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The charity making life better by water

Keeping toddlers safe by water

As anyone who cares for little ones knows, feeding the ducks and watching the boats go by on your local canal and river is a joy to be savoured. Every child should be able to enjoy a toddle along the towpath and we take every step to make our canals accessible and welcoming to children of all ages. But safety is paramount, which is why on 6 February, our charity is launching the very first ‘Toddler Water Safety Week’ in the UK.

Taking centre stage is a new animated film, voiced by Cbeebies' Maddie Moate, which gives parents and children a memorable rhyming song to sing whenever they visit the water.

The theme of ‘Hold hands, take two steps back, quack quack,' has been carefully designed with the collaboration of parents, as Claire Gauci, our charity's water safety campaign manager explains.

“For over six years now, our charity's Explorers team has been working with schools and teachers to share vital water safety messages with 126,500 children aged 5-11.

But galvanised by the tragic loss of three-year-old Dylan Milson in Newbury on the River Kennet in 2021 and four-year-old Madiba Diaby on the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Walsall in 2022, we've been taking steps to get the message out to all those who look after toddlers too; parents, grandparents, carers and nurseries.

There's never been a targeted campaign to protect children in this age group before. As a parent to a young child myself, I'm so proud that our charity is leading the way on this.

The first step was talk to parents and carers to find out what they thought about taking their children to the water,” continues Claire. “Our survey discovered some understandable anxiety with people telling us they were worried about excitable youngsters falling in, getting too close to the edge, acting in unpredictable ways or not listening to warnings. For these reasons there was hesitancy about taking young ones near water until they were older.

In response, we've designed a film that helps both young children and their parents and carers to understand the key safety messages, but in a fun way that adds to their experience of visiting the water. The mixture of live action footage and animation also came through parent's feedback. They didn't want a film that scared children, but they did want to see something that made the risks seem real.

If singing the song together at the water's edge helps young children listen and understand, and stay close to mum or dad, then that's real progress. I'd love to hear little ones singing the song in their buggy as they trundle home from a great day out with the ducks.”

That's why Claire now plans to spread the film's message far and wide, especially as the whole nation remembers the terrible loss of the four boys from Solihull who fell into an icy lake this winter, the youngest of whom was aged just six years old.

The campaign isn't just reaching out to parents and carers, but nurseries and kindergartens too, so they can play a strong role in water safety education like schools already do.

No-one wants to discourage people from visiting and enjoying our waterways, but our charity is clear that safety must come first for toddlers, just as it does for all our other water safety campaigns.

Through every season of every year, Claire and her team reach out to everyone who uses our towpaths to keep them safe by water. We want our charity to play an important part in the National Water Safety Forum's strategy that aims to cut deaths by drowning by half by 2026.

Last Edited: 01 February 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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