When is it too early and when is it too late to start swim lessons? When should a child begin swimming lessons?
Understanding the different stages of learn to swim can help us with this question.
Learning to swim as a baby
Starting as a baby won’t necessarily make your child a better swimmer in the long run, but provided the lessons are enjoyable and appropriate for their age, there are many benefits to be had with an early start. A child centred program can help to prevent water fears, provide more movement opportunities for the bub than on land, helps to develop social skills and bonding and helps the child’s overall development in many other ways.
The bonus is that with regular attendance your little one will develop basic skills at an earlier age than those who start when they are older. If a child started swimming lessons as a baby, usually at around two and a half toddlers can propel themselves short distances, turnaround, grab the side and pull up for a breath. At the same time, a later starter might be just beginning to put their face in the water.
Swimming lessons and water confidence
Until around three or four years of age, depending on the maturity, development and coordination of the child swimming lessons are all about water familiarisation and safety. Kicking back to the side, floating, propulsion, treading water and other survival skills can help at an age when children are most vulnerable around water. Regardless of these or other swimming skills, a child may have, it’s important to remember that we can never take our eyes off children in or around water.
Once children have basic survival skills and as they mature and become stronger and more coordinated their mastery of swimming strokes increases. This is the stage where teachers not only build upon the basic safety skills but introduce many elements of the formal strokes, such as freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke.
Setbacks with swimming education
Learning to swim is not easy for many children and watching their awkward struggles to master these strokes leaves many parents wondering if they’ve given birth to a baby giraffe or an octopus or that their child is not genetically predisposed to swim!
With plenty of practice, you will have a swimmer, and they will eventually pass through this “wobbly” stage. It is at this stage when they will begin to refine their strokes in what is often call stroke development classes or mini squads. Improving the strokes is more important than is often credited. Stroke correction is not about getting the kids to the Olympics, but rather helps the swimmer to become more efficient in the water so that they are more capable of managing challenging situations.
A more challenging situation might be colder water than usual, deeper water, rough water or unfamiliar water. It often doesn’t take a lot for a swimmer to panic and the more skill they have up their sleeve, the more resources they will have at their disposal. The more efficient they are in the water means less energy expended and so generally means a longer survival time in the water.
Swimming lesson progression
Learning to swim is a long process and the more stops and starts or time out of the water the slower the process. The more time in the water usually means faster progress within the developmental ability of the child. Private swim lessons with smaller groups will generally provide more teacher attention than the larger school swimming groups. Equally continuing the swimming lessons over the winter period will ensure the continued improvement without breaks that may require some relearning of skills and confidence.
There’s no disputing that people who learn to swim as adults or non-swimming adults regret the lost opportunity to learn as a child. As a parent, know that the time and money you’re spending running back and forth to swimming lessons will be worth the effort.
This expert article was written for Brisbane Kids by Barbara Nolan from Dipadees Swim School. For more information on learn to swim programs and swimming lessons check out www.dipadees.com