When Can I Teach My Baby to Swim?

Are you getting social media jealousy when you see video on your feed of your friends’ infants swimming on their own? You’re still teaching your little one the pincer grasp, and the newborn of that girl from the 5th grade knows how to rescue himself in a pool of water. You’ve always heard the early bird gets the worm, but is that true when it comes to learning to swim? ISR, or Infant Self-Rescue aside (it obviously has tons of benefits), we’re talking about traditional swim lessons.

Researchers studied almost 300 children ages 3-8 to see how long it took them to master certain skills, and it turns out there is a magic number. 

I like to compare it to something a newborn nurse told me once: “You can teach a one-day old baby how to walk, but it’s going to take them a year to figure it out.” The same is true for swimming.

You can start lessons when your little one is 1, 2 or 3, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will be swimming before preschool. They will develop plenty of useful skills that will one day get them swimming, but it’s going to take them a longer period of time than those who start later

So, when can I teach my baby to swim?

5.5 years old. The study, published in the Journal of Motor Learning and Development found that 3-year olds took four times longer to master the first level of swimming proficiency than children who started swim lessons at the age of 7 or 8. That’s because motor and intellectual skills are constantly improving as kids mature. Young kids have a more difficult time acquiring new patterns of locomotion (which is why it is rare to see a 2-year old skip or a 3-year old ride a bike). If you wait to start lessons at that prime age of 5.5 years old, your child will master the art of swimming in a shorter amount of time than he would have previously.

That being said, you don’t need to feel foolish for all of those swim lessons you paid for while your child was still in a swim diaper (as I am doing now with my youngest). There are many benefits to swim lessons that we wrote about here from another study. That study concluded that young children who were enrolled in swim lessons developed social, intellectual, linguistic and physical skills; many of which help them be better prepared for school. Plus, they may learn to swim when they’re younger than 5.5; it’ll just take a bit longer.

The first step in teaching your child to swim is by getting them comfortable in the water. You can do this by taking a Mommy and me swim class or by putting them in the Otteroo. We recommend that as soon as they turn 8 weeks old (and weigh 9 pounds), you get them in the water. The younger they start, the more they seem to enjoy it. We recommend that you use your Otteroo for the first time in a familiar environment with comfortable water temperature. Fill the tub up deep enough so that the baby is able to float.

Those happy smiles will soon lead to a baby who is confident in the water, who one day, will be jumping off the high dive.

Julie Forbes

Julie Kroenig Forbes graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She spent the next 10 years working as a news anchor and reporter in various cities, most recently in Nashville, Tennessee. After a few years in Northern California and New York, she now lives in Ohio with her husband and four kids.
Julie Forbes

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