Is It Too Late?
There’s a lot of talk these days about starting your child’s journey towards water safety at a younger and younger age – that its beneficial to start as early as possible – 5 or 6 months old. Even at Kidswim, we have acknowledged the benefits from early exposure to swim lessons and how it can expedite the process of taking a non-swimmer to a swimmer much faster and easier.
Well, that’s all well and good but what about families that can’t access pools or lessons when their babies are babies? What about families who are juggling more than one baby at a time or have a toddler and an infant and its all just too much to coordinate? I get that! How can you even possibly think about swim lessons when you’re exhausted and haven’t even gotten anyone on a decent sleep schedule yet. How can you even think about swim lessons?
So today, let’s talk about what happens when you miss that ‘magic window.’ That’s the window between 6-9 months when your baby is at his easiest stage to introduce to the water and begin the process of teaching basic skills and getting him comfortable with putting his face in the water which will translate into an easier time of it when he’s two and ready to swim.
So let’s say you have a two and a half-year-old on your hands and you’re wondering how to begin, which tact to take and how long the process will take before your little toddler becomes a swimmer. Here are the basics –
- your child’s personality and character will dictate how quickly he/she will progress until age 4. If you have a daredevil, adventurous type, chances are good that your little one will be much more receptive to the process of getting out there, getting his face wet, leaping off the steps into the unknown because that’s how he approaches life. If your child is hesitant, reticent, attached to mom or dad, he will most likely need more time, more of a relaxed atmosphere without feeling pressured to perform and it may very well take a good month or two before he trusts everything enough to begin pushing outside his comfort zone. Maybe your little one falls somewhere in the middle in which case, with the right touch, it could start happening in about 6-8 consistent lessons.
- once your child is 4 or older, they become much more rational. It can make the process easier as things can be explained and discussed and children can express their fears and hesitations about situations.
- twice a week for the summer is the answer for the question ‘how many lessons should I sign my child up for?’ the reason being, that children need repetition at regular intervals in order to process new information. They also need days off in between. Once a week is fine as an activity if that’s all you can manage in your schedule but it does take a child longer to learn because seven full days in between lessons, means they forget much of what they were introduced to and have to relearn it. Eventually, they’ll get it, but it does take longer.
- what about intensive programs to ‘jump start’ the process? I tell parents to think of this as an introduction to something that your child will learn to love and continue to do for the next eighty years! I know that sounds extreme but swimming is a gift and one of the few physical activities that a person can do for their entire life! There is definitely a risk involved in introducing your two-year-old to swimming via an intensive program. It can backfire and your child may end up developing intense fear around water.
- is there a general known timeline for learning to swim? Typically for a 2-4-year-old, twice a week for one full summer will take a beginner to intermediate and an intermediate to an advanced. For a two-year-old child who is a complete non-swimmer, never exposed to water previously, I would give a two summer experience to that timeline. One full summer to adapt, and one full summer to become a swimmer.
- are there exceptions? There are ALWAYS exceptions. I have had children at age 2 who – on their first day – stuck their head right into the water and never looked back. I would never say never but I would always say always. Meaning, I would never say it can’t happen, but I would always assume it won’t in that first summer experience.
- what can I do to help things along? So glad you asked! there are two very important things that are instrumental in your child’s success. The first is don’t translate your fears or anxieties to your child. Let your child have the luxury of learning at their pace on their timeline as I promise you, it will create confident, strong, water safe swimmers who trust their own instincts around situations in pools (which is exactly what you want). the second and even more important thing to do is – throw your suit on and get in and play with your kids without an agenda. Positive parent involvement will expedite this process faster than anything else you can think of.