Al fresco dips teach children to swim safely
Updated: Sep 21
The Times reports: Children should be encouraged to enjoy “wild” swimming in rivers, lakes and reservoirs to learn about risk, according to an education expert.
Sandra Leaton Gray, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, University College London, said young people were being deterred from dipping into waters that were safe by unnecessary “no swimming” signs.
She said the growing aversion to risk was not always backed by accident statistics: “We are banning swimming in more and more places, and by doing so, making it more dangerous for the very young people we are trying to protect.
“Swimming has become an approved activity run by local authorities in special places, which are almost always heavily chlorinated swimming pools, with strict session times.”
There were 17 deaths by drowning of young people aged 10 to 19 in outside waters — including lakes, ponds and rivers — in England in 2015.
Leaton Gray, a keen wild swimmer herself, said supervised swimming in rivers and lakes would help reduce the risk and the numbers of lives lost.
She said: “Young people gather in all sorts of dodgy spots that wild swimmers would never venture into and then start taking serious risks without being properly aware of the consequences.”
Leaton Gray, who is giving a presentation on children and risk at the British Educational Research Association Conference in Brighton this week, said attitudes to swimming reflected a trend of children being given less freedom to roam and take risks than in previous generations.
The Health and Safety Executive has also said that “no children will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool”. It says outdoor play may have some hazards but teaches children how to deal with risk.