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Take the plunge for your child's safety

IT makes for grim reading, but the 2010 Analysis of Drownings from Irish Water Safety shows that 112 people died from drowning in Ireland that year, with another 14 Irish people drowning overseas. Admittedly that was the lowest figure on record since 1952, but it's still a shocking statistic. Ireland averaged 150 drownings each year in the decade to 2010, although it's not always easy to establish the cause.

In most years, accidents accounted for more than a third of all drownings, with suicides roughly accounting for another third. The remainder, ranging from between 21 to 62 deaths a year, were of undetermined causes, which means some were certainly suicide, but others may have been accidental.

Given that we live on an island with an abundance of lakes, rivers and beautiful coastline, it seems madness that swimming lessons aren't part of the national curriculum. (Incidentally, most drownings in Ireland take place inland, in rivers and lakes, on farms and in the home.) Swimming lessons for primary school children have been compulsory in countries such as the UK, Switzerland and Netherlands for many years. In contrast, Ireland sits alongside Australia and The United States with its lack of policy.

In an ideal world all schools would have their own swimming pool, but that's never going to happen. Plenty of schools in Ireland do facilitate swimming lessons through the use of local pools, but these aren't often offered until secondary school.

When they are available there's usually an additional fee to cover transport costs and the lessons. Not everyone can afford extra-curricular activities, but it would be interesting to see how many of us are forking out for other leisure activities for the kids instead of prioritising swimming lessons.



Facilities

My children attend The Learning Tree, a creche within the grounds of the National Education Centre for Blind Children. Aside from all the many wonderful facilities on site, the children can avail of swimming lessons in the centre's own heated swimming pool.

Last year it was a free activity, but this year we have to pay a fiver per lesson.

My three-year-old starts his first lessons this week, and is delighted at the prospect, as are we. Unfortunately, my five-year-old can't avail of the lessons this year, as they're now held on Mondays when he doesn't attend the after-school club.

He could take lessons in the local gym's pool on Fridays with a few of his school buddies, but I'd have to wait with his two younger siblings in an area beside the water that isn't very safe.

When my eldest heard that he couldn't join the lessons this year in creche he remarked that it didn't matter because he's not very good at swimming any way. He's almost six, so I'm not about to panic, but I don't want him to decide he doesn't like swimming because he's finding it a little tricky to master.

I was an awful swimmer as a kid, despite many lessons, and only really became comfortable in the water as I turned 30. I'm still not a very strong swimmer, but I'm determined that my kids won't find themselves lacking in this essential life skill as they grow up.

Looks like I need to sit down and find a way to work swimming lessons into my son's busy schedule. We may take him to GAA every Saturday and rugby every Sunday, but he rarely sees the inside of a swimming pool these days. I can sit around making excuses, or I can find a way to ensure he doesn't become a tragic statistic in an Irish Water Safety report.


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