Introducing Kids to Swimming: An Age-by-Age Guide

Swimming is the ideal summer activity—you get to enjoy the sunshine while keeping cool and expending energy. It’s especially great for kids because being in the water helps them to build confidence as they master a fun activity while simultaneously learning safety in the water.

Introducing kids to swimming and water is a great way to help them overcome any apprehension they may have around pools. While the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you wait until age four to get kids started in formal swimming education, you can introduce infants to the water as early as six months old.

Having kids in the water can bring up a lot of legitimate questions. How early can I put my kids in the water? When should they start lessons? In this post all about helping your kids feel comfortable in the water, we’ll go through by age and explain when they can be expected to hit various water-based milestones.

6 Months to 1 Year

At this stage, babies are old enough for gentle water games while being held by an adult. Show babies how to splash in the water so they get comfortable with it. Bob up and down to get them used to the feeling of water surrounding them. Make it a pleasant experience by singing and moving around, making sure to keep their head above water.

  • ALWAYS hold infants at this age.
  • BE SURE they stay warm. Babies lose heat rapidly in water that is below 85° F so if baby starts to shiver, it’s time to get out and get warm.
  • DO NOT submerge kids under 2 in the water. Kids at this age are known to swallow large amounts of water that can dilute chemicals in their blood causing sleepiness, nausea, and sometimes seizures. In rare instances, it can be fatal.

It’s important that infants wear swim diapers that prevent fecal matter from contaminating the pool and becoming a potential hazard for other swimmers.

Keep your eyes on infants at all age. They can drown in as little as an inch of water in less than 30 seconds so be aware of any seemingly inconsequential body of water inside or outside of your home.

2-3 Years Old

This is an age where toddlers become more and more interactive in the water. Have a toy like a ball around for them to play and interact with. Throw the ball and make them reach for it. Make sure they float in the water either supported by their stomach or back (not by the arms like with some poorly conceived flotation devices). Use proper flotation devices at this age that will help them get comfortable in the water without compromising their safety.

  • TEACH SAFETY. Kids at this age are starting to understand actions and consequences. Let them know that they don’t run near the pool and that they should only be getting in the water with an adult nearby.
  • DO NOT leave pool toys in and around the pool area—they may serve as a temptation to a toddler walking by who may think jumping in the water is a good idea. Make sure everything is picked up and put away after each use. Be sure you keep any pool gates or doors that lead to your pool closed, locked, or child-proofed.
  • THINK OF games that encourage your toddler to move their arms and kick their legs. Try helping them float supported on their back as you hold them up, keeping their bodies straight and their head above water.

Help show them how to blow bubbles in the water without completely submerging their head so they get used to the sensation of having water by their face without panicking.

Be wary of overconfidence at this age. A two or three-year-old may think they’re water savvy while still lacking the real skills necessary for survival. Don’t ever leave children alone in the water, even for a minute. Kids this age need constant ADULT supervision in the pool.

4-6 Years Old

  • Hooray! Age four is the when most kids are developmentally able to stay afloat in the water and learn proper swim techniques. If they don’t have a basic comfort level in the water, either choose a program that takes time for this (and may even have a parent/child emphasis) or take some time in your own pool to get them comfortable in the water. Whatever you can do to eliminate the fear of water and ease into the transition of lessons is beneficial.

At this age, kids should be able to float without assistance, submerge their heads under water for up to 10 seconds, go from a standing to a swimming position independently, and use (somewhat) coordinated leg and arm motions to kick and stroke in the water.

  • PRACTICE what’s called “reach supervision” where you are always within reaching distance of your swimmer. You don’t have to hold them, but it’s good for them to know you can grab them if they start to panic.
  • DO NOT force any activity that your swimmer isn’t comfortable with. Go at their pace—you don’t want to accidentally cause an aversion to the water by pushing them past their comfort zone.
  • NEVER assume another adult is watching your kid. Keep constant watch over swimmers at this age who may overestimate their ability in the water.

Studies have shown that most children start to swim really well around five-and-a-half-years-old, regardless of how young they were when they were first introduced to the water.

6 Years and Older

At six, children can start to learn real swimming strokes. At this point, he or she should be able to hold their breath under water long and retrieve weighted objects from the floor of the pool. They should be able to jump into the water and resurface on his or her own. Age is also often accompanied by greater endurance.
  • YOU MAY NOT have to be in the water with swimmers of this age, but you still should supervise visually.
  • KEEP extra vigilant if you take swimmers of this age to a beach or a lake. They’ll feel like their swimming skills are adequate at this point but swimming is often very different in natural bodies of water as opposed to the controlled environment of a pool.

Encourage six-year-old swimmers to master the 5 basic swimming skills they need to be considered water safe. You could make a chart in the summer and test and check off each as they become competent.

No matter what the age, it’s important to get kids familiar with the water so that they may eventually become water safe. And more importantly, so they can have fun and enjoy all that the summers have to offer!

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