A study done at Australia’s Griffith University has fueled my thinking over the past few years and provided a basis for curriculum elements that put the premise of this study into action.
The study – based on three years of staged activities -revealed some pretty profound benefits to early childhood swim lessons. And that these benefits extend into areas of learning, well-being and development that are not typically associated with any sort of sports activity or lesson.
The study shows that children participating in early years swimming show signs of enhanced skills. This skills development is pretty unique to early childhood swim lessons – leaving other sports out in the cold when it comes to the types of benefits I’ll mention here.
Language Skills, Social Skills, Intellectual Disposition and School Skills are all highly-valued as children enter into the formal education process and have been identified through Griffith’s study as results from early childhood swimming. As they interact with teachers and the swim environment, children have more opportunities to develop new words and concepts beyond what is familiar from or learned at home. Language skills can vary from new vocabulary and new sets of words to new ways of interacting with other children, instructors and other parents.
Social Skills: Being in social groups with other children from an early age helps in the way the children interact and bond with their peers – which is critical for interactions in our broader society. The confidence, trust and sense of adventure instilled through swim helps children to try new activities. We often see children become friends with others in their class and we see families heading off to the park together after swim class to spend time together.
Intellectual Disposition: Swim lessons use an underlying framework of mathematical and language concepts that are very much linked to actions to physically and cognitively put the two together. This has a direct correlation to early childhood education lessons using the same patterns. An added advantage is that these language and mathematics concepts are offered in a non-threatening environment where children are comfortable in expressing themselves. That is why we have so many bright colours and encourage children to count.
School Skills: Exposing children at an early age to instructional methods helps them to become familiar with similar practices that they will experience in more formal school-type settings such as preschools and/or schools. The swim environment is highly focused on safety and routines to ensure that children are safe demonstrate strong instructional imperatives are usually not present in the home.
Swim Lessons Foster Development of Lifelong Skills
- Children in the 0-2 years age range: participation in swimming programs can hasten motor development.
- Children aged 16-20 months exhibit considerable gains in the movements required for turning and reaching for a wall that this may be possible due to the reduction in gravitational forces when in the pool.
- Mentally, young children in their classes seem to be more confident, smarter, more social and interact better with their peers than children who don’t swim.
- When children enjoy the aquatic environment, they are listening to their teachers and following instructions.
- Swim lessons give children a non-threatening environment to development communication skills, experience new speech patterns and interact with new people – young and old.
- Swim lessons allow children to enjoy the company of their peers.
Learning to Swim Offers More
Why swimming offers more than other sports or physical education programs (dance, ballet, football, gymnastics):
- Children can participate in learn-to-swim activities before they can walk.
- No other sport offers the same scope for the participation of young children.
- Parents are in the water with their kids from the time they are six months old.
- Swimming blends more language, social, mathematical, school and developmental skills into its learning than other sports.
- The water environment offers a support for the child which is not present in other contexts.
Children with Disabilities
One of the most amazing transformations to witness is that of a disabled child enjoying and learning in the water alongside their friends. In studies with children with disabilities, it has been found that the support of the water offers a unique environment for the child’s mobility and movement and sort of levels the playing field for them with children who do have disabilities.
Studies have shown that learning to swim and the water supported environment have helped:
- To enhance mobility and aerobic strength and improvements in gross motor development under-fives with low muscle tone.
- To improve gross motor skills among children with autism.
- Helped children with disabilities enhance both their motor and affective skills so as to be more confident with their sense of self.
Early childhood swimming opens up opportunities for children to make the most of themselves. It is indeed an activity that has lifelong benefits that tremendously outweigh the investment in lessons.
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