Children who swim demonstrate more advanced cognitive and physical abilities than other children, according to groundbreaking research led by Griffith University.
The findings of a four-year project by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Laurie Lawrence’s Kids Alive Swim Program and Swim Australia have surpassed expectations and indicate that swimming children have many advantages when starting school.
“While we expected the children to show better physical development and perhaps be more confident through swimming, the results in literacy and numeracy really shocked us,” lead researcher Professor Robyn Jorgensen said.
“The children were anywhere from six to 15 months ahead of the normal population when it came to cognitive skills, problem solving in mathematics, counting, language and following instructions.”
The project, entitled Early Years Swimming, Adding Capital to Young Australians, was funded by the swim school industry. Researchers surveyed parents of 7000 children aged five years old and under from Australia, New Zealand and the US. The Australian component included observing more than 120 swimming lessons in 40 swim schools in Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
Parents reported back on their children’s development and the information was weighed against the expected progression of children through established milestones.
Professor Jorgensen said that as well as achieving physical milestones faster, the swimming children scored significantly better in visual-motor skills such as cutting paper, colouring-in and drawing lines and shapes.
To overcome inevitable parental bias, a core group of 176 three, four and five-year-old children was involved in a more intensive assessment process using internationally approved testing methods.
“On average, these children were eleven months ahead of the normal population in Oral Expression, six months ahead in Mathematics Reasoning and two months ahead in Brief Reading,” Professor Jorgensen said.
“However, most amazing was the difference in Story Recall (17 months ahead) and Understanding Directions (20 months ahead).
“These are absolutely staggering results, especially when you consider the average age of the swimming kids we tested was just 50 months.”
Legendary Australian swimming coach Laurie Lawrence said the research offered further evidence of the value of every child learning to swim.
“This is mind-blowing stuff because it confirms the importance of swimming lessons beyond water safety alone. It proves that swimming truly does provide added capital to children’s lives by helping them socially, physically, cognitively and emotionally,” Mr Lawrence said.
Griffith University Pro Vice Chancellor (Arts Education Law), Professor Paul Mazerolle, said the project went further than any other study in the world by demonstrating the direct and indirect benefits of early years swimming.
“The connection to education, to improved learning, is extremely exciting and significant,” he said.
Professor Jorgensen agreed that the project carried implications for education, especially for children from low socio-economic situations.
“Our research is categorical, evidence-based and shows that early years swimming has children well ahead in many of the skills and processes they will apply once at school.”
The research will be shared with Federal and State governments.
A case-controlled study conducted by Ruth Brenner and her colleagues discovered that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children aged one to four years. The authors concluded that swimming lessons "should be considered for inclusion as part of a complete prevention program."
In one German study, children who had taken swim lessons from the age of 2 months to 4 years were better adapted to new situations, had more self-confidence, and were more independent than non-swimmers. Another German study reinforced these findings, illustrating that early, year-round swimming lesson participants:
- had greater self-control
- had a stronger desire to succeed
- had better self-esteem
- were more comfortable in social situations than non-swimmers