Laurie Lawrence hopes Learn to Swim Week lessons will save lives

LIFE-LONG SKILL: Lily McClelland, 4, Will Stevenson,  4, instructor Bronwyn McGrath,  Anastasia Tobin, 3, and Ava Thompson, 4, during a weekly lesson at Swim Balance Mayfield. Picture Simone De Peak

LIFE-LONG SKILL: Lily McClelland, 4, Will Stevenson, 4, instructor Bronwyn McGrath, Anastasia Tobin, 3, and Ava Thompson, 4, during a weekly lesson at Swim Balance Mayfield. Picture Simone De Peak

A STUDY showing half of NSW parents are doubtful their preschooler could save themselves from drowning has alarmed experts and promoted a call for action.

The findings have been released ahead of national Learn to Swim Week, which runs from September 24 to October 2, in a bid to educate parents about the importance of teaching children to swim.

For North Lambton’s Kate Griffiths, taking son Will Stevenson to lessons was an easy decision

“Being in the water is just so entrenched in our culture,” she said.

Will, 4, has been learning to swim at Swim Balance, Mayfield, for one month. 

“He loved it straight away,” Ms Griffiths said. “I’ve noticed already he can jump in and get himself back to the edge and out.”

Peter McClelland loves the water, so when his daughter Lily, 4, showed nervousness around it, he was keen to build her confidence.

“She was very scared early on,” the New Lambton father said. “She was fine in the bath but when it came to deeper water she was scared.”

Lily has been swimming at Balance for 18 months and has grown to love the water.

WATER FUN: Anatoli Tobin, 5, with swimming instructor Bronwyn McGrath at Swim Balance, Mayfield. Picture: Simone De Peak

WATER FUN: Anatoli Tobin, 5, with swimming instructor Bronwyn McGrath at Swim Balance, Mayfield. Picture: Simone De Peak

“It has been beautiful to watch her gain that confidence,” Mr McClelland said.

“Before she used to scream here and it was quite embarrassing, but now it’s quite the opposite, she’s having fun and wants to go swimming.”

Screamers, as they are known, are not unusual at classes, according to Balance Learn to Swim manager Adele Berry. She should know, she was one once.

“My mum took me to the pool when I was five and I screamed the place down,” she said. 

But the 40-season veteran water polo player quickly took to the water. Her passion for swimming is part of the reason she feels so strongly about teaching water safety.

“If I can save even one child from drowning, well, that’s why I do this,” she said. "If I can get the child comfortable by creating a happy, safe environment, I can teach them anything.”

Balance has teamed with drowning prevention advocate Laurie Lawrence and is offering free lessons during Learn to Swim Week to children under five who have not attended previously.

Lawrence hoped to get 500 swim schools on board offering free lessons. He said drowning remained the number one cause of death in children under five.

“We’re still losing too many of our kids to drownings,” Lawrence said. “Over 2014-2015 we lost 26 children aged four and under to preventable drownings.”

Schools offering free lessons during Learn to Swim Week include Swim Balance Mayfield, Aqua Stars Warners Bay, Deano’s Nemos East Maitland, Great Lakes YMCA Nelson Bay and Toronto Swim Centre.

For more information about the initiative or to find a swim school visit learntoswimweek.com.au.

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