How to Keep Kids of All Ages Safe During Swim Lessons

Man helping young girl learn how to swim in indoor swimming pool
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Most children are developmentally ready for swim lessons when they are about 4 years old. Prior to that, children under four lack the developmental skills needed to coordinate the motions of swimming strokes essential to their safety and survival.

Whether you decide to wait until your child turns four or start them earlier, it's important to recognize when they're ready for swim lessons. If you try to get them in the water before they're ready it could become a frustrating experience for you and your child, especially if they're trying to learn a new skill that's still beyond their developmental abilities.

If your child is not quite showing signs of swim lesson readiness, they may benefit from taking some supervised water safety classes with you as they build their aquatic skills.

Toddlers and preschoolers (ages 1 to 4) can benefit from parent-child water survival and aquatic skills training classes that emphasize water adjustment, safety, and swimming readiness skills.

A 2009 study found that water safety skills classes for young children can also help reduce their risk of drowning. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees, and recommends these lessons for children under the age of four. However, the AAP does not advise swim lessons for infants less than 1 year old, since they have not developed the necessary breathing skills and there is no evidence to support that swim classes for infants can reduce their risk of drowning. The AAP does recommend parent-child "water play" classes for infants, however, to help them get used to the water.

Swimming lessons are never a substitute for direct supervision any time your young child is in or near water—even the bathtub.

Swim Lessons for Babies

For infants (6 months and up), toddlers, and young preschoolers, look for an infant aquatic program that follows the American Red Cross and YMCA guidelines.

Here are the most important parameters to keep in mind as you search:

  • Instructors should have their first aid/resuscitation certification
  • Parents should be in the pool with their children (and there should be no more than 10 children per instructor)
  • Children should not be required or encouraged to submerge their heads underwater if they are hesitant to do so

It's also helpful if the swim instructors are experienced in working with small children, because they'll understand what is developmentally appropriate and what isn't.

You'll also want to check out the pool facility itself. Make sure that the water is not too hot or cold, and that it is kept clean.

It can also be helpful to observe a class. Do the students seem like they are having fun? Are they playing games and singing songs? Are they allowed to play with toys? Is the instructor encouraging and enthusiastic (and not annoyed when little kids act like little kids)?

If you're happy with what you see, give a class a try. If your little one doesn't enjoy it, take a break for a few weeks (or even months) before trying again.

It can be challenging if your child is afraid of the pool, but water safety is a critically important skill for them to learn.

Swim Lessons for Kids

When enrolling older children in swim lessons, look for safety-certified instructors and a progressive program that allows kids to advance through each level as they master new skills.

Again, it can help to observe a class first. How does the instructor handle kids who are nervous or misbehave? Are the kids consistently active or spending a lot of class time sitting on the sidelines waiting for their turn?

You want to see a good mix of instruction and games that kids seem to be enjoying and responding to. Most importantly, the instructor should always be paying close attention to ensure everyone's safety.

Learning to swim will help keep your child safe around water, but it's also a great workout and a lifetime sport. Joining a swimming club or team can offer lifelong individual and team sports experience that offers a wealth of health and social benefits.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Swim Lessons: When to Start & What Parents Should Know. Updated March 15, 2019.

  2. Brenner RA, Taneja GS, Haynie DL, et al. Association Between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood: A Case-Control Study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(3):203-210. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2008.563

Additional Reading
  • Denny SA, Quan L, Gilchrist J, McCallin T, Shenoi R, Yusuf S, et al. Prevention of Drowning. Pediatrics. 2019;143(5):e20190850. doi:10.1542/peds.2019-0850