Water Familiarisation and Swim Lesson Research

Water Familiarisation and Swim Lesson Research

Water competence develops water familiarisation, confidence and swimming competency to stay safe in all bodies of water. It is best learnt with consistent and ongoing exposure starting in the bath or shower at home and developing in pools, then in open water.

The ability of toddlers or infants to float or swim a short distance in a pool should never be substituted for their close supervision by adults when they are in and around water. Lessons that teach children to swim or float do not ‘drown proof’ children at any age. Further, current drowning prevention evidence recommends the teaching of 15 water competencies for the prevention of drowning (Stallman et al., 2017; Langendorfer et al., 2018).

Studies have shown that parents of young children enrolled in swim lessons are more likely than parents of young children not enrolled in swim lessons to believe that swimming lessons are the best way prevent toddler drowning, and that it was better to develop swimming ability than to rely on adult supervision (Moran & Stanley, 2006). In fact, more than half of all parents overall thought that swimming lessons were the best way to prevent their toddler from drowning. Further research (Morrongiello et al., 2013) showed that during an eight month period of swim lessons, as parents believed their child was developing swim skills, their need for active adult supervision decreased due the perception that their child was capable of keeping themselves from drowning.

What to look for in a Swim School:

  1. A reputation to be proud of. A good swim school will be pleased for you to see their programme before enrolling. They will also have many customers prepared to tell you about their experiences and children’s success.
  2. Friendliness and helpfulness. The swim school will have a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Staff will strive to meet your family’s needs, answer your questions and address your concerns.
  3. Well maintained, clean pool and facilities.
  4. Comfortable water and air temperature.
  5. Well qualified staff. All teachers should have a nationally recognised swimming teaching qualification, and a current resuscitation certificate.
  6. A child-centred teaching philosophy.
  7. Parental involvement. A good school will welcome positive parental involvement for children of all ages. A carer must be in the water until 3 years of age.
  8. A progressive approach. Classes based on a sound progression of water competencies linked to the swim schools’ philosophy, levels and skill progression.
  9. Developing water competence for parents and children.
  10. Well grouped classes.
  11. Maximum ‘time on task’.
  12. Interesting and challenging activities.
  13. Short lessons for young learners. Maximum 30 minutes for under-fives.
  14. A motivating system to progress competence.
  15. A comprehensive programme providing a range from beginners to advanced swimmers.
  16. Safety at all times.
  17. A WaterSafe swim school.

These guidelines were adapted from a resource produced by Julie Zancanaro, BAppScOT (Syd), funded by the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association Inc, as a community service.


Blitvich, J.D., Moran, K., Petrass, L.A., McElroy, G.K., & Stanley, T. (2012). Swim instructor beliefs about toddler and pre-school swimming and water safety education. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 6(2), 110-121. http://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1087&context=ijare

Brenner, R., & Saluja, G. & Smith, G.S. (2003). Swimming lessons, swimming ability, and the risk of drowning. Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 10(4), 211-215. doi:10.1076/icsp.

Langendorfer, S.J., Moran, K., & Stallman, R.K. (2018). Guiding Principles: Applying water competence to drowning prevention. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education 11(2), 22. DOI: 10.25035/ijare.11.02.22. https://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1489&context=ijare

Langendorfer, S. J. (2011). Considering drowning, drowning prevention, and learning to swim. IJARE, 5(3)

Langendorfer, S. J. (2015). Oh, baby, baby: Examining claims for water safety and drowning prevention of infants. Ijare, 9(2)

Langendorfer, S. J., & Bruya, L. D. (1995). Aquatic readiness: Developing water competence in young children Human Kinetics 1.

Moran, K. (2010). Watching parents, watching kids: An observational study of water safety at the beach. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 4(3), 269-277. http://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1185&context=ijare

Moran, K. (2010). The shaping of swimming and water safety education in New Zealand. Warkworth, N.Z.: Tradewinds.

Moran, K. (2013). Defining ‘swim and survive’ in the New Zealand drowning prevention context: A discussion document. Unpublished manuscript. https://www.watersafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Water-competency-in-the-context-of-New-Zealand-drowning-prevention-strategies-Kevin-Moran-120713.pdf

Moran, K., & Stanley, T. (2006). Parental perceptions of toddler water safety, swimming ability and swimming lessons. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 13(3), 139-143. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17457300500373572?scroll=top&needAccess=true

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 Promotion, 13(4), 279-283. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17457300600678201?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Moran, K., Stanley, T., & Rutherford, A. (2012). Toddler drowning prevention: Teaching parents about child CPR in conjunction with their child’s in-water lessons. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 6(4), 6. http://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1117&context=ijare

Morrongiello, B. A., Sandomierski, M., Schwebel, D. C., & Hagel, B. (2013). Are parents just treading water? The impact of participation in swim lessons on parents’ judgments of children’s drowning risk, swimming ability, and supervision needs. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 50, 1169-1175. DOI:10.1016/j.aap.2012.09.008

Morrongiello, B. A., Sandomierski, M., & Spence, J. R. (2013). Changes over Swim Lessons in Parents’ Perceptions of Children’s Supervision Needs in Drowning Risk Situations: “His Swimming Has Improved So Now He Can Keep Himself Safe.” Health Psychology, No Pagination Specified. DOI:10.1037/a0033881

Stallman, R.K., Moran, K., Quan, L., & Langendorfer, S. (2017). From swimming skill to water competence: Towards a more inclusive drowning prevention future. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(3), 1-35. http://scholarworks.bgsu.edu/ijare/vol10/iss2/3