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Assessing Water Survival Skills Competency of Children (2017)

University of Otago , School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences
Associate Professors Chris Button and Jim Cotter and Dr Anne Marie Jackson

“Swimming is learned indoors while drowning happens primarily outdoors. How many children have the opportunity to experience swimming in their clothes or the discomfort of cold water? For all too many, swimming is a matter only of performing the correct movements. We believe it is much more.”
Sallman et al. (2008: pg372)

University of Otago and WSNZ have collaborated on numerous research projects over the past years, including:

  • Human response to sudden cold water immersion (1,2 superscript)
  • Multivariate analysis of male drowning in New Zealand (3)
  • Distance perception in open water (4)

The two projects undertaken in 2016/17 were Tuia Te Here Tangata: Sewing together the Maori water safety sector, and Assessing children’s survival skill competency.

Assessing children’s survival skill competency – a qualitative study

This study sought to demonstrate that a rational and balanced emphasis on teaching fundamental aquatic skills can improve the ability of children to evaluate risk and behave appropriately in, on and around water.

A total of 48 primary school aged children (6-11 years) were recruited from eight schools around Dunedin. Children were tested before, immediately at the end of, and 10 weeks after the end of lessons delivered by a private learn-to-swim organisation.

Assessment evaluated each child’s water survival competencies at six tasks: knowledge, buoyancy, submersion, simulated rescue, negotiating obstacles, and propulsion.

The results supported the notion that primary school aged children had  a low level of survival skills competency. Children’s propulsion skills were limited, with 62 percent unable to swim 100m unaided.

Although knowledge of risks and emergency response was notably low, there was some encouraging evidence that education of survival skills could improve competency.

Recommendations are that Water Skills for Life should become an integrated component of the school curriculum and that family/whanau should be engaged to introduce children to aquatic environments safely. Knowledge about New Zealand’s water and environmental conditions, such as unseen dangers and awareness of responses to dangers, should be a cornerstone of children’s understanding.

Read the full report here.

Assessing Water Survival Skills Competency of Children (2017)

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