Written by: Cally Worden
Familiarisation with water can start from when your baby is as young as six weeks old, but at what age should you think about more structured swimming lessons? Parental opinion on this is typically divided, but as with so many decisions we make about our kids’ lives there are no rights and wrongs.
Babies Love Water
Provided they feel safe and warm, even tiny babies are generally happy in water. After all, they have been bobbing about in amniotic fluid for 9 months, so it’s kind of familiar to them. Introducing your baby to a swimming pool very early in life is fine as long as they are content. Simply moving around in the water with your baby, gentle splashing, and playing with toys all contribute to the fun.
Regular visits over the first year of their life will generally help your little to feel comfortable in what becomes a familiar environment, and set the scene for an easier ride once you start encouraging more independence in the water.
Of course, there will be some babies and young children who simply dislike water, and will never feel that comfortable in it. In this instance it is best to wait until your child is a little older, and revisit the pool once they have reached maybe 3 or 4 years old. For children who fall into this camp it is possible to start to build water confidence at home in the bath. The more confined environment will help them to feel more secure, and keep water familiarity alive at the same time.
Most larger swimming facilities offer baby, toddler and child swimming classes. It really never is too early to start, as long as your child is happy to go. In baby classes the emphasis is on feeling comfortable in the water. For toddlers the lessons incorporate more movement, buoyancy, balance and body streamlining. Some true water-babies may progress to a few seconds of water independence, even at this young age.
For preschoolers and kids of primary school age the lessons tend to become more structured, with a focus on different strokes, increasing stamina and introducing new skills like diving and life-saving.
Many primary schools still offer swimming as part of their sports curriculum. These sessions can be very valuable as they help your child to gain confidence in the company of their peers. Seeing their pals having fun can sometimes be just the nudge a reluctant swimmer needs.
Don’t forget to take your child to the pool just for fun sometimes too. If they only ever have lessons they may learn to associate swimming with duty, instead of the fun sport it really is. Besides, if you like a dip yourself it is a great way to spend some healthy family time.
A Few Practicalities
In the excitement of your first visit to the pool with your child it can be easy to forget the basics. Here is a simple reminder of what you need to consider:
- For babies and very small children the pool will need to be heated to at least 30 degrees
- Start with short periods of time in the pool – 10 minutes to begin with, lengthening the visit each time until you can stay for around 20-30 minutes without your child getting cold or fed-up. Beyond the age of 4-5 you can increase this time, but experts suggest that you keep sessions to less than an hour
- On your first few visits, be mindful that the environment is new for your child, and the sounds very echoey and different. Some babies may find it overwhelming and become distressed
- Don’t forget a swim nappy and a warm towel – one with a hood is useful
- Keep a snack or bottle ready for when you exit the pool to top-up your little one’s energy levels