The prospect of getting your child in the water is exciting. It opens up so much opportunity for family fun and physical activity. Plus, if you’re an avid swimmer, you’re undoubtedly eager to introduce your kid to one of your passions, an activity you can share and bond over.
Swim lessons with trained professionals are highly recommended. Pros know how to get kids safely and efficiently acclimated to being in the water, they teach them about safety, help them build up to the physical challenges, and of course instruct them in proper techniques so they grow into capable swimmers.
But, as eager as you are, don’t rush things. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as to when a child is ready for swim lessons. Each kid’s development is unique, and individuals become physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to conquer the water at different times.
Age and Swim Instruction
If you look, you can probably find swim instruction for kids as young as 1 year old, or even 6 months. For some time, 1 was often cited as a good time to start acclimating children to the water. But that thinking has widely fallen out of favor recently.
Many experts think starting children off too young can give them a false sense of security. Basically, they feel more confident than their abilities warrant. In the first few years of life, they’re too young to have an appreciation for their limitations or any meaningful concept of the dangers.
Another major concern is that children under 3 typically can’t listen to a swim instructor for any length of time or consistently follow the instructions they receive.
Most kids lack the ability to become competent swimmers before age 6 or 7, as explained by Terri Lees, a Red Cross swim instructor trainer and member of the Red Cross’ Scientific Advisory Council. She and many other experts today say this makes ages 4 to 5 a good time to begin swim instruction. That way, kids get a solid foundation and develop the necessary comfort in the water to start thriving when they’re developmentally able.
Introduction to the Water
The biggest obstacle for most kids is fear of the water. While 4 to 5 is often an appropriate age to start swim lessons, you can participate parent-child water orientation programs, or even just do it on your own, starting at a much younger age.
Simply getting into the pool with your child while holding them starts getting them accustomed to the water. Depending on how afraid or willing your son or daughter is, start acclimating them early on. Gradually build up how much you submerge their body and how long you stay in the water. Obviously, you shouldn’t ever get to the point where their face is going under water.
It can be tricky to strike the right balance between helping them confront their fear and not pushing them too aggressively. Pay close attention to your child’s body language and how upset they are. While they may need gentle pushes to make progress, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is ultimately about having fun together. You don’t want to traumatize your kid and possibly ruin the water for them.
Individual Readiness for Swim Lessons
As the parent, you have to make some determinations about your child’s readiness for swim instruction. Most importantly, consider how well your child is able to focus on and follow verbal instructions. When you decide it’s time, find a swim class with kids grouped by both age and skill level.
Some classes are just grouped by one factor. Being in the water with bigger kids or with kids who are more advanced is intimidating, though. Ideally, your child should learn with others who are roughly the same age, size, and skill level.
After the first lesson, talk to the professional swim instructor about your child’s readiness and how they recommend you proceed. Don’t be dismayed if your child is nervous or scared, it’s perfectly normal. Even if they’re comfortable going in the pool with you, they don’t have the same trust for a swim instructor they don’t know. Also, there’s more expectation for them to be on their own in lessons. A good instructor is good at helping children gradually overcome their fears.