves in need of help (i.e. while boating, fishing on rocks, or simply playing around the water’s edge in everyday clothing). Wet clothing has an unexpected greater weight than regular swimwear, and this may cause panic.

In swim safer lessons we have the children swim in clothing too familiarise and educate the children what is feels like to wear clothes in water. It is important for swimmers to be given the opportunity to wear everyday clothing into the pool so they can understand how heavy their clothes are in water, how it sinks them lower in the water and makes swimming to safety difficult, and how difficult it is to remove clothing in water.

Although we cannot expect a child to think strategically or use problem-solving techniques to deal with complex scenarios related to the water, we can offer them (age-dependent) rescue principles and mechanisms that will assist them to cope with emergencies with themselves and/or others regardless of their age or ability or the unfamiliarity of the environment.

Action Plans to prevent drowning

Action plans we teach include the importance of remaining calm, calling for help or emergency assistance, and using items in the available environment to assist rescues (from normal floatation aids to tree branches, esky lids, buckets, clothing etc) Being able to stay afloat, reach safety and negotiate obstacles while in the water form a vital component of “swimming safer”.

Where this is forgotten by parents, there tends to be confusion about the relative importance of swimming laps and swimming to survive. The principles of being able to swim in a swimming pool are fundamentally different to those of other aquatic environments where the temperature and conditions needs to be taken into consideration.

Back floating, treading water, sidestroke and breaststroke are survival mechanisms designed to assist the swimmer to relax, conserve energy and/or move through the water efficiently in unfamiliar aquatic situations, and there is just as much need for these to be taught as there is a need to teach competitive strokes.

Swim safer and survival skill education lessons provide an opportunity for a swim teacher to discuss potential scenarios and situations with their pupils, and to teach the techniques to be used should an emergency be encountered.

When it comes to swimming lessons, it is not sufficient for a child to simply learn how to swim, and it is equally important for them to be taught survival and rescue skills – skills that could save lives….and potentially the life of your child.

NOTE – The activities discussed in this column are employed with the learn-to-swim child (i.e. school-aged child), and although some of these activities can be adapted for the under-5 age group, children of this age tend not to have the required physical capabilities or comprehension to perform them.