Question: Is my child ready for swimming lessons?
We just purchased a new house, which came with a built-in pool. The previous homeowners also had young children so they had installed quite a number of pool safety precautions, including a tall fence and locked gate and a pool alarm. While these give me some comfort, I think we should still enroll our three-year-old in swimming lessons. My wife disagrees, saying that our son is too young and we would just be wasting our money at this point. I want my son to enjoy the water, but most of all I want him to be safe. Is my child ready for swimming lessons?
You are right to be concerned. The statistics are grim. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14 years, with children under age four having the highest drowning rates. And even if a child survives a drowning, the CDC says that more than 55% of (all) drowning victims treated in emergency departments require hospitalization.
Along with the pool safety initiatives you listed above, swimming lessons are another layer of protection in keeping your child safe in and near the water. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, formal swimming lessons are best started once a child turns four years of age, when they are developmentally and physically ready to learn to swim. Before that, a young child might not be able to coordinate their arms and legs properly to perform the strokes necessary to swim correctly in the water, nor pay attention to an instruction long enough in order to follow directions.
Still, teaching your child water safety is never a bad idea, no matter what their age. This is something you can do in your own home in your own pool, or through aquatics classes offered in your community. Parent-child water-orientation classes are a great way to spend time with your little one, while you both learn something new. These types of classes generally just let kids have fun in the water, letting them get used to the idea, while at the same time, starting to learn important water safety tips.
If you decide your child is old enough and ready for swimming lessons, choose a private lesson or a class that is especially designed for your child's age and ability. This means that not only are kids are taking classes with other children their age, but that swimmers are grouped by their skill level -- beginner, intermediate, etc as well. Whether within a group or with a one-on-one teacher, swimming lessons should teach basic arm and leg movements, water safety and what to do in an emergency. Lessons should also progress -- basics need to be taught and mastered before your child can move up to the next level.
Keep in mind, whether you sign your child up for swimming lessons or an aquatics class of some type, make sure all of the instructors have first aid certification. And if it is simply an aquatics class for a young child, make sure you can stay in the pool and your child isn't required to put his head under the water. Also remember that even if your child has taken swimming lessons, that is no substitution for constant supervision -- your child should never be left alone near a pool or other body of water.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional Drowning: Fact Sheet. Updated May 16, 2011.
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers. Pediatrics Vol. 105 No. 4 April 2000, pp. 868-870 (updated October 1, 2004).