If you hadn't already noticed that the weather is warming up, your favorite aisles at Target probably tipped you off to one big thing — summer is on its way. The colorful towels, swimsuits, and bottles of sunscreen have been crowding the shelves and motivating parents to clean out the pool already. But whether you take your little one to the local recreation center to swim or have a kiddie pool in your backyard, you're probably wondering, "When should I put my baby in swim lessons?" Swimming is a pretty important skill to learn, but when should you start teaching your child? Does it matter what age they are?
It turns out, swimming lessons are more than just teaching your kid to splash safely in the pool — they should be treated as survival skills. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, formal swimming lessons reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88 percent. And drowning? It's the second leading cause of accidental death of children ages 1 to 14 in the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported.
According to the USA Swimming Foundation, that statistic was the impetus behind its "Make A Splash" initiative, which has given nearly five million children the life-saving gift of free or low-cost swimming lessons. The foundation's mission statement argues that every child should be given the opportunity to swim, regardless of race, gender, or financial circumstances. Knowing how important the ability to swim is, when should you put your own baby in swimming lessons?
Olympic Gold Medalist and ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, Summer Sanders, tells Romper in a phone interview that figuring out when your child should start taking swimming lessons is so individual. "I had a backyard pool and took lessons at 18 months old," she says. "But I would associate swim lessons with walking. If your kid has the skill to walk, even if they walk early, they can put it together. There's coordination, body awareness, muscle awareness — they develop a lot of those skills and they can put swimming and walking together."
Thinking that's too young? Here's the thing — you're not teaching your child to do a breaststroke or setting an Olympic standard. Sanders says that the important thing to remember about swim lessons at this age is that it's not a sport. "It's a life skill," she says. "Swim lessons are different than any other sport and repetition is crucial." Sanders suggests that two straight weeks of 20 to 30 minute lessons every day is much more effective than once or twice a week lessons. She advises parents to just commit to that schedule and push through the two weeks so their child learns a survival skill that is so incredibly important.
Expecting your kid to cry? They probably will, Sanders says, but you have to push through. "Even the best of the best cried every single moment of their first swim lesson," she says. "You've got to push through — you're doing the right thing. Your kids will thank you later, and if you've found an instructor you trust and love, it's best to leave them to it. This is a lifesaving skill. Just like there are no exceptions with laws or rules, there are no exceptions here. Your kid wears sunscreen, they wear a seatbelt, they wear a helmet, and they learn to swim."
But Sanders says while every kid is different and starting swim lessons can be so individual, it's best to teach your child as soon as possible about water safety and respecting the water. "You can absolutely start with toddlers," she says. "And teaching them is as similar as putting a Christmas tree up every year. You teach your child that they have to respect the tree and ornaments and that they aren't allowed to touch them — you teach them that as soon as they walk. Respecting the water can be learned, too."
It's more than just being wary of pools, it's being respectful of water everywhere. Sanders says that your child should view a bucket of water in the backyard as they view an ocean, a lake, or a river — they are all dangerous. By instilling a love of water in your child, you also have to instill a respect for water, no matter how old they are. Teaching a child to swim doesn't mean they're free to explore bodies of water at their leisure, nor does it mean you can avoid supervising your kid in the water — there's no such thing as being safe in the water, you just want your child to be safer. If you're looking for swim lessons for your child, the USA Swimming Foundation has resources available to find a pool and instructor near you.