Swimming is fun. It’s synonymous with summer. It’s a great and healthy way to keep your kids occupied for hours on end. It’s a source of great joy for children, but it can also be an even greater source of anxiety for parents.
Water is dangerous, no doubt about it. And your kids will most likely want to go in it frequently. The trick is to find a balance between what has kept your child in a diving bubble every time they go near a pool and just avoiding it altogether. There is a safe way to enjoy the water and it starts with swimming lessons.
When do you teach your kid how to swim? Do you teach them, or do you leave it up to that teenager hired to teach swim lessons for their summer job? If my kid was born in a bathtub, does that mean they are now immune to drowning? I’ll try to address some of these questions and concerns in this article.
Baby swimming lessons
Do babies need to learn how to swim? The short answer is no. Spoiler alert, the long answer is also no. Baby swimming lessons are not recommended for children under 1 year old. Why? Because there doesn’t seem to be any real benefit.
Some new-age parents claim that putting your baby in a pool (or water birthing) creates a spiritual oneness with their bodies because humans are all mostly made up of water and will therefore protect them from drowning in the future.
Drowning is the leading cause of injury death among kids aged 1-4 in the US and those from 12-36 months of age are at the highest risk. This is part of why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its water safety guidelines to allow babies to start swimming lessons at one year old. AAP had previously cautioned against swim lessons for kids under the age of 4. According to AAP, kids that young can’t really learn to swim.
The way my kid doesn’t remember that I took him to Andy Warhol Museum when he was 13 months old and that he loved walking through a room full of floating silver mylar pillows is the same way your 9 month old infant won’t retain swimming stuff they may have learned at such a young age.
Now, if you’re just looking to break up your daily monotony by taking your kid to a swim class so you can be in a pool yourself, then that’s different. There seem to be some benefits to enroll your toddler in a water play class. It’s a fun activity for both of you and an excellent way to get your kid used to being in the water. And if your baby does nothing but scream the whole time, then you know that you don’t have to waste your money on more lessons in the future. Just don’t assume that these lessons will ensure future water safety.
Toddler swimming lessons
Age 1-4 is what I’m talking of here. As previously mentioned, this age range is when it’s recommended to start your toddler swimming lessons. Will their path to becoming the next Michael Phelps and winning multiple Olympic gold medals be laid out before them? Probably not.
Toddler swimming lessons focus more on water safety than technique. Starting your kids at this early age will give them the confidence they’ll need to become strong swimmers in the future, but it will also teach them the inherent dangers of water activities.
Toddler swim lessons do reduce the risk of drowning significantly, but you need to wait until your child is ready. Not all children are ready to start swim lessons at exactly the same age. If you force your kid into the water too soon, it could be a struggle for everyone. If your children don’t seem ready by this age, then no need to worry, especially if you don’t own a pool yourself.
But if you think they can handle it, then I’d recommend you sign them up. If you’re unsure, then look for a parent-child toddler swim class for both parents and kids. Waterbabies is one of the popular programs that offer swimming lessons to toddlers through structure and play.
That way, they know they have the safety net of their parent right along with them. A win-win. Unless you can only score a slot in an early morning class and the pool isn’t heated. Then you’ll be regretting your decision immediately upon arrival to your first class.
How do I teach my 2 year old how to swim if I want to avoid classes altogether? Well, you can always teach them yourself if it makes you feel more comfortable. You know the basics: float, kick, don’t breathe underwater. If you are with them the whole time, then there’s no problem. However, if your style of teaching would be just to throw them in the deep end, I’d suggest you take a look at this series of videos on how to teach a toddler to swim:
What about older kid swimming lessons?
At 4-5 years old, most kids will be ready for some more serious swim lessons. This is when they will begin to learn more practical swimming techniques like treading water and how to get to an exit point. You know, the kinds of things that will make all parents breathe a little easier once they’re mastered. Then from 5-6 years old, they should be able to master the front crawl, which is basically a glorified version of the doggy paddle.
By this age, if your child has yet to enroll in any kid swimming lessons, I’d say hop on to it. As they get older, the number of pools they will come into contact with will grow. And you’ll have to decide how many plastic cups of wine you might possibly indulge in while you’re watching your kid swim at the “Johnsons’ pool party.” The cups should amount to zero.
But let’s face it, if your 6 year old is a pretty good swimmer, you could possibly, maybe, at least consider, having one. If they haven’t even learned the basics, you’ll be in the pool too and you won’t get any adult conversation time. Think of yourself is all I’m saying.
What to know about swimming lessons for kids
Lessons don’t provide immunity to drowning
Swimming lessons can ease some of your fears about your children being in, over, or near a water body. But don’t think for a second that just because they spent a week in a swim clinic that they are now experts and are in no peril when submerged in a body of water. The AAP also shares the concern that parents would become less vigilant about supervising a kid who had taken swim lessons.
Look for swim classes taught by qualified and certified professionals
Swim instructors are also required to learn CPR to curb the often silent and unexpected drowning incidents. You want to make sure that what they’re teaching isn’t just strokes but water survival competency skills.
The kids should learn how to safely go underwater, surface safely, and how to propel themselves 25 feet to safety. Look for teachers who will evaluate their progress and adjust their lessons accordingly.
Finally, make sure they are affordable for you. Don’t just bargain shop. If one place has better instructors for a little extra cost, don’t mortgage the house, but splurge a bit.
Private swimming lessons for kids vs. group lessons for kids?
That is up to you and your comfort level. My son thrived in his group classes; he loved them. Most group swim classes are required by law to keep their numbers down to just a certain number of kids per instructor. So if the class goes overcapacity, they would have to add another instructor.
If you can’t decide, ask your parent friends about places they have used in your area, I bet you’ll get more recommendations than you need. The same goes for private lessons as well.
At the very least, check with your local YMCA. They have YMCA toddler swim lessons, YMCA family swim sessions, among others. The private lessons are usually for a reasonable price.
Benefits of swimming for kids
Listen, swimming isn’t for everyone. Some people hate the water, whether it’s the ocean, pool, a river, or any form of natural precipitation. My son is a Pisces (the zodiac sign with the fish) and we joke that it’s the perfect sign for him because it seems like he was born to go in the water. He loves it. He cannot get enough of it.
Do you know what other outside sporting activity he can’t get enough of? None. He can only tolerate another activity for not longer than 10 excruciating minutes. But when faced with the prospect of swimming, my son would give up most of his screen time for just a few extra minutes in the water. So, for our son, swimming is beneficial in an undeniable way.
As a “Trojan horse” for exercise, swimming works to build your child’s strength and stamina. It also keeps their heart and lungs healthily pumping along and improves their flexibility, balance, posture.
And it’s not just for the body. Swimming can improve your child’s mental health. Just conquering the water gives them a sense of confidence—a confidence that translates to land as well. It can improve their mood (check) and their self-esteem in general (check.)
Don’t take my word for it. I told you that I’m no expert, but you can go through this list of swimming benefits. Oh, and did I mention that it’s fun? It is. It’s FUN! Which I guess is also vital.
It might also just save your child’s life someday if he happens to board the modern equivalent of the Titanic. Let’s hope that never happens.