How long will it take my child to learn to swim?
This is a question that goes through many parents’ minds. Learning to swim is a life skill so many families prioritise swimming as an activity throughout childhood. However it can be frustrating as it is not a motor movement that is natural to humans.
Should I take my preschooler to swimming lessons?
Infant swimming lessons help your child get comfortable in the water. The lessons also provide a sensory activity and help the young participants practise their physical development skills. Children aren’t typically ready to learn strokes such as freestyle until around 4 years old, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics. However this doesn’t mean that they are not building important foundation skills along with many other benefits when they take part in water activities. Early lessons can give them a great head-start to learning the formal strokes. A video here published by Griffith University of Sydney details the benefits they found in their research.
So back to how long it takes to learn to swim? This is impossible to answer as every child is different. All we know for sure is that it takes practice and exposure to water. Look at how long it takes a child to move from walking to running. They take thousands and thousands of steps before this is possible. Swimming is more complex than walking/running. To walk you are using symmetrical patterns. Swimming freestyle requires the brain to assimilate right arm and left arm moving at different times, legs to kick straight (which doesn’t come naturally, especially to boys), all the while maintaining breath control and keeping the head in the right spot for the ultimate body position. Phew! Like teething, it’s probably a good thing most of us don’t remember having to learn to swim!
Some developmental interests:
- Without good body position (floating), you can’t kick well; without a strong kick and strong arms, you won’t be able to learn to breathe on the side. If we progress too quickly through the stages, swimming development may be slowed or halted.
- Many boys don’t straighten out their legs until approximately 7-8 years of age. They are often preoccupied with riding bikes rather than making beautiful pointy ballet toes!
How can I help my child learn?
- Take your child to the pool regularly. World Wide Swimming recommend lessons twice a week. This is not feasible for most families, but exposure to water even in a play situation will help somewhat.
- Continue swimming throughout the winter.
- Make a change if they are not enjoying their lessons. This might be the Teacher, the pool, the time of lesson, lesson style (e.g. longer, fewer swimmers) or last resort, have a term off (as long as you keep taking them to the pool for fun)
Parent Experience Shared:
I am a mother of 3 boys (aged 3, 7 and 9) and a competitive swimmer in the past. The boys have been taking swimming lessons at the Swim Sense pool for the past 9 years. We started our boys for the social experience and water confidence. They learnt water skills through enjoyment and at age related levels. There was a clear process to the learning based on the motor skills development at their particular age. There is no point in trying to teach our 3 year old breastroke, however he has learnt skills that will make him “skill ready” to achieve these more advanced swim techniques, and he has safety skills that could save his life.
Could we have started their swimming when their motor skills were of a level to learn stroke technique straight away? Of course we could have, and it’s never too late to start, but our family spends a lot of time outdoors in and around water and we have experienced first-hand the benefits of knowing safety skills, such as babies/toddlers holding their breath underwater, to give adults enough time to assist. Something we noted also was that although we sometimes didn’t see significant changes they were actually still learning important skills.
In hindsight, I wish we had known this as when our eldest was seven, we stopped his swimming lessons. We thought he could swim now so we should stop. He then self taught his own style and his younger brother, still in lessons, found swimming much more natural. Noticing the difference in efforts to swim, we put our eldest back in swimming lessons this year, he is now 9. He has found it hard to break the bad habits due to missing some valuable steps in stroke technique, but we are beginning to see he is finding swimming a lot easier and his technique a lot more relaxed and natural. We are really happy with the benefits that the boys have received through their swimming lessons, even though it feels like a long time, we will continue until they have learnt all of their stroke techniques. I hope they never have to use them in a rescue situation but if they were ever caught out in a lake or the sea then I am confident that these skills would save their lives.