What is the Best Age to Start Swim Lessons?

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Having kids comes with a lot of decisions, one of which being at what age should you start your child in swim lessons.  As your child grows older it is exciting to begin them in various activities that will help mold your child into a well rounded adult and one skill nearly every adult needs is how to swim.  This question is also equally important to swim teachers, who need to decide to which age groups they are willing to teach.  To make your decision there are several aspects to consider to make the best choice for you and your child.

At what age should you start swim lessons? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that a child should begin swim lessons at the age of 5.  The AAP once opposed swim lessons for anyone under that age, but they have since changed their perspective and now state that swim lessons for any child ages 1-4 is acceptable, with the understanding those children are not developmentally ready to gain the skills necessary to become proficient swimmers. 

Obviously, this recommendation gives a concrete answer to the question of at what age a child should begin swim lessons, but this could be a struggle if you are a parent who wants to make water activities a large part of your home life.  For parents who have a desire to begin swim lessons before the recommended age of five, there are a lot of things to consider.   This article will outline the concerns and benefits of beginning swim lessons at various ages and stages in your child’s life which will help to guide you to the best choice for your child.  It will also help swim teachers decide to which age groups they are comfortable teaching lessons.

Swim Lessons for those at Age 5 and Older

There are both benefits and concerns you should be aware of with starting a 5-year old in swim lessons.

The Benefits of Starting a 5-Year Old in Swim Lessons

There is a good reason that the AAP recommends beginning a swim program at the age of 5 or older.  Children, at this age, have matured to a point where they are able to listen, understand and take direction from teachers.  They also have the ability to understand their control over their body and master tricky skills more easily. Children who are at this stage in their development will move through the swim program much more quickly.

When a child is presented with multi-faceted directions, it can be confusing for young children, whereas older kids have the ability to put all those steps together and find a rhythm in the stroke. A perfect example of this is teaching crawl stroke.  This is the most common swim stroke taught, but to be done properly it requires a child to coordinate their arms, leg, head and breathing.  A child who is 5 or older has the ability to process these movements where younger children would struggle.

Besides the ability to learn and process at a much faster pace than younger children, there are also physical benefits for children aged five and older.  Children who are a little older are also a little taller and more substantial.  Although all swim lessons should be taught in age appropriate depths of water, there are often times when a younger child will not be able to reach the bottom during a lesson.  The taller a child is, the less likely they will experience a scary moment of going underwater on accident.

Height is a major plus when it comes to swim lessons, but not the only physical benefit.  Five-year olds are also much more coordinated than their younger counterparts.   One skill I have been working with my three-year old on is skipping.  Although she is almost four, she still struggles to alternate legs and jumping.  She has not yet developed full control of her limbs, whereas my five year old skips around the house daily despite my lack of instruction in her youth.

The final benefit of beginning lessons at five-years old is the child’s ability to retain what they have learned.  Just as kids experience the summer slide when they are not in school for three months, there is a more drastic slide when it comes to swim knowledge.  This process definitely occurs during the colder months, but it can also occur from lesson to lesson.  5 year olds, and older, have a better chance of retaining what they have been taught from lesson to lesson, as well as through the winter months. It may take time to refresh, but the concepts learned have a better chance of sticking than they do for younger children.

There are a ton of benefits to enrolling your five-year old in swim lessons.  This is a great time to help your child thrive in the water but that does not mean it will be smooth sailing.  There are many benefits but there are also some concerns you should prepare yourself for as a parent.

swimming lessons age

The Concerns with starting a 5-Year old in Swim Lessons

Starting your child in swimming lessons at five-years old is a great time, but as a parent you will want to be prepared to address a few concerns if they arise during swim lessons.  The first concern to prepare for is an initial hesitancy in the water.  Although five-year olds, and older, are able to adapt to swim lessons more quickly than younger children, they may be more nervous to start.  Older children are more aware of the world around them, which means they are more aware of the reality that they can get hurt. This awareness can lead to a timid first time swimmer.

Many parents assume that their children will adjust seamlessly because their child had spent so much time in the water with a life jacket. Life jackets are a great tool, but kids often learn to rely on them especially if it is all they have known for 5 years.  This transition can be a difficult one for any child, so as a parent you will want to be aware of your child’s temperament.  For a child who is naturally timid you may want to take them to the pool without their swim vest a few times before their swim lessons begin. This will help alleviate any nervousness of being without a swim vest for the first time.  If you decide to shed the swim vest during a family swim, make sure to keep you child close as they discover their new limits without a swim vest.

As I mentioned above, older children are more mentally, physically and developmentally prepared to make the most of swim lessons, but this does not mean that they will always start miles ahead of their younger counter-parts.  Five-year old swimmers who have not had long term exposure to swimming will have a very limited skill set about equal to younger children.  This means that their first lessons may cover the basics of going underwater, blowing bubbles and kicking.  This could be frustrating for a parent who hopes that waiting to enroll them would mean immediate results.  This fear, however, is not warranted as your child has all the tools necessary to be successful and will quickly master those first skills.

