Swimming for babies and kids

Written by corri planck
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When is the right time to start swimming lessons? Now!

Swimming for babies and kids
Getting children to swim starts with getting them comfortable in water, which can start as early as 6 months old. (Getty Thinkstock)

We’re really creating a safe place for the baby to grow up in, so as they get older and start really learning to swim, they’ll have a good feeling and a level of comfort.

— Karen "Goldie" Goldberg, aquatics director, YMCA

As parents prepare for water fun, it’s a great time to evaluate your family’s level of comfort and confidence in and around the water and to take advantage of opportunities for you and your children to learn water safety and swimming skills. Not only can swimming lessons teach lifesaving skills -- drowning is the No. 2 cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 19 -- but they also can provide opportunities for infant/parent bonding, an enjoyable physical activity and socialisation with peers. While water safety and aquatics education professionals say children can start lessons as early as 6 months old, they also say it’s never too late to learn.

Starting early

Many institutions with long histories in aquatics education and water safety training recommend getting infants into the water.

Karen "Goldie" Goldberg, aquatics director at the YMCA, learned to swim at a YMCA. She is a passionate advocate for getting children into the pool early and letting them progress at their own pace.

“6 months is a great time to start, because a baby’s body temperature doesn’t begin to regulate itself until then. We make sure our training pools are 32 degrees Celsius in winter and 30 in the summer. That keeps them warm and comfortable."

The YMCA’s parent/infant classes are for children ages 6 months to 36 months.

“Our philosophy is really very child-based, taking into account the temperament and comfort level of the child. Our classes for that age are very repetitive, very motor-skills based,” Goldberg said. “We’re really creating a safe place for the baby to grow up in, so as they get older and start really learning to swim, they’ll have a good feeling and a level of comfort.”

Managing expectations

Parents shouldn’t expect their children to become world-class swimmers after a few lessons. It all depends on their comfort level and their motor skill level. When their motor skills become more developed, that’s when you really see changes in how they are swimming and their overall skill level.

That change often happens around ages 4 and 5. By then they are learning the floating skills, going under water, learning advanced water skills, kicking and may even start using strokes.

They may start with blowing bubbles in the water, then putting their face in, then their whole head. Some people still subscribe to the idea of "just throw them in."

The YMCA’s instructional philosophy also works against this false sense of confidence, Goldberg said.

“In addition to teaching them about swimming and pool safety, we also don’t use floaties, as they give a false sense of security.” Parents might think that if a child is in a flotation device, it’s safe for them to turn their backs, but it’s not, even for a second, Goldberg said. “That’s all it takes for a child to fall off or slip through a floatie, so we don’t allow that. We also don’t teach with life vests or life jackets.”

Getting Over Fear

YMCA’s philosophy is to build up children’s confidence, Goldberg said. “We always tell our kids, as well as the parents, the child never has to do anything they’re not ready to do. It can take weeks and weeks to build a sense of safety for them, not only in the pool environment but with the instructors as well.

“Just because one child is blowing bubbles with their face in the water, not every child will. Every child has their own pace.”

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