As a swimming teacher, I often get asked ‘what age should my baby start lessons’?

What age?

Growing up in the UK my parents always had a fear of swimming and water. It was important to them to introduce their own children into swimming lessons so we didn’t pick up the same fear they had held onto. I believe my brothers and I started lessons around 4 years old.

In Australia, the industry average for getting kids in the water is from 4 months old. The lifestyle of Aussies, means that we are naturally around water from a young age, and therefore need to develop skills, awareness and familiarity much earlier in life.

Throughout my 13 years as a learn to swim professional, I quickly learnt that it wasn’t just about water familiarisation or water safety but when a child participates in swim lessons at a young age, it can directly benefit their overall social, emotional and physical needs.

Why 4 months old?

From birth it is important that we maintain that natural affinity babies have with water after being immersed inside the womb for 9 months. Babies learn by stimulation – the water can play a vital part in introducing stimulation, whether this takes place in the shower, bath tub or swimming pool it allows for parent to create an environment where their child can learn and grow. Introducing this water familiarisation at an early age can only benefit you when moving to more formal lessons in the pool.

Two main reasons why we don’t start formal swimming lessons younger than 4 months are:

  1. The Neck Control

Between birth and 4 months it is common for a baby not to have the neck control to support their own head. Once they reach 4 months old, and show signs of head control, it makes it easier and safer to handle the child in the pool.

  1. Handling

At 4 months old, new parents will have more experience handling the child.  It is important to remember we want to create a safe environment where both the parent and child feel comfortable.

What are the benefits of starting at 4 months old?

Let’s face it, little children are not going to swim laps from four months, but there are still many benefits for starting at this age.

  • Bonding between parent and child
  • Stimulation and early learning in the water
  • Early understanding of water dangers, and their own abilities in the environment
  • Engagement in group social interaction with other children
  • Learning a lifelong skill
  • And it could one day save their life

A recent four year study by Griffith University on the Gold Coast shows that young children (under 5) who are enrolled in swimming lessons, demonstrate more advanced cognitive and physical abilities than other children. The study showed that children were from 6-15 months ahead of the normal population when it came to cognitive skills, problem solving in mathematics, counting, language and following instructions.

Recent Study into Swimming Lessons – The Smart Move

Does it hurt to start later?

Swimming is a skill for life, so I believe it is never too late to learn.

As I mentioned, my own experience with swimming lessons started when I was about 4 years old. Regardless of the age, exposure to water at bath time or shower time it’s fair to say that children can be introduced to a simple form of water familiarisation. This water familiarisation can still go a long way to build confidence and independence around the pool.

Whether you start your swimming experience in lessons or you decide to do it yourself, it’s important we remember to have fun. Constant supervision, shallow water, toys and allowing your child to explore independently, is the quickest way to build comfort and most importantly a respect for the water.

Each child is different and will progress in many different ways. In Australia last year (Jul 14-Jun 15) we lost 26 children under four years old to drowning. Teaching a respect for the water, learning breath control, safety turns, monkeys are all skills that can be introduced at an early age. Will these drown proof your child? No. But you will have started on the path towards learning a life skill and hopefully building confident independent little swimmers!

 

David Bree