Every year around summer time many ads will pop up about swimming classes for children. It seems that every year these lessons are aimed at even younger children… and even babies?
How safe is this practice? Are these classes recommended? And if so, at what age?
Information on the internet can be conflicting, as with everything online. Let’s talk about the risks and benefits of swim lesson and when to start them according to recent research.
Knowing how to swim does not make anyone drown proof
Before diving into age details, it is very important to remember it is never safe to leave children unattended in water, even if they know how to swim.
Some parents make the common mistake of being overconfident in their children’s abilities in and around water because they have taken swim lessons. The purpose of swim lessons is not to allow decreased supervision of children when they are playing in the water.
No one is drown-proof! Multiple layers of protections are needed to protect children against drowning. Swimming lessons at the right time, are just one layer of protection. Make sure to read my post about the other layers of protection necessary to prevent childhood drowning.
Water competency is more than just swimming
Being competent around water, or having water competency means to have a set of the following skills
- Being aware of water safety (knowing the risks and hazards of a body of water, and being aware of one’s own limitations, etc).
- Basic swim skills (learning how to swim)
- Ability to recognize and respond to a swimmer in trouble (this includes recognizing distress, calling for help, safe rescue, and CPR).
It’s important to remember that swimming lessons and swimming skills alone will not prevent drowning. Learning to swim is only one component of water competency.
A small child cannot be expected to have all water competency skills. This is why, even if they are “great swimmers”, they are NOT water competent. They cannot be left unsupervised.
So, when can children start swim lessons?
Now that we are very clear that knowing how to swim does not keep a child from drowning. Let’s talk about the earliest we can start swim lessons. As with every recommendation, the decision to start swim lessons has to be individualized according to the child’s health status, comfort around water, emotional maturity, and other limitations.
Recent evidence suggests that children older than 1 year benefit from swim lessons. These lessons will provide one layer of protection from drowning. Multiple other safety layers are necessary, such as supervision from a responsible adult when in or around water, are far more important.
Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that swim lessons started after children turned 4 years old. This was when children were deemed developmentally “ready enough ” to make swim classes worth it. More recent research suggests that the protective effect can start as young as age 12 months. You may still see or hear some sources citing this older recommendation. I will leave at the end a link to the most recent AAP policy statement about swimming.
Are swim lessons for infants under 12 months worth it?
Children under 12 months of age are not developmentally mature to be able to learn what is needed to be able to swim.
Infants do make “swimming movements” as a reflex when in water, but they are not able to raise their head above water to breathe and cannot be reliably taught to at such a young age.
There is no evidence that swimming lessons for babies under 12 months have any benefit.
What are the basic swim skills
Water survival skills that are taught on swim classes can vary widely from program to program, but usually, include the ability to:
- Enter the water
- Turn around
- Propel oneself at least 25 yards
- Float on or tread on water
- Exit the water
It is also important to remember that usually these skills are learned in a pool, but they can be affected by several factors such as:
- Water temperature
- Water depth
- Water movement
Which means that a child that demonstrate the basic skills in a pool will not necessarily be able to replicate in another environment such as a beach.
Choosing a swimming program for your child
Like I mentioned before, there is very notable variability from program to program. Not every swim program will be right for all children. Parents should look around various options in the community before making a final decision.
Good swim lesson programs will focus on providing training for multiple experiences such as
- swimming in clothes
- swimming in life jackets
- falling into water
- practicing self-rescue
Multiple lessons are needed to learn the swim skills of water competency. As children grow and continue through their natural developmental maturation, swim programs should adjust to the child’s developmental status.
Remember that children drown in silence
Perhaps movies have got us used to the idea that a drowning child splashes and shouts for help while sticking one hand up.
In reality, drowning is silent. That is why very close supervision by a responsible adult is of utmost importance. You cannot count on hearing desperate splashing to notice that someone is drowning.
Many caregivers of children who have drowned report that the victims “were being supervised” when the accident happened. Children can drown in an instant if the designated water watched gets distracted with their cellphone or talking to other pool goers.
Knowledge is power! Share this with someone you love
If you found this article helpful, or know someone who needs to read these safety tips, make sure to share on social media so that everyone can enjoy the water safely!
- Prevention of Drowning – Pediatrics
- Tailored guidance for families key to prevention of drowning: updated policy
- Infant Water Safety: Protect Your New Baby from Drowning
- Some kids have higher drowning risk: Swim lessons add a layer of protection for all
- Swim Lessons: When to Start & What Parents Should Know
- AAP Drowning Prevention Tool Kit
- Water Safety USA
- Drowning Prevention for Curious Toddlers: What Parents Need to Know
- 2010 AAP Policy Statement—Prevention of Drowning