Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise – for both children and adults – but many parents often have the same question: “When should my child begin taking swimming lessons?”
Learning to swim earlier does not necessarily result in better swimming skills later in life. In fact, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps did not start until he was 7!
Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children should not begin swimming lessons until after their 4th birthday, but it has recently loosened its position. Truly, the timing has more to do with developmental readiness than a particular age.
Signs That Your Child May Be Ready
Here are a few signs that your child may be ready to get in the pool:
- Getting their face wet without swallowing water
- Blowing bubbles
- Splashing and kicking their legs
- Floating while supported by an adult
What to Look for in Swimming Lessons
When it comes to teaching water skills and safety to little ones, infants and toddlers can benefit from early water experiences – either through individualized parental instruction or through group classes.
Beginner swimming classes are not designed to teach children to become good swimmers, but rather to enjoy and respect the water. Parents should choose a swimming program that emphasizes:
- Having fun and enjoying the water
- Helping children feel comfortable in water (without flotation devices)
- Laying a foundation for future water skills (going under water, blowing bubbles, holding their breath, floating, kicking, etc.)
- Teaching water safety concepts
The American Red Cross often sponsors high-quality swimming programs in local communities, and participation can benefit both parents and children.
How to Help Ensure Water Safety
Even when children develop strong swimming skills, it is important to understand that this does not always prevent drowning. While this can be scary to acknowledge, here are a few things to keep in mind to help little ones stay safe:
- Constant adult supervision is the best way to ensure water safety. Whenever young children are in or near water, an adult should always be within reach.
- Swimming lessons do not eliminate a child’s risk of drowning.
- One of the most valuable benefits of parent and child swim lessons is that it teaches parents about water safety and how to safely handle their children in and around the water. If possible, take your infant or toddler to class and be fully involved.
- Parents should not use air-filled swimming aids, such as inflatable arm bands or “floaties”, as they can deflate and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
When children are developmentally ready, they can take swim classes with a competent instructor who can help them learn different strokes. Until then, help your child develop basic water skills and an understanding that they should never swim without adult supervision. This will help create a safe and fun summer environment and provide them with a solid foundation to learn more advanced swimming techniques as they grow older!