By Lizzy Bullock / Contributor.
(Editor note). We are committed to making Reach For The Wall the go to source for all things swimming related. As we enter the summer swim season, we talk a lot about the swim team, as well as the “pre-team”. But what about those little ones just starting out? This article will help to address some of those questions. It was written by Lizzy Bullock, an expectant mother and Red Cross certified swimming instructor (WSI) with over a decade of experience working with infants, children, and adults. Lizzy currently works as a swimming instructor and staff writer for AquaGear, a swim school and online swim shop.
As a veteran swimming instructor, I often find myself talking with parents about the best time to start swim lessons. While age is important, it’s not definitive. Other elements like confidence, motor function, and previous experience with water are also significant factors to consider before signing up for swim class.
How Young is Too Young?
The Red Cross recommends waiting until your baby is six months old to start formal swimming lessons. Between six and 24 months, Red Cross swim lessons are always taught parent-tot style, meaning that your child will be in the pool with Mom, Dad, or another trusted adult. At this age, working directly with a parent is more comfortable than a strange instructor. These “Parent and Child Aquatics” classes consist mostly of singing songs, playing with water toys, and generally having fun. These confidence-building exercises teach infants that water is nothing to fear, which is essential for future lessons without Mom and Dad. Beyond games, you’ll also work with your child on bubble-blowing, kicking, floating, reaching for objects, and climbing out at the side. If you have access to a pool, you may not want to pay for lessons at this point. Infants and toddlers just need a positive foundation to draw from when they’re ready to start lessons one-on-one with a swimming instructor. As for learning to swim independently, I’ve found that children around three years old are more cognitively and physically ready to start taking formal lessons.
Is My Child Confident Enough?
If your child is three or older and they fear the water, working on water confidence at home before you hire a swimming instructor is time better spent. Your child’s mental and emotional readiness can only come from having positive experiences with water, so spend lots of playtime in the pool, at the beach or at a local water park. You don’t need to ask your child to perform any skills – just play games, splash each other and provide verbal encouragement to boost their morale. A fearful child will take far longer to learn to swim than a child who is comfortable in the water. So, building this water-positivity on your own could save you hundreds of dollars and many hours spent at lessons.
Is My Child Physically Ready?
Children younger than four have larger physical hurdles to overcome before they’ll be able to move through the water on their own. Even if they love the water, kids four and under are at a detriment when it comes to motor skill simply because they’ve had less time to develop than older kids. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends allowing your child to perform more actions on their own to build muscle and hone bodily control. Activities like pouring juice, drawing, climbing on furniture, playing tag, and helping with simple chores are great ways for kids to exert control over their bodies and gain muscle needed for swimming. Remember that kids progress at their own pace. The American Psychological Association notes that kid’s brains develop at different rates, meaning that a cognitively-gifted child may have more trouble with physical activities and vice versa. So, just because your child is younger, doesn’t mean they can’t learn to swim efficiently.
Group or Private?
Once your child has a good relationship with water and the necessary motor function to propel themselves, you’ll have to decide whether to sign up for group or private lessons. Group lessons are ideal for students who need a little extra motivation from other kids their age. Seeing their peers excel drives kids to try harder instead of admitting defeat. On the other hand, private lessons are better for kids who need more one-on-one attention or who have trouble focusing. Once you’ve taken a few lessons, you can gauge your child’s progress and switch to another style if you or the instructor thinks it will be more beneficial for your child.
Whether you choose to start with parent-child classes in infancy or wait until your child is three, four, or five, you’re doing your kid a huge favor by setting them up for safely interacting with water. Just keep in mind that working on confidence and basic skills at home during their younger years may save you time and money in the long run.