I have discussed the concerns of a lack of exposure to the water, but there is another concern that some parents will have to face when beginning an official swim program: overcoming a casual relationship with the water.  I have two daughters (5 and 3) who have both taught themselves how to swim.  This is mainly because we are in the pool every single day and they have observed what to do to move throughout the water.  Although they are proficient, I still want them to develop proper form and build endurance so I decided to teach them swim lessons myself after my normal swim lessons.

My attempt to teach them failed miserably as my girls were so comfortable in the water, they saw no need to slow down and perfect the basics before learning how to do a flip or dive. One of the issues I faced was that my children associated me with play time in the water instead of looking at me as a teacher, but even when enrolled in separate lessons, their instructor has to keep a firm handle on the schedule or else my girls are more than willing to run the show.

My girls are a great example but I have had other students who absorb every word I say in one session and make great strides, but by the second session they have spent so much time in the pool they would rather do their own thing.  If your child is this personality, you will want to prepare yourself and the instructor that a firm plan is best and set a standard that swim lessons are different than recreational play.

Is it Best to Start Swim Lessons at 5 Years Old for Your Child?

Waiting a little longer to begin swim lessons will allow your child to truly thrive in the water.  Their mental, physical and developmental maturity is beneficial to their ability to learn and maintain proper swim form to gain proficiency.  Although waiting is beneficial in many ways, it is not without a few concerns.  If you properly prepare yourself and your child for lessons waiting until your child is 5 years old is a great decision on your part.

Beginning Swim Lessons at the ages of 3-4

There are several reasons that a parent would want their child to begin swim lessons before the age of five.  If a child is going to have consistent and extended exposure to water, water safety lessons would make a lot of sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not discourage swim lessons for children ages 3-4 years old, but beginning swim lessons this early is not recommended by them.  Although it is not recommended by AAP, it does not mean that there are not benefits as well as a few concerns parents should consider before deciding to enroll.

The Benefits of Starting Swim Lessons at ages of 3-4

There are several benefits that come with beginning swim lessons earlier than the age of 5.  One benefit is that swim lessons offer consistent safe exposure to water.  If you are not a swimming family, your children may not have a lot of time in the water.  Enrolling your child in swim lessons allows them time in the water to develop a relationship with the water.  This relationship should be one of safety and fun.

Unlike older children, 3-4 year olds do not have as much control over their movements.  This makes teaching strokes more difficult because strokes do demand an ability to coordinate many movements at once, but a little less control can make the mastery of basic skills easier for children to adapt to. Younger children can adapt to basic skills such as floating, kicking and gliding more easily because they do not need to think about their movements.  With proper instruction, younger children can develop a very strong swimming base and begin learning to propel themselves through the water.

The final major benefit to beginning swim lessons earlier is that younger children are more trusting of their instructors.  Younger children are not as aware that they can get hurt doing various tasks.  This means that a child who is nervous in the water can work through this hesitancy more easily than a child who is older and aware of the dangers that a pool provides.  A 3-4 year old may develop a stronger bond with their instructor which will allow them to accomplish more than a child who has set expectations of what they are able to accomplish in the water.

child swimming, at home lessons

The Concerns with Stating Swim Lessons at ages of 3-4

With all the benefits that come with beginning swim lessons at a younger age, there are several concerns parents should be prepared for. The first of these is that swim lessons for younger children do not always yield long-term results.  The 3-4 year old children are able to learn rather quickly but what they have learned does not always stick with them, especially from year to year.  If your 3-year old finishes one summer with a strong crawl stroke or doggie paddle, it does not guarantee that the next summer won’t begin behind where they finished last summer.  One way to counteract this slide is by continually exposing your child to the water throughout the year.  If your young child is constantly swimming, they will have less time to forget what they have learned.

Another concern is about your child’s ability to actually perform the movements necessary to learn swim strokes.  Younger children will be able to break down each stroke into various parts, such as arm movements and leg movements, but they will really struggle to coordinate those movements together.  If your child is particularly coordinated, then this concern should not hold you back.

Is it Best to Start Swim Lessons at 3-4 Years Old for Your Child?

Enrolling in swim lessons is a financial and time commitment, and enrolling your child in lessons at the age of 3 or 4 will typically require a little more commitment than older children.  You can maximize this investment by exposing your child to the water throughout the year.  It is important to note that when you are swimming with your child, even if they excelled at swimming in class, you will still want to be within touching distance of them.  Little bodies tend to become exhausted much more quickly than adults and it does not take long for a child to begin to struggle.  To prevent your child from becoming exhausted you can have them wear a life jacket.  A life jacket does not replace supervision or evening being a close distance to your child.  Wearing a life jacket does mean you will lose some of the skills they have learned during lessons. A happy compromise is to spend one on one time with your child without a life vest and then giving them a bit more freedom while wearing their life vest.

