The answer depends on who you talk to.
I was reading about this subject today and some pediatricians said that some kids may only be able (developmentally) to learn when they are about four. My childrens' pediatrician believes they can begin lessons at 6-9 months old. The earlier the better, she believes.
Both trains of thought are right. Not every child is going to learn to read at the age of two or three - some are five and six before settling town to put pencil to paper. Same with swimming. Some kids need more time that others. The lessons need to be fun, non-competitive, with the instructor leading, not the parent. And if the child is very young (under 3) and screams or panics, don't force the lessons. Give it a few months and try again. Children need to love the water, not fear it.
On it's face, it does seem better to start a child early with swimming. Especially if you have a pool in your back yard or are living in a climate where year round pools and open.
I just spoke to a swimming instructor and am booking my 4 and 5 year olds in for semi-private (just the two of them) lessons in a few weeks. Their doctor raised her eyebrows when she asked me if they could swim yet and I said no. Better get on that, I thought. I'm choosing semi-private lessons for several reasons. Number one, they get better individual attention. We can choose our own time and day to get a lesson which works for our busy schedule, and I do not have to be in the pool with them - something that proves to be quite distracting for kids; they prefer to bounce around with Mom or Dad in the pool, rather than paying attention. Another reason - the cost isn't much more than group lessons. I'll start our nearly 3 year old once the other two are able to swim.
We don't have a pool (sigh!), nor do we have a climate that offers any more than four months of outdoor swimming every year (even deeper sigh) but many of us have inflatable pools. Some portable pools can be as deep as four or five feet.
All children should ultimately know how to swim, regardless of where they live or their access to a swimming pool. Kids need to learn to swim like they need to learn to cross the road safely and read and write. Some organizations even offer free lessons so sign your kid up, if he or she doesn't yet swim. Her life, some day, may depend on it. Call up your local public schools or recreation or community centers for information about lessons. The vast majority not only offer group lessons but private or semi-private. www.swim.com is another resource that can find lessons or instructors for you, based on where in the country your live.
On another note, kids can drown in a few inches or water, due to an accident (like a slip) that renders them unconscious or panicking or any other number of reasons. Even young children who can swim like fish need to be monitored and never left alone in a bath tub, shower, pool or any other body of water.
When did you learn to swim? Can your children swim? When did they learn?
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