Water Safety in Early Childhood

While water can be fun, exciting, and educational it is potentially dangerous too and unfortunately in New Zealand our drowning statistics reflect this. Drowning is a tragic event at any age but particularly in childhood. 

In the past five years (2015-2019) 23 of the 408 preventable drowning fatalities within New Zealand were aged under five. Most children aged 0-4 years of age who drown do so around the home environment with almost half in home pools. An emerging trend is an increase in drownings in environments outside, but close to the home, such as ponds, drains, farm troughs, creeks, and estuaries (WSNZ, 2020). One of the four key targets of the New Zealand Water Safety Sector Strategy 2020 is to reduce previous drowning fatalities of pre-school children to zero.

Inadequate supervision has been implicated in almost all childhood drownings in New Zealand and World-wide (Petrass and Blitvich., 2012).  As children become mobile they begin to explore their surroundings, however their sense of curiosity and adventure is not matched by an understanding of the possible risks and dangers. Drowning is often silent, so unless the parent or caregiver is actively supervising, they may be unaware of the incident until it is too late.

If we are to reduce early childhood drownings education is paramount. Moran and Stanley (2006) report that parental understanding of, and beliefs about water safety as applicable to under 5s improves as a result of education. Parents were less likely to underestimate the dangers of home pools in toddler drowning, or the importance of supervision.

Education Programmes for Early Childhood

The majority of our education programmes and resources for parents/caregivers, educators and under 5s are free of charge. Where a cost is incurred it will be minimal and required to cover venue/pool costs.

Drowning Prevention Education for Parents and Caregivers

‘Parents as first teachers’ for their children are able to capitalise on everyday activities as an ideal time to make connections to water safety in fun, meaningful and memorable ways for their under 5s. Parents and caregivers are also paramount to the safety of their under 5s in, on and near water.

The education provided will enable parents and caregivers to:

  • Develop their own water competence knowledge, understanding and skills.
  • Be more confident and skilled to provide essential water safety learning for their pre-school children, and to implement appropriate protective practices to keep their children safer in, on and near water.
  • Experience fun and safe activities with their under 5s in frequently accessed water environments.

Professional Learning and Development (PLD) for Educators

Professional learning and development for early childhood educators ensures the sustainability of water safety education for under 5s. If children are to retain important water safety messages learning opportunities need to be provided continuously over time.      

The PLD provided will enable educators to gain knowledge and understanding of the water competence for drowning prevention and deepen their understanding of developmentally appropriate water safety learning for under 5s. This, together with the provision of resources, will support and enable ECE educators to confidently teach water safety to under 5s and provide water safety messaging for parents.

PLD can be provided for educators at individual centres or at a shared venue for a cluster of centres.

Water Safety Sessions for Pre-School Children

These fun, interactive and age appropriate sessions enable the children to:

  • Understand why they need an adult beside them in, on and near water.
  • Feel confident to ask an adult to stay with them around water.
  • Learn about the importance of always wearing a correctly fitted lifejacket on a boat and when fishing.

If you would like your centre to participate in this programme please complete the booking sheet using this link:



Moran, K., & Stanley, T. (2006). Toddler drowning prevention: teaching parents about water safety in conjunction with their child’s in-water lessons. International journal of injury control and safety promotion13(4), 254-256. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17457300600678201

Petrass, L. A., & Blitvich, J. D. (2012). The nature of caregiver supervision of young children in public pools. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education6(1), 4. https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/ijare/vol6/iss1/4/

Water Safety New Zealand. (2020a). NZ Drowning Deaths 1 Jan 2015 – 31 Dec 2019. Water Safety New ZealandDrownbase™, Wellington.

For further information and to discuss your specific needs contact: [email protected]



Teacher Resources


These resources are provided FREE to Early Childhood Centres, and to parents/caregivers who participate in the applicable education programmes provided.




Fishing with Papa

Fishing with Papa is a water safety education teaching resource for early childhood featuring important water safety advice for both children and their caregivers.