Swimming lessons and the resulting ability to swim is something that will benefit every child their whole life. In the early years, the primary advantage is obviously one of water safety, but in the longer term, benefits include improved fitness, balance, coordination, and increased self-esteem.
With professionally trained instructors and a safe learning environment, swimming lessons are a great way to get your kids water-wise, and let them have fun with other kids their own age.
A good swimming instructor will encourage respect for the water and will develop your child’s confidence in and around the water. This becomes the foundation for children to enjoy the many recreational and sporting activities that involve water in Australia.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, drowning is the main cause of accidental deaths in under-5 year olds. That’s why it’s imperative to teach your children general water safety and swimming skills, especially if you live near open water or have a pool.
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How to learn to swim
Learning to swim is a process that can start at birth. Getting your child used to being in water at bath time can be fun – for the kids and for you! Many children learn to swim before they can walk and the sooner they start the better.
How you choose to teach your children to swim depends mainly on their age. As a broad rule-of-thumb:
- Under 6 months, babies can become familiarised with water at bath time
- First lessons can start from around 6 months old, and are generally fun exercises with parents to get the child used to the water
- 3 to 4 year olds can start with “formal” lessons, learning the swimming strokes like freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke
When formal teaching does begin, there are plenty of options to choose from. The local public pool or aquatic centre is a good place to start out; most run swimming programs throughout the year for all ages and sizes. These programs are usually group-based and need to be booked in advance, either by month or by term.
The option also exists to hire a private swimming instructor to provide one-on-one teaching, but will obviously be more expensive and will lack the social element, especially when the children are younger and parents are involved.
In the following 3 sections, you will find more information on swimming for infants, toddlers and kids:
Babies have been in the watery environment of the womb for 9 months of pregnancy so in these early stages, they generally have little fear of water – this fear is usually learned later in life rather than being instinctive – so early in life is an ideal time to start getting them used to being in the water. Showing them how to blow bubbles in the bath water, pouring small amounts of water over their heads and helping them “swim” around the bath on their tummies are some ways you can help your infant gain more confidence in the water.
When kids reach 6 months they will be old enough to start lessons at the local pool, aquatic centre or registered swim school. At this age, kids go into the pool with mum or dad and learn in small groups with a trained instructor. On cooler days, you will tend to find dad in the water as mum waves encouragement from the sides.
From 1 to 3 years of age most children are learning to walk and the toddler stage is a wonderful time for them to gain skills in the water as well. Swim Australia recommends that until 2 or 3 years of age, children need a carer in the water with them. As a parent, nothing compares with seeing your child develop and become confident in the water, so take advantage of the lesson time to have fun with your child.
As swim lessons progress, the children will learn to move to the side of the pool and climb out of the pool on their own. Free floating and back floating are also introduced as well as some basic kicking and arm paddling.
Most children lack the fine motor skills to master “proper” strokes until the age of 4 years old.
Kids swimming lessons
From the age of 4 years old, children start developing their co-ordination and can be taught specific strokes like freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke. “Formal” lessons can begin at around three years of age when they are old enough to be in the water without mum or dad.
The essential prerequisites for formal lessons generally include:
- Ability to move through the water – basic ‘doggie-paddle’ and leg kicking
- Balance – knowing which way is ‘up’ allows them to find the surface of the water quickly
- Submersion – putting the head under the water while holding their breath
- Recovery – safely getting to the side of the pool
From the age of 5, children are eligible to join a junior lifesavers or “nippers” group at their local beach. By this time, they should have the ability and confidence to swim in shallow waters on their own, but of course any swim time at this age should always be closely supervised by a parent or guardian.
Swimming lessons will give your kids an asset for life and let them enjoy all the activities and water sports we love in Australia. Learning to swim is a process that should start from an early age and lessons are an important part of that process. As well as keeping your kids safe around the water, the lessons can be a fun time for parents too – even when your little ones are splashing you in the face or jumping on you from the side of the pool!