What Age Should Your Child Start Swimming Lessons?

Most parents wait until their children are school-age to start swimming lessons. After all, most children don’t have the physical coordination to truly master swimming until they are older. They may look at the parent-and-tot classes and think, ‘they are just playing, do I really need to pull on my bathing suit for that?’

The answer is unequivocally YES! Children ages 1-4 have the highest drowning rate worldwide of all age groups. In the U.S., children ages 1-4 usually drown in private pools, were being supervised, but were out of sight of one or both parents for under 5 minutes. It only takes 2 minutes and 2 inches of water to drown. Pretty scary stuff. The great news is that participation in formal swimming lessons is associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in 1-4 year olds and even informal swimming lessons reduce the risk, which means just taking your child into the water with you and playing ‘safety games’ can make them safer around water. For some fun informal games check out last month’s blog “Fun water safety games! Survival skills for your child” again.

What type of swimming lessons should you consider? Lessons for young children run the gamut from ‘survival skills’ to what appears to just be games with nursery songs. As a mother and an expert in drowning prevention I am strongly in favor of the ‘games’ option. Those games are key to teaching children to feel comfortable in the water as well as forming the basis for teaching elemental skills that are the foundation of swimming.

Some parents become so afraid of drowning that they hope to instill fear of the water into their child in the belief that their child is more likely to stay away from the water. Nothing could be further from the truth, or more dangerous. Fear leads to panic. If a child falls into the water unexpectedly you want them to remain calm, to turn on their back and float, kick for the side, kick and paddle, grab the side and hold on, do monkey hands to the nearest steps or ladder – anything but panic. Early classes will not only keep a child from drowning, but they can buy you that extra minute or two to notice your child is missing.

Some infant survival classes initiate children into the water so abruptly that it is frightening to a child and may take years to undo the damage. A good rule of thumb is to observe a class. If parents are asked to leave the area, if children are crying (beyond the normal apprehension that does occur with some children which should be handled with gentle understanding), if you ever see an instructor force a child’s head under the water, find a different class.

Helping your child develop a safe and respectful attitude towards water, while still having fun, will keep them safe for their whole life. And singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to your baby while you teach them to float on their back is really very magical.

About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at http://www.RebeccaWearRobinson.com, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


2 Responses to “What Age Should Your Child Start Swimming Lessons?”

  1. Hazel Owens says:

    I wouldn’t have thought to start teaching children to swim so early. However, like you said, children below school age are the most likely to drown, so teaching them basic survival tips in the water can be life saving. I wish I had started swimming lessons with my children so early, but I guess that getting them in lessons as soon as possible is the next best thing. Thanks for the article.

    • Thanks Hazel – and better late than never on swim lessons! It really pays dividends as the kids get older, they realize there is a whole world of water sports and fun open to them when they are confident in the water.

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