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What Is the Best Age to Begin Swimming Lessons?

Updated on July 20, 2022
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With decades of experience as a guide, here are some thoughts on the best age to enroll your child in swim lessons.

Puddle Jumpers on, having a blast
Puddle Jumpers on, having a blast

How To Decide What Age Is Right To Put Your Child In Swim Lessons

Whether summer is around the corner or it's winter and you are swimming at an indoor facility, parents have to ponder the question of when is the right age of your child to sign them up for swim lessons. The question is: at what age is it best to start swim lessons?

There is not one answer to this question; many variables should be taken into account to help you decide what age is best.

Your Child's Personality

This should be your starting determining factor on whether or not to enroll your child in swim lessons. If your child is the kind of person who doesn't like water on their face in the bath, or who seems reluctant to be around pools, take these traits into consideration. It would be important to find an instructor who can teach to your child and their personality to help them with any fears.

Your Child's Age

This past year we taught lessons to infants through elementary age students. The USA Swim Foundation recommends beginning lessons as soon as possible since drowning is the number two cause of death in children ages 1-14. The sooner you begin, the earlier to start the process of your child learning skills to keep them safe in the water.

Your Child's Readiness

Ah-ha! This is what really matters! You will achieve the best results when your child is ready for advanced swim lessons. And how do you tell if they are ready? Generally speaking, they have fun in the water, they can put their face in the water or head under the water, they show signs of mimicking those who can already swim, they want to go off the diving board, they want to be in the water every day!

For toddlers and infants this can be a very big learning experience, especially if they enjoy water. If they do not, you must be patient and let them lead the way without too many years going past. If a child who is scared of the water has that "fear" fostered, it becomes more difficult to steer away from that fear the older they get.

Playing with the hose!
Playing with the hose! | Source

Recommendations for Starting Swim Lessons for your Children

I have been teaching swim lessons privately for over 40 years. It is a passion for me. I love knowing I have helped someone become more confident and comfortable in the water. My recommendations then for the time to begin swim lessons are these:

  • If your infant, toddler, or youngster loves the water, begin lessons as soon as possible. A good instructor will teach skills that fits their age group. These will be the foundation for when your child has a strong enough body to swim.
  • When a child reaches the age of 5-6, their gross motor skills are well established in addition to easily being able to perform more than one task at a time. Since proper swimming requires a minimum of 3 tasks all at the same time (stroking, kicking and breathing), you will see children of the age of 5 or 6 take off in the water (so to speak!).
  • Enroll your child in a well-established program. If you do not know about the program, go and speak with the Aquatic Director and ask them the class ratio, the experience of the instructors, and the area of the pool lessons will be taught in. (Many traditional shaped pools have given way to water park style pools, so make sure there is a proper shallow area to have lessons.)
  • If possible, enroll in lessons after the early summer cooler temperatures. We live in Texas where the pool temperature is quite warm in May, but I have learned to begin lessons after the first week of June. That way the air is warmer, the sun is a little warmer, and the children will not get cold in the water. (Always apply sunscreen before lessons!)

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What To Do If The Time Is Not Right?

What if your child is not ready for any of the reasons listed above? Here is what I recommend:

  • Buy yourself a small plastic pool for the backyard. Fill it with only two inches of water. Get some safe toys and let your child play under your constant, eye-to-eye supervision. Another tactic you can use is the hose. We are big water conservators but there is something about playing with a hose that really intrigues and interests a young child. You can even start with an empty pool and let them play with the hose until you fill it with a few inches of water. Playing in the pool with various toys is also an excellent science lesson!
  • Bring your child to the local pool to learn to play in the water. This means you will also have to get in the water. Most water parks or public pools have a special area for toddlers to play in with a zero-gradience up to 18 inches. This is ideal for even infants to sit in, parents to sit along side, while the toddler is romping around in the water. Since you are very near, let them experiment and when they fall over be there to pick them up but don't panic, just calmly explain for them to put their arms out to catch themselves and try and stand up. This is a big accomplishment when they learn that they can fall, get wet or splashed in the face, stand back up and be OK.
  • If you own a pool, play with your children on the steps or shallowest area and hold them as you walk through the deeper water. Slightly bounce them around so they can feel what buoyancy feels like. These exercises show them the water is a fun place to be and that it generally feels good and is a safe place to be. We started doing this when our children were one year olds and by the time they were two (the next season), they were happily jumping in off the side of the pool into our arms and "walking" around the edge of the pool with their arms. We taught them the words, "kick, kick, kick!" while we were holding them, and "hold on to the side" while we were taking them for a "ride" ending at the side of the pool. At this young age, introduce a few words to reinforce safety and skill such as "kick" "hold the wall" "hold your breath."
  • These recommendations sound old-fashioned but with my teaching experience I have found them to be highly successful. Ninety-five percent of the students I have taught can swim when they finish with lessons from me IF they were ready to start in the first place.
  • If the pool is still a scary place, use your bathtub as your fun place with water. Of course no swimming will take place, but you can still make it a fun place to be. Again, constant supervision is a necessity.

Water Safety

A water safety lesson is always included in my classes no matter what age of children in the class. You can always teach a child to throw or extend an object, to yell for help, or to know 911 should be called to help someone struggling in the water. May is National Water Safety Month. Always be safe near any body of water!

The Puddle Jumper flotation device is a US Coast Guard approved device for small children with a weight limitation of 30-50 pounds. It is an excellent device and I recommend them highly. Make sure the device you purchase says "US Coast Guard approved" - do not purchase anything else!

US Coast Guard Approved Flotation Device

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Joanie Ruppel


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