When Should Your Child Learn To Swim?

22/07/2014 09:59 | Updated 22 May 2015

When should your child start to learn to swimAlamy

Every parent has a view on swimming lessons. "Take your child from six weeks old." "Don't bother until they're older." "Most swimming lessons have too many children in the class, so they spend the majority of time sitting on the side anyway." So it goes on.


So where does the truth lie? What's the best age to learn to swim? How should they learn? And how do you find the best lessons?


"As long as they feel safe, babies are comfortable in the water almost from the minute they are born," explains Jon Glenn, head of children and young people at the ASA, the national governing body for swimming. "Don't forget they are swimming in fluid in the womb for nine months."

To increase their confidence around water once they're born, have fun and play games in the bath, he advises. "When they're around six months old, introduce visits to the pool. Go and enjoy yourselves as a family and have fun. Then it's time to consider learning to swim."

In these baby/toddler swimming lessons, your child should learn core aquatic skills including buoyancy, balance, streamlining and how to travel. Stick with it and by the time they are toddlers, they may well be able to swim without buoyancy aids in these sessions. With some swimming schools, particularly those aimed exclusively at babies, you won't even use buoyancy aids in the first place.

If you don't want to wait until your baby is six months old, you can start earlier. Water Babies, for example, has taught babies from as young as two days old, although normally they start at around six weeks.

Like all good baby swim schools, Water Babies' main priority is to make swimming fun, but (and this is important) it balances this with being highly structured, including clear progression, aims and objectives.

If you take your child swimming on your own as a baby, make sure the pool is heated to at least 30 degrees centigrade, bearing in mind that you can always use a wet suit or snug which can add up to 2 degrees.

Whatever age your offspring is when you first make it to the pool, ensure that your first visit is a positive, gentle introduction to this multi-sensory world, says Paul Thompson, co-founder of Water Babies.

"Spend time on the side getting them used to the noises, colours, splashing and general hubbub of the pool environment as these will all be very different, and much louder, than at home. It's really important that you are calm and positive too as they'll take their cues from you. And because babies easily tire of water, restrict your first visit to 20-30 minutes and make sure you have a hat and towel ready for afterwards."

Once they get used to the water, babies love it, says Irene Joyce, the Swimming Teacher's Association's aquatic development officer. "They have much more freedom to kick and move in the water without hurting themselves than they have on land, where they may knock hard floors or toys."

Don't panic if your child wasn't introduced to swimming as a baby, insists Joyce.


Children can learn to swim at any age. It's never too late.


"Simply find a qualified toddler or older child swim school, talk to the teacher about any fears or apprehensions, go along for a visit and then take them swimming. Perhaps go to the pool as a family first. Enjoy the experience of being in a different kind of environment."

The best places to find good local classes are via the internet, your local authority or your local swimming pool (you can find pools on Remember that lessons are run by pool operators, private swim schools and local swimming schools. But also ask friends.

Word of mouth recommendations are often the best. "Surprisingly, it isn't illegal to run swimming lessons without qualifications, so be sure to ask which ones the teacher has," says Caroline Sparks, spokesperson for Turtle Tots swimming company. "You might want to ask for testimonials from other parents too."

If your child's a toddler, Sparks adds that you should make sure the swim school has an introduction programme specifically for this age group that will introduce them to swimming gently with lots of nursery rhymes and fun and toys involved.

Try to fit another visit to the pool between classes as it allows you to build your child's confidence, adds Sparks. Going swimming as a family becomes even more key if you decide not to go for classes or you depend entirely on the ones offered at school.

If, as an adult, you are not a strong swimmer or can't swim, simply stay in the depth of water you are comfortable in and perhaps investigate an adult swimming class or improvers' class, she says.

And if your child needs enthusing about the idea of swimming, you might be surprised just how excited they get about choosing their own costume. Mothercare has a fantastic range, some with favourite TV characters on, while Surfdome has some great options for older kids.

"Make sure boys' ones are the trunk type though - long shorts below the knee cause too much drag in the water and make swimming difficult for them," says Joyce.

If the child has difficulty with buoyancy, Konfidence jackets are brilliant, and if the child doesn't like putting their face in the water, goggles work well.

Seal goggles are latex free, soft on the face and give wide 180 degree vision.

"Swimming toys and aides such as animal shape floats, rings, floating flashing blinkie toys and animal sinkers and woggles are all reasonably priced and add fun to water play and discovery," adds Joyce.

Tragically, drowning is still the third highest cause of accidental death in the UK, but that's not the only reason to teach your child to swim. You'll give them the gift of a lifelong enjoyable activity that will help them keep fit and healthy, as well as improve enjoyment of holidays and prepare them for a whole host of potential water sports. Swimming also offers a unique bonding experience and is one of those few leisure activities that people of all ages can do together.

Check out these amazing water babies in our gallery below...

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