Lee-Anne McQueen, a local swimming teacher, shares here experience with us.

Learning to swim is one of the most important life-skills our children need to learn, a life-skill which those who are passionate about teaching swimming feel is just as important as learning to walk and talk.

This is because affording our children a well-rounded education about swimming and water safety not only prevents drowning and gives us as parents peace of mind, it sets them up for a life-long positive relationship with water and all the benefits that enjoying water for exercise, sport and play has to offer.

So when is the best time to introduce your child to swimming lessons?

There are many schools of thought, but here is a general guideline to explain what lessons will focus on, and what your child will be able to do, at various ages.

6 to 12 months.  During the baby phase, lessons focus mainly on water familiarization and  orientation.  Swimming lessons will include songs and gentle movement, and most teachers encourage submersion.  Babies of this age need to swim in water 30degrees+, and a parent or trusted adult should be in the pool with them.

12 to 30 months.  From about 12 to 18 months of age, little ones can start to respond to the swimming lesson routine by kicking, holding onto the wall, submerging on cue, floating, performing arm movements, turning around, rolling over, and climbing in and out of the pool safely.  The youngest baby I’ve ever seen swim across a pool is around 18 months, but because babies are very top-heavy, they mostly struggle to breathe unaided until at least 2.5 years old.  These skills should be learnt in a gentle, nurturing environment, in a warm pool, and with a parent or trusted adult in the water – after all, we are our children’s teachers until they go to school.  The most important life-skills that can be taught at this age are jumping in and turning around to find the wall, and rolling onto the back to breathe.  However learning these skills will take constant, consistent, frequent lessons, and still not every child will learn them before 2.5 to 3 years old.  A word of warning: it may be very cute and impressive, but babies who are very comfortable swimming under water before they’re able to lift their head to breathe are a danger to themselves and will need even stricter supervision than those who are wary of the water.

2.5 to about 5 years.  2.5 years is the ideal time to start formal swimming lessons,  as at this age children can quite quickly learn to move, float, turn around, lift their head to breathe, and practice basic movements of the more formal strokes and techniques like diving.  A benefit of starting at this age is that most children are in some sort of pre-school environment where they’re used to taking instructions, listening to the teacher, etc.  Obviously all children progress at different rates, but as long as your child is acquainted with the water beforehand (even just through play at home or submerging in the bath) and will happily put their eyes in the water, they can learn to swim fairly quickly.  Once again, consistency and frequency of lessons play a big role, as does a comfortable environment and good relationship with their swimming teacher.  Intensive swimming lesson clinics are always a good way to see a lot of progress in a short space of time at this age.

5 + years.  Children who learn to swim after the age of 5 usually fall into 2 categories: either they’re eager to learn, they’ve been in the water a lot and can’t wait to gain independence and explore the water environment more, or they’ve had a bad experience or been repeatedly told they’ll drown so they’re scared and take a long time to overcome their fear.  From 5 years onward children tend to pick up basic strokes fairly well in swimming lessons, and by the time they reach grade 1, should be able to swim at least one length of a 25m pool  with confidence.  Some 5 year olds can perform all 4 strokes fairly accurately, including dives and turns, but this depends on their experience in the water, but most teachers aim to achieve this by the end of grade 2 (around 8 years old).

When should I stop swimming lessons?

This is something else I get asked all the time.  Swimming can be divided into 2 categories – the life-skill, and the sport.  If your child is confident, competent, fairly experienced and safe around the water and that’s all you wanted to get out of the process, then by all means stop your swimming lessons.  You can always pick them up again at a later stage.  If your goal is for your child to be able jump in the pool and swim laps, or to take part in waterpolo, lifesaving etc. at a later stage, then I would say continue until about the end of Grade 2, which is when they should have a pretty good understanding of the 4 strokes and the main techniques, and the skills should be ingrained enough to be able to join a social swimming squad at a later stage with just a little stroke correction.  However, if you’d like your child to be a part of the swimming team and perform at galas, then I’d advise you not to stop at all!  Swimming performance is all about time in the water, so the more experience you can allow your child before galas start, the better.