Are Swimming Lessons  Beneficial  For Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers?

Toddler and pre-school aquatic programs (13 months to 4 year age bracket) afford an opportunity to introduce young children to the associated joys and risks of being in or around water.

These lessons conducted within these programs generally focus on developing water familiarisation and confidence and learn-to-swim readiness with an underlying emphasis on water-safety instruction not only for the parent but also the little swimmer themselves.

However, having a child attend swimming lessons at this age is not license for a parent to become complacent about their child’s swimming ability and the safety and security of their child around water.

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in Australia for children under 4 years of age.

While we have probably all heard of baby swimmer success stories and toddler swimming prodigies, water-familiarisation classes taken through swim schools are not designed to teach children to survive independently in the aquatic environment, and they DO NOT make your child drown proof.

Even though swimming lessons can provide an additional ‘layer of protection’ against childhood drowning, they should NOT be independently promoted as means for ensuring the risk of drowning is reduced.

Children of the age bracket in question are most at risk within and around water because of a growing curiosity and an uncertainty of behaviour having its origin in a newfound independence and mobility.

Under the age 4, children do not have the capacity to mentally comprehend the dangers associated with water as they are not yet able to fully recognize and understand the concept of cause and effect.

Although a toddler attending swim lessons might be able to float unaided or perform a turnaround manoeuvre from the edge of the pool, the chances are that in a hazardous water-related situation this child would not be able to make a correct judgment about the most appropriate problem-solving strategy to employ to resolve the situation.

At this point, drowning is a genuine possibility. All this should not be construed as suggesting that swimming lessons are a waste of time and money and, in fact, of course the opposite is true and there is much to be gained from an infant/toddler swimming program. The key point here, which is really just common sense, is that a parent needs to remain realistic about their child’s capabilities in the water (whatever the age of their child).

With all that being said, just what does a child under the age of 4 learn from a swimming program?

Major benefits of swimming lessons for toddlers and pre-schoolers are listed below:

– Proper poolside and in-water behaviour including reinforcement of the basic safety message “never swim without my Mummy or Daddy.”

– Entering the water using entries appropriate for their age and development – Development of vital breath control skills including holding breath and bubbling blowing

– Initiating submersion comfortably and for a distance up to 5 metres, including reaching for the side/recovering onto an object such as steps or a swim bench

– Learning to orientate vertically (i.e. turn around to the side) and horizontally (i.e. front to back and vice versa) in the water

– Ability to hold onto the side/edge of pool independently

– Floating on their back and front

– Rudimentary kicking and paddling skills

– Independent exit

– Learning to call for assistance (i.e. help!). Quite often young children are told to be quiet, and are reluctant to yell. We teach them that this behaviour is acceptable in certain situations.

-Learning NOT to swim in clothing (this includes the Swim Safer Weeks). Instead we teach the young child to associate swimming with a routine that includes taking their clothing off, putting their swimmers on, and getting into the pool with Mum or Dad. We do not promote the message to the kids that it is ‘ok to swim in clothes’.

– More of an understanding of their capabilities and potential risks of the water.

There are plenty of wonderful reasons to teach your toddler or preschooler to swim

Infant, toddler and pre-school swimming programs should be viewed as an opportunity to build the confidence of the child in and around water and to encourage within them enjoyment and respect for the water, while at the same time aiding the development of the child’s physical, mental, social and emotional skills in a safe, controlled environment that will provide the foundation for the child’s future learn-to-swim skills.