What’s the Best Age for a Child to Begin Swimming Lessons?

Swimming is a fun sport and a life skill, and it is no wonder that it’s high on most children’s activity lists. Teaching children to swim dates back to early biblical times and it was part of the ancient school programmes in Greek and Roman empires.

Roman soldiers had to be able to swim and pass a swimming test (1).

vintage picture of a swimming lesson in 1908

Although the business of teaching swimming is NOT new, the best age to start swimming lessons is still a bit of a mystery for some parents. In fact, as a swimming teacher and also as a parent, I get this question time and again. Just do a Google search for ‘what is the best age to start learning to swim’ and you will see how many different opinions are circulating out there.

I have to say that this is not an easy question to answer, neither as an experienced swimming teacher nor as a sport scientist.

The reality is that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, and there is also no single formula that could be used for all children. But there are a number of factors that parents must consider before signing their children up to a swimming programme; I’m trying to highlight them through this blog.

Late Starters in Swimming!

Michael phelpsIt’s common knowledge that Michael Phelps (the most successful swimmer of all time) didn’t start learning to swim until he was 7 years old. As a parent, you may hear this and think ‘What’s the point of starting swimming lessons before my child is at school?’ You may ask yourself ‘Why should I even bother doing baby or toddler swimming lessons with my child?’

Please let me remind you that research also has shown that if children don’t know how to swim by the age of 9, there is a big risk they never will. So, all parents need to be very wary of delaying swimming lessons for too long.

‘The Sooner, the Better’?

These days, you can start off your children’s swimming journey as soon as they are born. At Blue Wave Swim School, we take children from four months. Parents need to understand that infants and toddlers don’t have the physical development or psychological maturity necessary to follow technical instructions; hence, the objectives of swimming classes are, for them, to instil a love of the water and NOT to teach them strokes (like front crawl and back crawl).

Fear is listed as the top reason for not learning to swim for both adults and children (2). Fear makes humans avoid situations that make them fearful.

To remove fear of the water and help your child be at ease with swimming, the sooner you start taking them swimming, the better, and the easier their learn-to-swim journey will be.

Baby swimming lessons

If baby and toddler swimming lessons are structured correctly, they can boost the water confidence of infants and toddlers immensely and lay important foundations for the formal part of learning to swim, which includes learning strokes.

It must to be pointed out that ALL babies and toddlers still need formal swimming lessons as they get older to learn strokes, no matter how confident they are in the water.

Nevertheless, a child who is very water confident and doesn’t fear doing activities in the water is able to progress much more quickly through the formal stage of the learn-to-swim process.

Studies have shown that children who start swimming lessons from two to three years of age learn basic swimming skills much more quickly than children who begin learning to swim at the age of four (1).

What is Swimming Readiness?

Physical activities, like swimming, involve repetitive movements. When swimming, children need to gain the ability to move their limbs and body and practise the same patterns of movement over and over. Therefore, having sufficient muscular strength and coordination and being psychologically mature enough to not lose motivation during 30-minute lessons, in order to do these repetitive movements, is very important when it comes to learning competitive strokes.

Children start having the physical and psychological developmental readiness necessary to learn swimming strokes between the ages of five and six.

teaching swimming to school aged children in group lessons, Wimbledon, London, U.K

In a study done in Australia on a large group of children aged between two and eight, it was found that children who are five to six years old have the best level of readiness for learning the front crawl (with unilateral breathing) (3). The American Academy of Pediatrics also says that although swimming lessons can start from the age of one, children are not ready for learning technique and strokes development until they are four years old (4).

A vast majority of children may need several years of learning or consolidation of basic aquatic movement skills before they can swim all four competitive strokes with good technique.

So, let’s go back to our initial question!

If someone asks me ‘What’s the best age to begin swimming lessons for a child?’ my answer will be ‘The sooner, the better but, it also depends on what you are looking to achieve.’ Deciding what your expectations are of a swimming programme and its lessons before signing up is very important. But ‘the sooner, the better’ rule, which is applied to learning many important skills in life, is also applicable to swimming.

Removing fear of the water is the fundamental stage of learning to swim universally, and it is much easier to conquer this stage in the early years.

If you have any questions about this blog or my previous posts, please feel free to contact me (Marjan).

Enquire About Booking Swimming Lessons

References:

  1. Brenner et al (2003). Swimming Lessons, Swimming Ability and the Risk of Drowning.
  2. USA SWIMMING RELEASES DIVERSITY IN SWIMMING STUDY
  3. Blanksby et al (1995). Children’s Readiness for Learning Front Crawl Swimming.
  4. American Academy of Paediatrics. Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers.

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