When can my child take swim lessons?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children not participate in formal swim programs before the age of 1, and only then if the child is developmentally ready. It is rare for a child younger than 1 to raise his head out of the water reliably to breathe while in the water. At this age, parent-infant swim classes may be a form of enjoyment and bonding, but they should not be considered a water safety program that 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 their age and developmental level, as well as skills to survive alone in the water.

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. All instructors should know CPR, and the child’s head should never be 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 enrolling 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 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 the child is in the pool. 
  • Parents should never leave children unsupervised or alone near a pool.

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. 

Read more about water safety here.

Last updated February 19, 2024

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