This is definitely the most common question that parents ask swimming teachers.
And here’s the answer…
Between 1 day and 5 years.
I’ve taught children how to swim in a day. Children whose parents have taught them to love the water, who’ve let them explore and play and experience a little bit of their own buoyancy. Children who love getting their face wet and can’t wait to learn.
And then I’ve taught children who’ve had FEAR instilled in them by their parents, friends, family or even sadly a swimming teacher. It can take years to undo the damage of those bad experiences, but with patience and care, it can be done.
Learning how to swim is an individual process, and it depends on so many things, like a child’s natural feel for the water, their natural levels of buoyancy, their previous experience in the water, their level of anxiety about the process, how trusting they are of the teacher, and of course, their motivation, as in, how eager they are to learn.
There’s a lot YOU can do to help the process along though, and here are my top tips:
- Introduce water as a fun, interesting part of everyday life from an early age. Let your baby’s face get wet in the bath. Let your toddler splash around in the pool. Let your child jump and splash and explore in shallow water or wearing a swimming aid. Make water time fun, exciting, and just another normal part of life, and when it comes time to learn to swim, you’ll be half way there.
- Model positive responses to getting wet. If you scream and freak out when you get splashed, don’t expect your child to relish the thought! If you tense up and walk around the pool on your toes trying to keep your shoulders out and your face dry, you’re telling your child that water is something unnatural that they should avoid!
- Teach water safety through respect, not fear. I can’t count the number of children who’ve come to me to learn to swim but all they’ve ever heard near a pool is ‘Get away, you’ll drown!!’. Now how am I supposed to make the child believe that it’s ok to learn to swim with me after they’ve been brought up to fear the water? Set rules and explain the potential hazards (depending on the age), but if you ever want your child to have a positive relationship with water, please don’t instill fear which is terribly difficult to undo.
It’s never too early – or too late – to learn to swim. Start today!