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  • Janice Jaicks

When Should You Start Swim Lessons?

It’s a question I get all the time. When should I start swim lessons for my child? There has been controversy over what age to start children in swim lessons. As a water safety instructor for thirty years, I encourage you to start your children at a very young age (approximately 18 months). This is extremely important in Arizona with all our pools and waterways. It is equally important to continue lessons throughout the year (not just summertime) until your child is comfortable swimming without a flotation device and at least age five or six. Of course, continuing after this age improves skills, endurance, and is a great form of exercise.

I’ve seen articles suggesting that some pediatricians don’t believe a child should start swim lessons before the age of four. The theory is that a four-year-old child will not retain the skills needed to swim and will not have the cognitive ability to learn to kick and use their arms. I challenge this emphatically. Watch our video with Lexi, who is not yet three. Lexi has been taking lessons since she was nine months old. Her parents have pool net and self-closing latches on all their doors leading outside, and there is no substitute for eye to eye contact; however, it is undeniable that swim lessons are supporting the water safety effort of this family.

Young children must learn how to hold their breath so that they are not taking in water. This takes repetition and consistency. This is a skill that can be learned quickly with the correct instruction and proper cues. At Desert Swim School, we believe in combining learning how to climb out of a pool safely if one were to fall in, floating on one’s back, and actually swimming to help make a young child safer in water. You’ll see these skills on our video.

I’ve seen so many children over the age of six that don’t know how to swim. To be honest, many of these children already have fears built up, making the entire process of learning to swim more challenging.

Drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages one to two years old. That is an alarming statistic. Does it really make sense not to provide our children with training that could give a parent an extra minute to reach them? All reputable swim lesson schools in the Valley constantly remind parents and children that swim lessons are not fool-proof, but do provide the children with critical safety tools.

Behavioral/developmental pediatrician Dr. Michael Cohen has some comments in regard to teaching children to swim when they are young. He feels that parents should not wait until age four to teach their child to swim, especially in Arizona. In 1977, Dr. Cohen helped start the first organized community-wide water safety program in Arizona in conjunction with the Tucson Fire Department. “Children Aren’t Waterproof” was the slogan. “We understand that the Pediatrics Association is concerned that parents might let their guard down if they think their child can swim. We are concerned as well. That is why parents need to be educated.” says Dr. Cohen. “Waiting until your child is four to learn to swim is like saying, ‘Let’s wait until my child is two until we let him learn how to walk. I don’t want him to fall!’” Dr. Cohen also encourages starting swim lessons and water adjustment for younger children to help avoid fear prior to age four, and for the pure benefit of aquatic enjoyment and other benefits that water brings.

Further, in a study published by the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center (Seattle Washington 1995 reported in Injury Prevention) it was concluded that “swimming ability and safety skills of young preschool children can be improved through training. Such programs may offer some protection for children at risk of drowning.”

Whether you start your child at ten months, one and a half or three, get them started, practice, enjoy, and most of all — never let your guard down. Be sure that your caregivers do the same. Desert Swim School has been conducting swim lessons throughout the East Valley for children as young as ten months since 1985. Countless other reputable swim lesson providers, including the American Red Cross, offer and encourage lessons to babies and pre-school age children.

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