The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend formal swim programs for children under the age of 1, and only then if the child is developmentally ready. Seldom can a child younger than 1 raise his head out of the water reliably to breathe while in the water. At this age, parent-infant swim classes are a form of enjoyment and bonding as oppose to a water safety program which teaches children how to survive should they fall into the water alone.
Traditional vs. Survival swimming lessons
Another type of swimming lesson, known as “survival swimming,” teaches children swimming competencies based on the child’s age and developmental level, as well as skills to survive in the water alone.
While it may be appropriate for some children ages 1-4 to begin learning water-survival skills during traditional swimming lessons, the AAP does not recommend “survival swimming lessons” for children under age 4.
For toddlers, traditional swim programs should adhere to YMCA guidelines, with all instructors knowing CPR and the child’s head never being allowed to go below the water. Such lessons should not be considered a sign of true water safety, and parents should resist the urge to feel their children can be independent in the water following such courses.
The AAP’s guidance for Prevention of Drowning notes that, “teaching your child how to swim DOES NOT mean your child is safe in water,” but provides some guidance for parents interested in swim lessons with their children:
- Lessons may be reasonable for children ages 1–4 years to begin to learn “water-survival skills” but the group does not recommend swim lessons for children under age 4.
- Parents should consider several factors before deciding to enroll a child in lessons, including how often the child is around water, how mature he is, and if he has any physical limitations.
- Parents should also consider any pool-related health concerns, such as swallowing water, infections, and exposure to pool chemicals.
- Parents should practice “touch supervision” with children younger than 5 years old, at all times. The parent should be within arm’s length of the child at all times when he is in the pool.
- Parents should never leave children unsupervised alone or near the pool—ever.
If you’re interested in signing your child up for swim lessons, you may want to take a look at the World Aquatic Babies and Children Network’s guidelines for the operation of aquatic programs for young children. According to WABCN, such programs should have:
- Parental involvement
- Fun atmosphere with one-on-one teaching
- Qualified teachers
- Warm water (to prevent hypothermia)
- Well-maintained water
- Limited number of submersions (to prevent water ingestion)
Even if your child has completed swim lessons, the AAP cautions parents to follow pool safety guidelines, which address such issues as proper fencing, gate latches, rescue equipment, CPR, life vests, and pool covers.