The Importance of Swim Lessons and When to Start


A child’s first few years are filled with memorable developmental strides and milestones. As parents, we watch them learn to roll, scoot or crawl. Then walk, run, skip and leap. We go on to build these skill sets to ensure long-term independence, health and safety the best we can.

With summer upon us, it’s important to remember that learning to swim is just as important a life skill.

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of pool safety and providing layers of protection anytime our littles have access to water. It’s worth mentioning again that drowning remains the leading cause of death in children 1-4 years old, with the exception of birth defects in the U.S.

Undoubtedly, the development of strong swimming skills is the most important layer of drowning prevention. In this post we’ll discuss recommendations specifically related to building those very important water survival competency skills.

First things first. When should one consider child swim lessons?

As with any decision regarding readiness, we have to look at the individual child to decide when the time is right. Parents should consider their child’s developmental capabilities, including physical abilities, cognitive abilities and maturity level. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents consider swim lessons for children between 1-4 years.

Most children have the ability to learn to float and tread safely to an exit point by the age of 4. And the majority of children have the ability to learn simple strokes, such as the forward crawl or freestyle stroke by 5-6 years.

Alright, my child seems ready to start. What should one look for when choosing swim lessons?

When looking for swimming lessons, parents should seek out those with a curriculum focused on water competency versus one focused on swim form. Water survival competency skills include the ability to anticipate, avoid and survive risky situations common in drowning scenarios.

Look for programs which train their instructors through nationally recognized curriculums and those that require CPR certified personnel on duty during classes. To encourage safety during lessons, classes should arrange for “touch supervision,” meaning an adult should be within arm’s reach of every child at all times.

Instructors should encourage water safety knowledge as much as possible. This includes never swimming alone or without adult supervision and asking permission to enter a body of water.

Lessons should also focus on self-rescue skills should a child end up submerged in water unexpectedly. Ideally, classes will include practicing various realistic conditions.

How long should lessons continue?

Swimming lessons should continue at least until a child has mastered basic water competency skills. According to the American Red Cross, one is considered water competent once they master the following sequence:

  • The ability to submerge into water
  • Return to the surface
  • Float or tread for at least one minute
  • Turn fully in a circle to look for an exit
  • Swim 25 yards to exit the pool without needing a ladder

What about cost?

It’s true, lessons can be expensive. If cost is a concern, scholarship programs through individual swim schools or through national organizations such as Hope Floats and the USA Swimming Foundation provide aid to families who qualify.

Beyond Water Safety Skills

Lastly, let’s not forget that swimming is fun!

Beyond water safety skills, swimming helps improve coordination and core strength. It also provides children with a sense of accomplishment once they’re swimming confidently. Mastery of water competency skills provide the foundation for a life-long love of swimming and the opportunity for safer family fun around water.

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Paras is an Iranian American, born in Tehran and raised in Texas. She is now pleased to call Colorado home. She is the mother of two rambunctious boys, a wife to an equally rambunctious husband (genetics!) and a pediatrician. Paras attended medical school at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and went on to complete her pediatric residency training at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Her special interests include childhood advocacy, healthcare education, and she absolutely loves working with new parents. After having children of her own, she quickly realized that raising kiddos was not as straightforward as many pediatric medical texts or parenting books might imply! She has found it extremely fulfilling to navigate the challenging, yet rewarding world of being a working mom alongside her patients and peers. In her spare time, Paras enjoys hiking, embroidery and is an aspiring yogi on the journey to attaining and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.