As a swimmer, and as a pediatrician, I strongly recommend that every child learn to swim.
Swimming is great exercise; it works nearly every muscle in your body! It’s very low impact, minimizing the pounding your joints take with most other land activities. Plus, it’s an activity you can do no matter what your age, so it’s a great way to stay in shape your whole life.
Learning to be a strong swimmer not only helps children enjoy their time in the water, but can help keep them safe as well. Thousands of people die each year from drowning, and many of those tragedies could have been prevented if the victim knew how to swim.
The most important part of learning to swim for a child at any age is getting comfortable in the water. Just going to a pool, or playing off the end of a dock, or even splashing around in a bathtub or backyard kiddie pool are all great ways for kids to learn to get accustomed to water.
Most infant “swim classes” typically aim for just that — ways to get you and your child in the water, together. Usually these classes are offered for infants six months and older — but you don’t need a class to get into the pool with your child. Just do it!
As children get past their toddler years and learn to start listening and understanding directions, the next big steps are typically helping them become comfortable with getting their faces wet, holding their breath, and eventually going under water. By four to five years old, most kids are able to learn how to kick and float, and beyond that, swim classes or individual instruction will start teaching them how to “really” swim.
Many high schools and community pools offer swim classes in the summer, and some even have winter lessons indoors as well. They’re great opportunities, and I definitely recommend them. But remember: the first, and most important, step in teaching kids to swim is just getting them to feel comfortable, and to have fun, in the water.
Dr. Wolf, a proud Kids Plus Doc since 2000, taught swim lessons for seven years while in high school and college.
(Dr. Wolf was also a three-time Pennsylvania state champion in the 100-yard breast stroke at Bethel Park High School, and the captain of the swim team at Harvard, where he was a 4-time All-American and 4-time Academic All-American. He doesn’t like to brag about those things, but we like to do it for him!)