“Lara loves the water, she just loves it,” Ms McNicol says.
Ms McNicol said teaching Lara to swim is a commitment but she relishes spending time in the water with her daughter.
“It’s just been awesome watching her develop over the last two years in the pool,” she says. “Giving them confidence and spending time close to your baby is amazing.”
Pools around Canberra are ready for the influx of families starting their young ones in summer holiday learn-to-swim classes this month.
New research shows children who start swimming early in life pick up more than just water safety skills; they achieve development milestones earlier than those who do not.
The four-year study, examining the possible benefits of early life swim education, was led by Griffith University senior research fellow Robyn Jorgensen and long-standing members of the Australian swimming coaching community, Laurie Lawrence and Swim Australia chief executive Ross Gage.
The study involved parental surveys and independent testing to ensure that parental bias did not influence the results.
The data shows children involved in early swim classes are more school ready and perform better in standardised physical, cognitive, linguistic and social testing.
Mr Gage said the data validated what he has witnessed spending years beside the pool.
“We see kids are better at following instructions, have richer language development, engage with their peers and teachers easily,” he said.
Ms McNicol says although the pool is a relaxing place to cool off, not all families are comfortable about starting their little ones in the water.
“Sometimes the ones that start later I see are fearful of putting their head under and things like that,” she says.
“But Lara started at four months and didn’t know any better.”
The first-time mother says safety is the primary motivation for familiarising Lara with swimming. “It’s definitely about safety,” she says. “My husband’s parents have a swimming pool [and] we are there all the time. It’s imperative that she learns how to swim.”
Thirty-one children under the age of four drowned between July 2012 and June 2013. This figure is up 48 per cent on the 2012 Royal Lifesaving Society Australia National Drowning report figures.
Mr Gage laments reading these statistics each year but said they remind the community that each number was a life that may have been saved by better water safety practices.
“There is probably a false perception that they can’t actually learn much when they are that young,” he said.
“The skills that they can learn in their early years can certainly help make a difference. It doesn’t replace the importance of supervision or barriers, but it can certainly add another layer of protection.”
Mr Gage hoped the results of the research would give parents even more reasons to invest in learn-to-swim training for their little ones.
“Living in the real world the value adds are important. We need to encourage parents to get into the lessons and stick with them to see the benefits.”
Being part of Lara’s swim education all the way through has given Ms McNicol peace of mind as well as a fun activity she can enjoy with her little girl. ‘‘It’s not a sport; it’s a life skill,’’ she said. “If she decides she wants to keep swimming that will be her decision, but at the moment we just want to equip her with everything we possibly can to keep her safe.”