Teach Your Child to Swim

Our age-by-age guide to water lessons, games, and safety.

6 Months to 1 Year

Tempted to rush out and sign up your little one for swimming lessons this summer? That's a smart move -- if he's old enough. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on formal swimming lessons until after their child's fourth birthday, when he's developmentally able to learn the skills needed to stay afloat. Until then, consider a parent-child program that focuses on water games, swimming-readiness skills, and safety in and around the pool. Along with age, take your child's experience and comfort with water into account before you sign up for any class. "While no course can 'drownproof' a child, a progressive learn-to-swim program can provide your child with skills that will last a lifetime," says Connie Harvey, national health-and-safety expert for the American Red Cross. Here's how to help your child take to the water like a fish.

Lessons

At this age, you simply want to introduce your child to the water. You can play in the pool with her yourself or join a class that's about having fun and getting comfortable in the water -- not learning to swim. Activities may include showing her how to splash, singing songs while bobbing around, and playing gentle games together.

Safety Savvy

  • Keep your baby in your arms at all times.
  • Do not submerge any child under 3. Kids this age can swallow a large amount of water -- enough to dilute the chemicals in their blood, causing sleepiness, nausea, and seizures. In rare cases, water intoxication can be fatal.
  • Dress her in a swim diaper that prevents fecal matter from leaking into the pool -- a major health risk for other swimmers.
  • If you own a pool, it should be fenced in on all sides and have a self-closing, self-latching gate that's out of your child's reach. The fence should be four to five feet high and should not have any footholds.
  • An infant can drown in as little as an inch of water in less than 30 seconds, so beware of all water hazards, including inflatable baby pools, buckets, toilets, and tubs.
  • Keep rescue equipment -- for example, a plastic ring buoy, a reaching pole, a first-aid kit, and a portable phone -- near the pool.

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