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?”
Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended that only children ages 4 and older take swimming lessons, but it has since changed its position to incorporate kids as young as 1. That’s because studies have shown children ages 1 to 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction.
Learning to swim earlier doesn’t necessarily result in better swimming skills later in life. In fact, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps didn’t start until he was 7!
But no matter what age children complete swim lessons, an adult must supervise children at all times while they are in the water.
Consider these tips as you weigh developmental readiness and search for classes:
How to know if your child is ready for swim lessons
These signs may indicate a young child is ready for formal instruction:
- 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 learning water skills and safety, infants and toddlers can benefit from early experiences — either through individualized parental instruction or group classes.
Beginner swimming classes aren’t designed to teach children to become good swimmers but rather to enjoy and respect the water. Parents should choose a swimming program that emphasizes the following goals:
- Having fun and enjoying the water
- Helping children feel comfortable in water without flotation devices
- Laying a foundation for future water skills (going underwater, 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.
Keeping kids safe in the water
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:
- Constant adult supervision is best; an adult should always be within reach when children are swimming
- Parent-and-child swim lessons teach caretakers about water safety and how to safely handle their children in and around the water — take your infant or toddler to class and be fully involved
- Do not use air-filled swimming aids such as inflatable arm bands or “floaties,” as they can deflate and aren’t 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.