When to start swimming lessons

As the weather heats up, we start thinking about heading to the pool or the beach to swim and sunbathe, but vigilance is key when you’re bringing kids along to the water.

Swimming lessons for kids are a good way to get youngsters familiar with the water — but remember, drownings can happen to even experienced swimmers. Keep these summer safety tips in mind when you head to the beach or poolside with children.

When to Start Swimming Lessons

Chris Vitale, RN, MSN, manager of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Injury Prevention Program, says all kids and adults should learn to swim, but there are many schools of thought on when to start swimming lessons.

“It’s always a good idea to introduce kids to water when they’re young,” Vitale said. “As parents, you know your kids best, so you can begin lessons when you think it’s appropriate.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that children aren’t ready for formal lessons until after their fourth birthday. However, “survival” swim lessons are available starting at age 6 months. These classes teach babies and small children to roll over on their backs, with the hope that an adult will pull them out of the water quickly.

Formal swimming lessons vary by location and instructor. Some places have more structured lessons, where children must pass milestones to move on to the next level. Others pair students with an instructor or lifeguard and let the children learn at their own pace. Most classes for young kids require the parents to be in the water throughout the lesson.

In class, children learn to get comfortable around water, hold their breath, and float or keep their heads above water. They may do bobs, kick with a kickboard, and learn different strokes. Kids progress to higher levels as they master these techniques. Some lessons are more concerned with technique, while others may focus more on survival skills. Call around or observe lessons in your area to find out what style is best for your child.

Pool and Water Safety for Kids

The AAP and Vitale caution that swim lessons don’t prevent children from drowning. An adult should always have their eyes on kids in the water, even shallow pools, and be within arm’s reach of young children or those who aren’t strong swimmers.

Vitale also recommends that parents learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more commonly known as CPR, and offers these safety tips for parents with young children who have pools or visit them.

  • Don’t leave toys floating in the pool. Small children may fall in trying to reach them.
  • Always have a designated “water watcher” — ideally, an adult who isn’t on their phone, reading a book, or otherwise distracted.
  • Keep a phone nearby for emergencies.
  • Ensure that your pool has a gate that locks when closed and have a barrier between house doors and the pool.
  • Always watch small children around water — even in small kiddie pools in the backyard.

Vitale also cautions that any time adults have trouble finding a child around the house, they should always check the pool first.

“If your eyes aren’t on the child, and you don’t know where they’re at, check the pool first,” she said. Pool alarms are also good tools to notify you if a child goes outside near the pool.

Swimming lessons for kids are a great tool to help them get comfortable in the water and understand basic survival skills, but even strong swimmers can still find themselves in trouble.

In general, whether you’re at the pool or the beach, parents should have an eye on their children at all times.

For more, visit the UPMC Children’s Hospital website.

Editor's Note: This gallery was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .