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New ways of teaching swimming survival skills

A leading University of Otago water safety expert Associate Professor Chris Button is eager to see if children who took part in a novel new water safety programme will retain crucial survival skills they’ve learned over the holiday break.

120 children aged between 7 and 11 from around Dunedin have taken part in a new initiative teaching water safety and survival skills in real-world open-water environments such as beaches, harbours and rivers.

In order to see if the programme was truly successful and not just a fun week at the beach, the children will be assessed in three months to see if they remember the skills and knowledge they’ve been taught.

“Because 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.

“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.”

But even if the programme proves successful, Button believes it would be currently unrealistic to expect it to be added to Bew 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,” Associate Professor Button says.

The project is supported by Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) who recognise the potential value for their national Water Skills for Life programme.

Mark Lindsay, the manager of Policy and Advocacy for WSNZ, says the work of Associate Professor Button is crucial to Water Skills for Life.

“This project will add to our knowledge around how children respond to water survival skills training and how well they understand and retain that knowledge. Chris Button’s research will help the on-going refinement and improvement of Water Skills for Life.

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

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