Swimming lessons no substitute for supervision, Guelph professor says

As temperatures rise and people head to pools and lakes to cool off, a University of Guelph professor is reminding parents that swimming lessons — especially for young children — may not be enough to prevent drowning.

'Swim lessons teach rudimentary skills, but not sufficient to keep them from drowning in a panic state'

Swimming lessons for children under five aren't a replacement for proper supervision around water, a University of Guelph professor says. (Reuters)

As temperatures rise and people head to pools and lakes to cool off, a University of Guelph professor is reminding parents that swimming lessons — especially for young children — may not be enough to prevent drowning.

Barbara Morrongiello, Canada Research Chair in Child/Youth Injury Prevention, told CBC Radio that parents can overestimate a child's swimming ability if they've taken lessons early on.

"Swim lessons teach rudimentary skills, but not sufficient to keep them from drowning in a panic state," Morrongiello said.

A recent report from the Lifesaving Society Canada shows that for children under five who drown, 93 per cent had no supervision or a distracted supervisor.

What can occur when a young child has taken swimming lessons is the parent thinking the child's ability is beyond what the instructor has noted.

"They don't think their child needs as much close supervision," Morrongiello said.

She says that there is value in swimming lessons for younger children, including making them more comfortable in water and to learn safe behaviour around water, but lessons aren't a replacement for supervision, especially with young children.

"The little ones, they can learn safety rules, they can learn about treading water, but the prospect of being able to acquire enough of a skill set to save themselves is a bit much to ask," Morrongiello said.  

Parents also need to be educated about what children actually learn in early lessons and be reminded that drowning often doesn't involve a lot of noise or splashing.

"They need to understand how quickly and quietly children drown — especially little ones," Morrongiello said. "They have little lungs and if those lungs fill with water they're going down."

Although "unparented" swimming lessons are offered  — depending on ability — for children as young as three, the Canadian Paediatric Society says children won't be competent swimmers until age six or seven.

"No young child, particularly those who are preschool aged, can ever be considered water safe," the CPS states.