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 four years old. Prior to that, their brains and bodies are less able to coordinate the motions of swimming strokes.

Putting them in lessons before they're ready isn't very effective and could even be frustrating for them to try to do something that's beyond their abilities.

The longer answer is that they may be ready for certain types of swimming lessons, which can even be helpful for kids under four years old.

Toddlers and preschoolers (ages one to three) can benefit from swim lessons that emphasize water adjustment, safety, and swimming readiness skills.

Some small studies have shown that children at this age who have formal swimming instruction are less likely to drown, although it the studies don't make it clear exactly what type of lessons work best.

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 a class that follows American Red Cross and YMCA guidelines.

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

  • Instructors should have 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 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, there should always be close attention paid to 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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  • Policy Statement: Prevention of Drowning. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison. Pediatrics 2010;126(1).
  • Policy Statement. Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention Pediatrics 2000;105(4) (reaffirmed October 1, 2004).