When should a child Learn To Swim?
It’s been a terrible summer of drownings, and as a consequence many parents I have spoken to want to get their children swimming as soon as possible. I am often asked ‘How early should my child start swimming lessons?”
Swim Australia and the Australian Swim Schools Association recommend starting lessons from 6 months, but you can and should practice early water familiarisation before this at home. Babies are not born with a fear of the water, they have come from an aquatic environment in their mother’s womb and are usually happy and relaxed in the water. Fear and anxiety around water is acquired – as children develop independence and imagination some children will develop a fear of swimming or going under water. Make sure baby has regular baths and showers, and becomes comfortable with the sensation of water being trickled and then poured over their head from birth. Your 6 month old will then accept the water more readily, and with much less fear, than an older child, allowing them to develop early water safety and awareness skills (rather than spending all of their energy screaming the place down and trying to get out of the pool, which is stressful for parent and child alike!)
In addition to safety, there are other benefits for babies introduced to the water early, including the development of gross motor skills and improved strength, co-ordination and balance, as baby is supported by the water and less restricted by gravity. If a child is introduced to the water early, they will be more comfortable in the water and their movements will often be more natural than children who have starting swimming at a later age. In addition, a four-year project led by Griffith University has concluded that children who swim show more advanced physical and cognitive skills than those who don’t, including better visual-motor abilities, (such as drawing lines and colouring in shapes), and excelling in following instructions, language, counting and solving mathematical problems.
Having trouble getting your baby to sleep? So was I…..with all 3…..until I began their swimming lessons. Warm water combined with gentle exercise will relax your baby and stimulate their appetite, with many parents reporting that their babies usually eat and sleep better after swimming – mine certainly did! Additionally, the uninterrupted quality time whilst swimming facilitates an even deeper bond between parent and child, and as swimming becomes a natural part of your child’s weekly routine, a healthy exercise habit is created. Most centres allow either parent to accompany their child at their lesson, so both have the chance to experience being in the water with their child – often Mum and Dad take it in turns! And, as swimming lessons are often a child’s first formal activity or class for baby (and parent), they are excellent for socialising and play.
Please remember though that learning to swim is just one of the many layers of swim safety needed, a child who can swim is still not drown proof. Fence the pool, shut the gate, learn CPR and most importantly, constantly supervise and have babies and toddlers within arms reach at all times.