Babies are naturally curious. They don’t know anything about the world around them, including the dangers. Here’s how to teach them a healthy respect for swimming pools, the beach, or just playing in the tub without being a buzzkill.
From 6 Months To 1 Year
Baby is just learning how to swim. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on formal or intensive swimming lessons until baby is at least 4 years old. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t sign your child up for beginner level swimming lessons for babies.
These types of lessons are usually informal, and allow your child to become familiar with the idea of being in the water. You can play in the pool with him, but remember that this is just a time to get acquainted with water. You won’t be doing any actual swimming.
The water should be very shallow, and if you do plan on taking your child into an actual pool, all safety gear should be worn (i.e. a life vest).
Ages 2 to 3
Your child is getting more curious about water. Now is the time to get in the water with your child and become more active in the act of swimming. Mostly, you will be holding your child while you both play games that involve him or her splashing, kicking, and moving his or her arms through the water.
There’s still no swimming at this stage, but he is getting more used to being in the water. Your toddler may be very comfortable with being in the water, but he needs constant supervision because he cannot swim alone.
Avoid relying on water wings alone. They’re fine to use if you also use a dedicated life vest, but water wings or “swimmies” could cause the child to drown if they deflate. They just give her, and you a false sense of security.
Finally, don’t leave any toys in the water when he gets out. He may try to reach in to grab them and fall in.
Ages 3 to 4
Your child is developing more coordination at these ages, and it’s a perfect time to introduce real swimming. If she doesn’t have much experience with water, look for a beginner’s program that will help her get comfortable.
If he does have experience with water, then you might be able to jump right into a class that teaches the basics.
The beginner’s level teaches coordinated kicking and paddling. Your child will also learn how to tread water and float.
Ages 5 to 6
Between the ages of 5 and 6, more advanced swimming can be taught. Even though you don’t have to be in the water with your child, or physically hold him, you should still have an instructor in the water supervising all swim lessons. You also need to be patient with your child. He or she might be great one day and terrible the next.
This is the natural process of learning. Don’t force her to do anything that she’s not ready to do. You will only meet with resistance.
The pool where your child learns should have a deep and a shallow end. At these ages, it’s OK for your child to experiment with deeper water, especially if she’s a strong swimmer and knows how to tread water.
Ages 6 and Up
An older child usually doesn’t have the same problems with water that younger kids do. Plus, he or she can hold his or her breath for longer periods of time and swim underwater.
Kids this age can also probably retrieve objects at the bottom of a pool, jump or dive into the water, and resurface without help.
This is the time to start learning more advanced swim strokes like the breaststroke and backstroke. Her greater endurance lets him swim greater distances and you don’t have to physically be in the water while watching her swim.
You will need to supervise pool activities, however, as children at this age do tend to overestimate their abilities.
If possible, always have your child swim with a trusted friend. Teach your child to dive only when an adult is around and watching. Your child must learn to only dive in deep water. Shallow diving is an advanced swimming tactic that’s not recommended for young children.
Finally, always make your child wear a life jacket in open water, when waterskiing, or when boating – even if he or she can swim. Open water represents the most dangerous type of swimming so every safety precaution should be taken.
GUEST BLOGGER: Gail Smith is the managing director of SwimEasy, one of Scotland\’s leading swimming lesson providers. Several SwimEasy graduates have gone on to compete at both national and international level, including Craig Hamilton, Craig McNally and her own son Lewis Smith. Before running her own company, Gail was a swimming coach at Warrender Baths Club at Development and Age Group Standards.