Every year, I have several parents ask, "At what age should I enroll my child in swim lessons?" Generally, I believe that children are most suited to begin lessons between the ages of 3-4 years. If parents are not able to or are not interested in getting in the water with their baby, then I suggest starting swim lessons at age 2 years.
I start with water adjustment skills and basic swimming skills (kicking with me, holding on to side, kicking with kick boards, blowing bubbles, kicking on back, and more kicking). We continue to work on those skills and add pushing off the wall to the instructor, streamlines, and then actual freestyle. Children between 3-4 years-old generally have the coordination and strength to accomplish these skills without too much difficulty. The difficulty lies in the fear factor.
Some children are fearful by nature. These children are usually easy to spot. They are afraid of shadows, ants, stuffed animals, noises, new people, and definitely swim lessons! These children must be handled delicately. It takes consistency of the instructor, positive reinforcement, and gentle coercion. Bribes (I mean incentives) are helpful too. It's crazy what a 3 year-old will do for a lollipop! At the age of 3-4, children who are afraid, overcome their fears more readily and it's easier physically, to get them to try things. Try kicking the legs of an 8-9 year-old child in the way I described in an earlier post.
Children under the age of 3 years can, and do swim independently. You can watch u tube videos and advertisements of babies swimming. It's amazing! But really, do we care if our 9 month old is swimming? There is no such thing as "drown-proofing" your child. It is the parent's responsibility to keep their eyes on their child at all times when in an unsafe environment. Would you take your hands off and look away from your child in the middle of a busy street or in a crowded shopping mall? Of course not. And while it is neat to see videos of babies who are swimming, I am more interested in developing children and adults who are as passionate about the water as I am. Swimming should be FUN! And while it is not always fun when learning (especially for the fearful child), it should be kept as fun as possible.
So, in deciding when to start swim lessons, consider... Do I take my child to the pool? If not, consider a mommy and me class or a couple of private lessons for the instructor to instruct you on what to do with your child in the water. If you find that you aren't interested or able to get in the water with your child, consider lessons for your 2 year-old. But for most children, 3-4 year of age is the best time to start.
Coach Mandi has been teaching and coaching swimmers at the USA, summer league, high school, and Masters