Beginning Swim Lessons at the ages of 1-2

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swim lessons for children ages 1-2 years old, and with the few benefits of lessons during this age there is little surprise.  Just because there are few benefits doesn’t mean they don’t exist but there are several concerns that should be noted as well.

The Benefits of Starting Swim Lessons at ages of 1-2

Although not recommended, beginning swim lessons at such a young age does have a few benefits which should be mentioned.  At this age, children are often unafraid of the water and so exposure will come much more easily than older children.  1-2 year olds will often be working with their base instincts rather than what fears or logic they have worked out for themselves which makes learning basic skills much easier.  Since most classes at this age are parent and child, this is also a great time to develop a fun parent/child activity with your young one and really enjoy their individual growth.

The Concerns with Stating Swim Lessons at ages of 1-2

The concerns at this age are plentiful.  Children at this age will most likely lose any skill that they have learned through the lessons.  Any skill mastery they obtain will most likely be due to instinct rather than actually developing the skill on their own. Children this young do not possess the motor skills to perform multi-faceted movements or the mental development to understand a cause and effect of movement through the water.

Is it Best to Start Swim Lessons at 1-2 Years Old for Your Child?

If you want your child to be a proficient swimmer, then this is the age to provide your child with a lot of exposure to the water.  If you do choose to do a parent and me class, look at it as a bonding activity rather than formal lessons.  The knowledge that your child will gain from a weekly trip to the swimming pool during this time will far outweigh anything you will learn in a class.  Make sure that any pool time you do participate in is fun and safe.  Do not force your child to perform any specific skill set, but give a lot of praise when they do.  This will help them be excited to start official lessons as well as giving them the skills to quickly excel where other kids may hesitate.

swimming lessons best age

Beginning Swim Lessons under the Age of 1

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend keeping children under the age of  1 out of formal swim lessons.  There are many reasons why children at this age will not benefit from swim lessons and often why they are not offered to this group of children.

The Benefits of Starting Swim Lessons under the Age of 1

There are few benefits to teaching children at this age.  They lack the ability to retain any of the skills they learn and do not have the motor skills necessary to acquire any basic skills.  Infants are able to learn some skills, such as floating and holding their breath because those rely heavily on the body’s natural instincts to perform them, so through repetition children at this stage can appear to acquire skill.  Unfortunately, the methods used to teach these skills can often be traumatic for young children.

The Concerns with Stating Swim Lessons under the Age of 1

We have all seen the videos of young children who have been “drown proofed.”  These videos are of tiny infants thrown into the water who are able to flip to their back and kick to the side of the pool.   This method of teaching children how to swim is highly controversial because it involves dropping infants and toddlers into the water until they learn to flip to their back.  Children this young do have a natural ability to float, but most children’s health organizations say teaching in this manner is far more traumatic than beneficial.  These lessons can even cause children to develop a fear of the water.  After moving into a home with a pool, I enrolled my three year old daughter in these types of classes.  She is a natural swimmer and loves the water, but this was the most trying experience of her life.  She spent the first lesson crying (admittedly so did I), which continued off an on through the week.  By the end of the session she was able to swim across the pool, but her eagerness to swim had disappeared.  It took us nearly a month before she began to enjoy the water again.  She was three years old and therefore could be reasoned with whereas an infant is not able to do the same.

Is it Best to Start Swim Lessons under the age of 1 for Your Child?

Swim lessons at such a young age are just not worth it unless it they are being used to develop a fun bond in a parent and child class.  If you are worried about an accident occurring at a home pool, money and time would be better spent investing in further safety measures such as fencing or a pool cover than potentially developing a lifelong fear of the water. If you are considering survival swim classes, it is best to wait until your child is a little older with a better understanding of the expectations of the lessons, as well as a teacher who fosters a healthy and positive relationship with the water.


Deciding when to start swim lessons with your child is a daunting task. There are a lot of things to consider but the most important out of all of these is your child.  If your child is showings signs of being able to thrive in a swim class, beginning lessons earlier than the recommended 5 years old is a good choice.  If your child is hesitant of the water, even when they are older than 5, it would be worth your time and money to spend some family time in the water before investing in official lessons.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children wait until they are 5 to receive the greatest benefits of swim lessons, but that recommendation is general and suited for most people.  As a parent, it is your job to decide what will be most beneficial for your child and family.

swim lessons best age to start

One thought on “What is the Best Age to Start Swim Lessons?

  1. At the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, learning to swim begins at an early age. We start our certified swim lessons for children beginning at 6 months.

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