Infant Swim Lessons
There was a time when the both the American Red Cross and the American Pediatrics Association declared that the ideal age to begin swim lessons for a child was 4 years. In some respects, I can understand how that age was decided upon; technically it is the age that children move from the toddler to preschool stage developmentally. Additionally, their bodies are much stronger and more coordinated by age four and their ability to comprehend more than one task at a time coupled with their ability to concentrate being much higher; for all of these reasons, age four IS an excellent age to introduce swimming lessons, however, it does NOT mean that your child should not be introduced to the water prior to that age, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t begin your child’s swim experience before that. Infant swim classes are not only a wonderful way for parents to bond with their babies, it creates a positive, lasting foundation for your child’s swim experience. In a place like Southern California where the weather is truly ideal, we recommend that your child spend as many as nine months of the year with brief, consistent exposure to the water in order to facilitate retention of the minimal skills they acquire.
I am often asked about “that video.” You know the one, with the baby who toddles out to the pool and falls in then swims up to the surface and rolls and floats for several minutes. It is a shocking, disturbing and dramatic piece of footage and it definitely drives the point home about babies being able to “swim.” Here is my response and the things that must be kept in mind when using the words ‘babies’ and ‘swim’ in the same sentence.
First of all, that child and many who used that program, took short lessons EVERY SINGLE DAY for months. This was not a twice a week, over the course of a summer type of experience. The other thing to note is that the child is not cognizant of what exactly is going on; they are not aware that they have fallen into the water and are saving themselves, they are simply responding based on repeated skills that have been drilled over and over. They are acting instinctively and we call this ‘unintentional safety.’ It means that the child is responding appropriately and is safe in the moment because their instincts kick in during this situation.
If however, the child went 3-6 months without the drills and daily exposure, they would absolutely forget everything they were taught. Very young children do not have long term memories developed enough to recall something they learned six months prior. Additionally, if the situation had been different in any way, such as water temperature, or if they had fallen in off a raft in the pool as opposed to the side, if they had already been in the water swimming and were tired, they might not have responded appropriately. We call this ‘the variability of safety.’ It means that for every new variable you add to a situation, you take away one degree of your child’s safety.
For infants, the key is NOT to focus on safety, instead, its to understand that the positive, happy experience they have in the water with their parent, sets them up for further positive experiences later on and a much smoother transition into actual lessons.
In my twenty plus years of experience working with children and their families, I have found that the children who swim earliest, and most confidently were the ones who consistently took parent child classes from infancy, and by infancy, I mean 4-6 months to start.
I am confident that a child who begins their aquatic experience at 6 months of age and has consistent exposure throughout their infancy, and into their toddler years is able to swim comfortably by age two and a half or three.
KidSwim’s parent child program teaches parents all the basics, including how to hold your child in the water (yes there is a specific way to hold them properly!), how to introduce the foundation skills such as bubbles, kicks, floating and gliding, along with songs and games that allow your child to remain engaged and to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
While we recognize that it requires a major commitment on the part of the parent to ensure that their baby has swim time consistently, it ultimately saves the parent many headaches down the road when their child who is now three or four, offers zero resistance to the idea of swimming, in lessons or as an activity. And I speak primarily as a mother when I say that pools are some of the greatest devices for keeping kids engaged, entertained and active for hours during the long summer days.