“Can I give my child swimming lessons? How early can I start?”
Parents who want to introduce their young children to the joys of the water wonder what they can do, and how soon they can start. Although there are advantages to formal swimming lessons, parents can certainly begin the process of making their child swim ready.
What is the right age to start? As reported by Parents.com, The American Association of Pediatrics recommends not signing a child up for formal swimming lessons until after their 4th birthday. By that age the child will be developed enough to learn the necessary skills to stay afloat. Until a child reaches age 4, program that teaches water games, skills to become swim ready, and pool safety would be a good direction. Before formal lessons are appropriate, or if lessons are not available, there are a number of things the parent can do, depending on the age of the child.
6 months to 1 year. This is the time of introducing the child to the water. Play in the pool can teach the child that the water is fun. It is suggested that the comfort of the child be taken into account – some children are natural water babies, and some hesitate. If your child is hesitant about the water, bring them along more slowly. Playing gentle games while holding the child, such as bobbing a little in the water, can gradually allow the child to grow more comfortable. Safety is important during these lessons, and it is recommended to keep the baby in your arms at all times, and do not submerge the child if they are under the age of 3. Swim diapers are also recommended.
2 to 3 years. Research shows that in this age range, the child will be more active in the water, but will still need to have an adult hold him. Introduce the child to fun games that make him move his arms. You might throw a ball a short way across the pool while the child watches, and encourage him to reach for it. Model blowing bubbles so he can learn to not swallow water while still getting his face wet. By this age, the child may have grown so comfortable in the water that he thinks he can swim all by himself. The child will still need constant supervision, and should be held, and not left alone, even for a brief period of time. Continue their learning about pool safety by reminding the child that there is no running allowed at the pool, and that he should only go in the water with his Mommy or Daddy. After swim time, don’t leave toys in the pool – an adventurous child might be tempted to reach for them.
4 to 5 years. By this age, formal swim lessons are an option. The parent can also work with the child in the water to let them learn to float independently, and submerge their head under water for a couple of seconds. It’s now time to learn swimming skills like making the transition from standing to swimming, gliding through the water, and coordinating kicking and arm movements. The parent can model these behaviors, and many children will quickly pick up the necessary skills. During these lessons, the parent should always keep the child within reach. The child’s attitude toward water may change from day to day – one day they’re ready to reach further with their swimming skills, and the next day may be afraid of the water. Don’t push the child – allow them to take on new activities as they grow ready. If the child doesn’t like to get their face wet, encourage the child to practice at home by putting their head under the shower spray.
6 years and up. By this age, a child will be able to hold their breath for a longer period, swim underwater and retrieve objects from the bottom of the shallow water. The parent can begin modeling all the swimming strokes, including breaststroke and backstroke, and the child will begin to learn those motions. Although by this age, the parent doesn’t need to be in the water and within reach of the child, adult supervision is always needed – the child might over reach their abilities. The child should be reminded that diving is only done when an adult is present, and where the water is deep.
Parents who want to help their children learn to enjoy the water have a wonderful opportunity for bonding with that child. Most children take to the water naturally, and introducing them to water skills and safety can be a rewarding experience.
Becky Flanigan was an English major in college, and now uses those skills when writing freelance articles for Pool Center about pool cleaner parts and other topics. Becky enjoys spending time and travelling with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 golden retrievers. She spends many happy hours at the family swimming pool, watching the kids and dogs splash and play. She is also an avid gardener – and even helps friends landscape and decorate their yards.