Playing in the water, whether it's learning to swim or just splashing and paddling, is lots of fun for babies and young children. And knowing how to swim is an important skill that can help keep your child safe all through life. That's why getting started with swimming lessons once your child is old enough is a smart strategy. Even if your baby isn’t ready just yet, you might consider doing water play to get her primed for swimming lessons in the future.

Find out when you might start your little one on swimming lessons, and the signs of readiness to look for.

Water safety is a top priority at every age and stage. Read on for some essential water safety advice that you should follow whenever your baby, toddler, or preschooler is in or near water.

When Can You Take Your Baby Swimming?

Experts recommend that you can start taking your little one to parent-child swimming classes as early as age 1. Because every child is different, though, you may find your little one isn’t ready to start swimming lessons until a little later.

It’s important to know that newborns and infants younger than 12 months old aren’t yet able to raise their heads above the water to breathe, so swimming lessons aren’t yet appropriate for them.

In your baby’s first year, you might like to do parent-child water play classes with your baby to help him get used to being in water. This can

  • get him accustomed to being in a pool

  • be an opportunity for bonding as you play together in the water

  • help him get over any fears he may have of being in the water.

When deciding when to start your child on swimming lessons, take into account his

  • emotional maturity

  • physical and developmental abilities or limitations

  • interest in learning to swim

  • comfort level in water.

Most children are ready for regular swimming lessons by the age of 4 when they can grasp basic skills such as

  • floating

  • treading water

  • finding a way out of the water.

If you’re ever unsure when to start your child on swimming lessons, ask your child’s healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Benefits of Swimming Lessons

Knowing how to swim is very important, as it can help prevent drowning. Studies have shown that swimming lessons can help reduce the drowning risk for toddlers and young children between the ages of 1 and 4, so you may like to take this into account when deciding when to start your little one on lessons.

Still, know that swimming lessons don’t make your child “drown proof.” You will need to carefully supervise your child whenever she is in or near water. And, if you have a pool at home, it's crucial to block access when you’re not there to supervise. You can learn more about this in our section on water safety.

On the bright side, swimming and water play can be fun activities for your child. Like many sports, swimming can help build confidence and it can be a steppingstone for developing other life skills.

What Kind of Swimming Lessons Should You Enroll Your Child In?

Toddlers and young children may benefit from classes that focus on swim readiness skills. Parents are often included in these classes, and can pick up pointers on how to safely supervise their child.

By the time children turn 4 years old, they are usually ready for standard swimming lessons. These would include learning stroke techniques as well as water survival skills such as

  • getting back to the water’s surface from under water

  • propelling a minimum of 25 yards

  • getting out of the water.

When choosing a swimming instructor for your child, check that the instructor

  • is qualified and certified to teach swimming

  • will give you the chance to observe a lesson in action before you make a decision

  • offers an atmosphere that is appropriate to your child’s age and development

  • encourages safe habits such as never swimming alone or without permission from an adult

  • can teach your child what to do if he falls into water by accident

  • allows you to be near or alongside your child in the water

  • requires your child to take multiple lessons so that there is noticeable progress

  • evaluates how your child is progressing and gives you feedback after lessons.

Besides all of this, you should check out the swimming facility firsthand. Ensure that the water is clean, disinfected, and chlorinated. Ideally, the water would be heated to between 87 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Water temperature is especially important for children under the age of 3, who are at a higher risk of hypothermia.

To locate good quality swimming instruction near you, check with the American Red Cross or your local YMCA.

How Do You Ensure Water Safety for Your Child?

Providing constant, focused supervision is the most important thing you can do for baby or young child who is learning to swim or is in or near water.

Childhood drowning is more common than you might think, and young children can drown in just an inch or two of water. It pays to be extra vigilant when your child is around water.

Here are some important steps to take to help keep your child safe when she is swimming or is anywhere near water:

  • Always give your child your undivided attention. Don’t think that because there’s an on-duty lifeguard by the pool or at the beach that you can read a book or use your smartphone.

  • Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs when supervising your child

  • If your child is learning swimming at a younger age, it will be important for you to do “touch supervision,” which entails you being close by or joining her in the pool

  • Don’t leave your child in the water under the supervision of another child

  • If you’re hosting or attending a pool party, assign the job of a “water watcher” to someone who can keep a constant eye on the children in the pool. Rotate the job in shifts so someone else can take over the responsibility after a short time. Make sure that the water watcher knows CPR and knows how to swim.

  • Keep an extra close watch on toddlers and young children between the ages of 1 and 4 as they are at the highest risk of drowning. If your child is in this age range, she’s naturally very curious and can easily sneak away from you even when it’s not swimming time. This is why it’s important to secure your home swimming pool if you have one.

  • If you’re at the beach, a lake, or a river, make sure your child wears a life jacket that fits properly and has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. If your child isn’t a strong swimmer, she may also need to wear a life jacket at the pool or water park.

  • Be prepared to respond if your little one’s in trouble in the water. It’s a good idea for you to learn CPR and rescue techniques. Classes are available through the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. Your local fire department and other community organizations may also offer first-aid classes.

Keep in mind that whenever your child is swimming outdoors you should also make sure that her skin is protected from the harmful effects of the sun with sunscreen.

Home Swimming Pool Safety

If you have a swimming pool at home, you'll need to follow certain rules while it’s in use and keep it secured when it’s not being used.

When your swimming pool is in use, follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t let children run around the pool or push one another into the pool

  • Don’t let your child use an inflatable mattress or floating toy, as he may slip off it into deep water or it may deflate unexpectedly, endangering your child’s safety

  • Make sure that the deep and shallow ends of your pool are marked, and never let your child dive into the shallow end

  • Remove the pool cover completely before letting anyone swim

  • Don’t let your child walk on the pool cover while it’s covering the pool, as he could accidentally fall in the pool and get trapped underneath

  • Make sure your pool’s drain covers are properly maintained, as suction from drains can trap swimmers. You may even consider installing anti-entrapment drain covers

  • It’s a good idea to have a safety ring connected to a rope or a shepherd’s hook near your swimming pool.

Here’s how to keep your swimming pool secured when not in use:

  • Surround your pool (including above-ground and inflatable pools) with a fence on all sides

  • The fence should be a minimum of four feet high and have no opening in the slats wider than four inches

  • The gate of the fence should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be at least 54 inches above the ground, and the gate should open away from the pool.

  • Make sure that the gate is always securely locked

  • It’s a good idea to keep your pool covered, but a pool cover should never replace the use of a fence

  • Check your local laws to find out whether there are any additional safety requirements for your home swimming pool

  • Don’t leave toys in or around the pool, as these are enticing to children even when it’s not swimming time

  • If you have a spa, hot tub, or whirlpool, keep it covered and locked when not in use. Keep in mind that children under the age of 5 should not be allowed to use these to help reduce the risk of drowning or overheating. Also, remember: Never leave your baby or child unattended in the bathtub not even for a moment.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • It’s a good idea for your baby to wear the type of swimsuit or swim pants that are snug around the legs to help prevent any poop from getting into the pool. Your child who is learning to swim should also wear a life jacket or life preserver.
  • Yes. Pampers has special diapers designed for swimming and water play. Pampers Splashers don’t swell up in water and are designed to help contain messes. Remember that just because your child is wearing swim diapers doesn’t mean you should change her diapers less frequently. In fact, you should check and change diapers more frequently away from the pool so as not to spread germs.

Enrolling your little one in swimming lessons once he’s old enough can give your child lifelong skills and confidence in the water. Even in your baby’s first year, you can consider water play classes to familiarize your baby with water and to set the stage for learning to swim.

Whether your little one is playing on a beach, splashing in a tub, or paddling in a pool, remember to always practice good water safety habits. Enjoy this time together!

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.