Mar 12, 2009

Swimming lessons for toddlers

Out here in Southern California, almost everyone has a pool or easy access to one. And with that access and the arrival of children comes the inevitable question: What is the ideal age for starting swim lessons?

I had intended for Alex to take lessons early on, but the articles stating that the lessons don't really stick until after age 4 sounded right. Alex was always reluctant to participate in directed activities at birthday parties or school, so that didn't seem likely to change in swim class.

Besides, there was an ongoing debate: Do swim lessons for toddlers really help keep them safe? Or does it endanger them by making them unafraid of the water?

This LA Times story reports that lessons for children ages one to four helps keep them safe. But the study doesn't seem very comprehensive, and the conclusion that "children who drowned were less skilled swimmers" is pretty much useless.

As always, this seems to be one of those, "consult your doctor and do what you think is best" situations. For us, I'm looking into getting Alex some lessons, and I'm thinking that I might as well get Tyler started too – they're so close in age that it's hard to keep Tyler from doing something that Alex is doing.


Brittany said...

I have 2 children over this age and 2 nieces that I follow closely. I found that swim lessons really don't work before 4 most of the time.

Unknown said...

I have two kids under 2 and both of them take swim lessons for a few reasons:
1. In Judaism we are taugth that it is important to teach your kids to swim
2. It is an activity my husband actually wants to do with my kids
3. I am petrified of water and want my kids to not be petrified of water.
4. My step-grandfather always insists the babies have swim lessons, some scientific thing about how swim lessons teach kids to breathe under water (if you do it in time, they can remember to swim under water from being in the womb, yea, I am no scienve person)

But yea, do I really think my kids can swim? No. Can they hold their breathes under water for a little bit? Yup

Anonymous said...

I used to be a lifeguard and swim instructor for years. My experience is that there are lots of kids who are unafraid whether they have any swimming skill or not. It's true the littlest ones won't make it to swimming on their own, but if they know that, they may be less daring - and they may learn to keep afloat a little longer so that help can reach them if needed.

Also, looking down the line - kids who start early are generally less fearful and have more fun than those who start later. Living in CA, pools and the ocean are just a part of life.

I would probably talk to them about pool safety whenever it comes up, and get them started with lessons. I don't think it's true that little kids don't learn anything - I think they just aren't strong enough to do much on their own. If you start Alex, Tyler will probably be more interested too (whether he's getting the help or not), so I'd probably do them both. Just my two cents. It should be a lot of fun. If the instructors don't click with the kids, try someone different. Hopefully you'll get someone who loves kids and teaching (can you tell I miss those simple days a bit?).

TypeAmom said...

We live in AZ. My 3.5 year old was in swim lessons all summer long (every day while his sister, barely 5 at the time, was on the swim team) and swam 4 different strokes by the end of the summer. H could swim one 25 m lap freestyle.

If you have an athletically inclined kid - they most definitely can learn how to swim before 4 years old.

Bargain Briana said...

My little brother (9) never took swim lessons officially but since my parents had a pool, he was swimming around the pool in what we call a "Sponge Bob" (one of those floatie swimsuits) at age 3! Hilarious thing!

We haven't done lessons for any of the kids but having a parent with the pool allows us to work with them by ourselves. I don't think it hurts to have lessons early. I agree that some kids are unafraid no matter whether they have lessons or not. Some kids are still going to be afraid even if they HAVE lessons!

Great topic! :)

Anonymous said...

We did swim lessons when our kids were young because they enjoyed the water. Many classes through YMCA or Red Cross approved programs teach kids a lot about water safety. The kids are taught to stay on the edge of pool until they hear the parents count 1-2-3 showing they are ready. They are taught how to get to the edge of pool and how to get attention of lifeguard if necessary. Learning these things in a fun environment was great for our kids. I highly recommend taking lessons for fun and safety without the expectation of swimming on their own until they are developmentally ready.

Sincerely Yours said...

My daughter took her first swimming lessons right after she turned 3. The particular program that she took was very serious and really scared her. The other students were her age and younger and they too were scared to death. So, to this day she is afraid of swimming lessons. I think starting them early is good as long as it is fun and age appropriate. I would just check out their method of teaching beforehand.

Christy said...

We love swimming lessons. My son had just turned 2 when we started his first lessons at the YMCA. He loved it.

He has speech and motor delays, and some texture issues, so this was perfect for him. It got him out of his usual routine, encouraged a new level of physical, and gave us a great time for "Mommy & Me"

However, I signed my 9 month old daughter at the same time, and that was not a good idea -- she was too young (though she did enjoy splashing).

Kids don't really learn to swim that young, but it did give my son comfort with the water in a safe environment with great social examples to follow (which is important for his learning style). And they also had great water safety tips that my son really seemed to understand.

Anonymous said...

So I guess the little tidbit I heard that infants can actually swim is untrue? I don't know, don't have kids. But, supposedly, it is instinct for an infant that comes into contact with water to be able to swim because of the time in the womb or something like that. It sounded like a crock to me, and this discussion seems to suggest otherwise.

In my case, I was quite the fish when I was younger. My mom said I was practically swimming since I was born - which goes back to the above, ha! - but around age 5 I gave up swimming because some cousins held me underwater and it freaked me out. It wasn't until I was 8 that my dad threw me in the pool and said "sink or swim." Not that I believed he'd actually let me drown, but the fear of that being a possibility made me remember my swimming skills real quick.

I don't recommend that as a general rule, but in terms of your question, I think it depends on the toddler. If they have an interest in water, swimming lessons at an early age may be appropriate. But, if they're not really into water outside of their baths, then it may be best to wait a little.

Anonymous said...

We too live in So Cal. My kids have been in private swim lessons every summer since they were 3 years old, group lessons before that. As they got older private lessons were worth the expense. In a group class they only got about 5 minutes with the teacher and spent the rest of the time sitting on the steps waiting their turn. We don't do summer camps or anything like that so we can afford the private lessons each year. My 6 year old was considered water safe at 5 years old and my 4 year old will be this summer. It's nice to know if they fell in a pool they can swim to the edge and get themselves out.

Anonymous said...

I just attended a very first swim lesson with my 3 year old son and it was a nightmare ! The group lesson included 5 children with one instructor, the ages of children were from 3-5 (a big spread for this age group). My 3 year old was totally lost and intimidated by the whole thing, I think at 3 years of age kids need more one on one instruction not necessary a swim lesson - it is more about getting them use to idea of being in the water rather then learning a specific swimming technique ! Next step for me will be to wait and sign him up for a private lesson or a group lesson with lower teacher to student ratio. Magdaski