Splashing around at the local lido or in the hotel pool is an appealing activity for a summer’s afternoon. And for the novice swimmer, there are myriad milestone moments to bring a smile to his face. There’s the time your child first slips off his armbands to execute those first triumphant solo strokes of doggy paddle. The moment when those rookie strokes streamline into the sure-limbed sweeps of front crawl, back crawl and breaststroke. Even holding his breath and diving down to touch the floor of the pool holds a certain thrill for your child. And, for those who want to take their aqua odyssey to the next level, the dizzy heights of the diving board or the technical challenge of the butterfly stroke beckon.
Swimming is a pleasurable and confidence-boosting skill from which your child will reap many rewards. But sadly lots of children are missing out, with a recent report by the Amateur Swimming Association revealing that one in three children leaves primary school without being able to swim a length of the pool. Even very young children can enjoy swimming. Babies, who not too long ago were basking in an amniotic oasis, will feel right at home in the water.
To help a young child gain confidence, there’s lots you can do in the bathtub at home – from helping him get used to the feeling of water on his face to blowing bubbles under the water and even practising a few strokes. Naturally, it’s a good idea to enrol your child in swimming lessons – a good teacher will always ensure your child feels safe and will let him go at his own pace. Learning about water safety is vital. Teach your child not to run or push by the pool, to pay attention to safety signs and, on the beach, to recognise the different safety flags – red for danger, red and yellow for areas patrolled by lifeguards, and black and white for areas used by watercraft, such as kayaks, where swimming is not allowed.
While not really swimming using the proper technical strokes that we develop as adults (children don’t have the strength and coordination until at least age four), a baby benefits a great deal from an early introduction to water, not least because it provides him with a firm foundation – known as water adjustment – on which confidence can build. It also offers babies a sense of independence, which would be impossible to achieve on dry land, as well as promoting health and development.
An important consideration when taking your baby swimming is that the water is warm enough. It needs to be at least 32ºC for babies of three months and under or weighing less than 5.5kg; and 30ºC plus for a baby beyond that. It’s horrible seeing your baby shivering, or worse still, going blue around the lips. Fortunately, most leisure centres nowadays have separate pools specifically for babies and toddlers with the temperature of a lovely, warm bath.
As your child moves into the toddler stage and starts to become more adventurous or, in some cases, downright foolhardy, you may want to opt for a buoyancy aid, which has traditionally been armbands. Swim vests are popular too, often with adjustable buoyancy, and are less restrictive than armbands, thus enabling children to practise their strokes. But there is also a school of thought that flotation devices create a false sense of security.Swimming for toddlers is, like other aspects of learning at this age, all about play. If you opt for lessons, don’t expect your child to be taught formal swim strokes. Instead, there will be lots of fun and games designed to build confidence.
The time children start school appears to be the logical time to start proper swimming lessons, with a study showing that children learned to swim well at the same average age of five-and-a-half years, regardless of whether they began lessons at two, three or four. How your child progresses shouldn’t be your main concern as some children naturally need more time to move up a level. The main thing is that your child is enjoying himself and feels comfortable and confident in the water.