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Public seminar on influential swimming research

Wednesday, 30 August 2017 9:32pm

Chris-B-in-flume-image
Otago's Associate Professor Chris Button has contributed to a review of the way New Zealand children learn to swim - encouraging a greater emphasis on water survival skills. He will talk about his research at a Public Seminar on Friday evening.

New Zealand is set to overhaul the way it teaches swimming to children – with a greater focus on water survival skills – thanks in part to research by Associate Professor Chris Button of the University's School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science.

On Friday evening Associate Professor Button will discuss his most recent study – which shows that New Zealand children need to be taught water survival skills, rather than just how to swim – at a Public Research Seminar at 6pm in Seminar Room 213/214, 55 Union Street West.

“We wanted to assess the competency of New Zealand primary school aged children in terms of their knowledge and abilities when in water,” he explains. “We invited children from eight Dunedin schools to be tested before and after one term’s swimming lessons (10 weeks) with an emphasis on learning water survival skills.

"There was a wide range of competencies shown, with more than half of the children requiring assistance to complete basic tasks."

“There was a wide range of competencies shown, with more than half of the children requiring assistance to complete basic tasks. While there was some encouraging evidence that children can learn core survival skills quite quickly, we need to explore further how best to teach these skills so that New Zealanders are equipped to survive in different water conditions.”

This work has fed into Water Safety New Zealand’s (WSNZ) new Water Skills for Life programme which will be launched later this year, replacing traditional Learn to Swim programmes.

New Zealand has one of the highest fatal drowning rates within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Last year there were 78 preventable deaths – equalling the five-year average.

“As a nation, New Zealand needs to realise that learning how to swim in a pool may not adequately prepare children for the range of aquatic conditions that exist around us – beaches, lakes and rivers,” Associate Professor Button says.

WSNZ’s new programme lists seven key competencies children should have by the time they are 13: water safety and awareness, getting in and out of the water safely, submersion – getting under the water, personal buoyancy – staying afloat, orientation in the water, safety of self and others and propulsion – moving through the water.

Associate Professor Button says that if children can learn these competencies prior to high school it could help reduce New Zealand’s horrendous drowning rates.

"As a nation, New Zealand needs to realise that learning how to swim in a pool may not adequately prepare children for the range of aquatic conditions that exist around us – beaches, lakes and rivers."

For Associate Professor Button, his interest in water safety is personal. When his father was a child he fell off a pier and was saved by a passer-by who dived into the sea to rescue and resuscitate him.

“Arguably, I owe my existence to that passer-by,” he says. “Interestingly my Dad went on to teach swimming for over 30 years, and I think I’ve inherited his passion for enabling children to enjoy the water.”

Associate Professor Button says he hopes all of the children who participated in the study and their families will attend Friday’s seminar.

“It would be great if any teachers or school representatives can make it too – that’s why it is scheduled outside of school hours. Finally anyone else that would like to learn more about the Water Skills For Life programme is more than welcome too (you can pick up free posters and educational materials).”

In October he will travel to Canada to present this research at the World Congress of Drowning Prevention.

Meanwhile, he plans to conduct a follow up study this summer – and will be searching for children to participate. Contact Associate Professor Button, Email chris.button@otago.ac.nz if you are interested.

Come along:

Associate Professor Chris Button (School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science)
Public Research Seminar
Fri 1 Sep, 6pm
Seminar Room 213/214
55 Union Street West
All welcome