Knowing how to swim is not only a good life skill so that your child can have fun in the summer, but also important to their safety around bodies of water and pools. But, how do you know when to start swimming lessons? 

Some people sign their children up for infant swimming lessons that teach their baby to roll over if they fall in the water. Others wait until their child is a bit older to do swim lessons. In this guide, we will outline expert opinions on when to start swimming lessons, how to teach babies and toddlers to swim, and how to find swimming lessons for children.

When to start swimming lessons

Before diving into when to start swimming lessons, it is important to note that all children are different. We will outline advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), but the best advice we can give is to know your child and understand what is best for them. If you are unsure what is right for your child, speak with their pediatrician and other experts who know them.

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Infant or baby swim lessons

You might hear some new parents talking about infant swim lessons. These are very short “swim lessons” for babies typically between 6 months and 1 year old. Some sessions focus on “infant self rescue”, which means the caretaker is not in the water with their child. Instead, a professional helps the baby learn how to float, and even roll over onto their back, if they fall into the water. 

While that sounds great, many parents and guardians might not feel their infant is ready to be fully submerged in water. Plus, the AAP actually explains that “there is currently no evidence that infant swim programs for babies under 1 year old lower their drowning risk. Infants this age may show reflex "swimming" movements but can't yet raise their heads out of the water well enough to breathe.” 

Another option for infant and baby swim activities can be caretaker and baby water play. In these sessions, babies spend time in the water with their caretaker. It’s not a swim lesson, per se, but it does help these infants feel more comfortable in the water. The AAP explains that this type of activity is beneficial for babies to gain that comfort and security in the water before they dive into swimming lessons when they are a bit older.

Toddler swim lessons

The AAP does recommend toddler swim survival classes and regular swim lessons for toddlers. According to research done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “participation in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in the 1- to 4-year-old children…” 

Adult and child swim lessons can help toddlers feel more comfortable in the water. In these sessions, toddlers will likely continue learning swimming safety to build their confidence and swim readiness. As they work through the important skills like putting their head in, blowing bubbles, and floating, you and your child’s instructor can determine if they are ready to learn more advanced skills like doggy paddle, front crawl, and more. As they work more on swimming and lesson survival, the classes will likely no longer include the parent/caregiver in the water.

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How to find swimming lessons

Finding safe and qualified swimming lessons for your child is key to their success in the water. Use these guideposts for safe swimming lessons to make your decision.

  • Instructors are qualified and certified. Before signing your child up for swimming lessons, make sure you see the qualifications and credentials from all of the staff members who will be in the water with your child. The AAP explains that all swim instructors should be certified through a nationally recognized learn-to-swim program. Likewise, there should be on-duty lifeguards with training in CPR and first aid for children and adults.
  • They teach good swimming habits. Not only should your child’s swimming lessons teach them how to swim, but it should also teach important swim habits. For example, children should learn never to swim alone or without adults present, always ask for permission and supervision before going into the pool or a body of water, never run on the edges of a pool, and never to roughhouse in the water. 
  • Children learn swimming survival as well as how to swim. Swimming survival helps children know what to do if they end up in the water unexpectedly. The program should practice realistic situations, like swimming in their clothes in case they fall in while dressed. This will help children feel more comfortable in case of an emergency.
  • You can watch a class before signing up. The program should let you watch a class in progress before you sign your child up so you can determine that it is right for your child. As we mentioned, every child is different. Seeing how the class is structured, how the instructors work with the children, and how the information is disseminated will help you decide if it is right for your child. 

For children aged 4 and younger, the AAP also recommends that you look for these qualities in the swim program before signing up.

  • The program is age appropriate. With younger children, you need to make sure that the swimming lessons are right for their social, emotional, and physical development. You don’t want your child to be scared, but they should respect the water and understand the danger of not being safe.
  • There is “touch supervision.” Touch supervision refers to the idea that there should always be an adult within arm’s reach of a toddler in the water. It can be the parent or caregiver or another instructor. There should just always be an adult close enough to guide and help.
  • The water is cleaned frequently. Clean water is important for children (and adults!) of all ages, of course. However, toddlers are more likely to accidentally swallow water, so maintaining proper chlorine levels and frequent water disinfection can help ensure your child stays safe during swimming lessons.
  • The water is warm. Young children have a higher risk for hypothermia, so maintaining a warmer water temperature for toddler swim lessons is important. The AAP recommends that “swim and water safety classes for children age 3 and younger should be in water heated to 87 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit.” Ask the swim program for water temperatures before signing your toddler up.
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Water safety for children

However, it is important to remember that swim lessons will not make a child “drown-proof.” Instead, it is useful to think of swimming lessons for children as a layer of protection. Here are some other water safety guidelines for children.

  • Constant adult supervision. Parents, guardians, and caretakers should maintain constant focus on children when they are around water. This can help a child avoid falling in accidentally as well as prepare the adult to jump into action if that does occur. 
  • Fencing or blocking off pools and access to bodies of water. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 69% of children under the age of 5 years were not expected to be in the water at the time of a drowning. By not allowing children to gain access to pools and bodies of water during non-swim times, you can avoid this tragedy.
  • Be in the water with young children. You should always be within arm’s reach of young children and weak swimmers in the water. That means swimming with them! 
  • Assign a “water watcher.” If you are with a group of adults and children near a pool or body of water, it can be easy to get distracted. Assign a “water watcher” for 15 minutes at a time and switch off throughout the event. This person’s one job is to keep eyes on the water at all times to ensure no one accidentally goes in.
  • Make use of life vests and floaties. Keep young children and weak swimmers in life vests or floaties throughout the day in case they unexpectedly find themselves in the water. This isn’t drown-proofing either, though, because they still need constant supervision and support if they are in the water.
  • Train yourself and other adults in CPR and first aid. Keeping everyone safe should be your number one priority. Get training in CPR for children and adults as well as first aid to ensure everyone is safe by the water.

Ensuring your child is comfortable in the water and able to swim (or on their way to learning) is the first step towards safety. This knowledge is useful for your child as they grow up, get ready for summer camp, and become more independent. If you are looking for swim lessons and activities, the educators at Sawyer have you covered. Explore what we have to offer so you can help your child feel happy and safe in the water. 

Happy swimming!

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