Diving in together – babies (and parents) reap rewards of swimming

She doesn't know it now, but baby Piya is giving herself a potential head start on literacy and numeracy by taking her first underwater plunge at just six months old.

Exposure to swimming has been found to give children starting school an advantage in cognitive, as well as physical skills, though for Piya and her classmates at Bayfit Leisure Centre in Altona, experiencing their first gentle dip was more about the joy.

Wide-eyed: Six-month-old Piya Sharma heads under water with swim instructor Tanya Laube.Credit:Jason South

The new program Splash Time was introduced to extend existing programs for young children to include the under-ones. Piya's mother, Belinda Paulovich, did not begin swimming lessons until she was in primary school and wanted Piya to have an earlier start.

“At the moment she’s just developing familiarity with the water, she’s not really swimming, but I think it’s a really important skill to have,” she said.

In a study about the benefits of swimming in early childhood, Professor Robyn Jorgensen of Griffith University found it offered children significant benefits.

“We found that a lot of the children who began swimming at a young age were reaching developmental milestones much earlier than you’d expect … in some cases even 18 months earlier,” said Jorgensen.

The researchers surveyed parents of 7000 children aged five years and under from Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Splash Time supervisor and veteran swimming teacher, Nathan Taylor, said babies benefit from pool time as well as baths.

“Swimming is a skill for life, they’re never too young to start,” he said. “The bathtub is great, but (for the babies) to actually be in an environment like this, it’s even better.”

Life Saving Victoria’s Swimming and Water Safety education manager, Liz Tesone, agreed that introducing children to swimming earlier in life was beneficial in the long run.

Ms Tesone said that in addition to bonding time with parents, programs such as Splash Time helped infants “to increase confidence and improve motor coordination” and offered “a valuable opportunity to teach parents supervision”.

In Australia, drowning remains one of the leading causes of death in children 0-4 years of age, according to 2019 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In 2015-16 they accounted for 13 per cent of drowning deaths in Victoria (40 per cent of those occurring in backyard pools), and on average four children died due to drowning each year.

Although the number of deaths has reduced over the years, Ms Tesone saidthat active supervision by adults was key in addressing the issue.

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