FALL 2008

  • Swimming and Water Safety
    Program Changes
     page 3
  • New Red Cross Products
     page 4
  • Dealing with Problem
     page 5
  • Regional Aquatic Schools
     page 6
  • Asthma Emergencies
     page 7
  • Aquatic Programming for
    All Patrons
     page 8

Aqua 'Zine is a publication for aquatic professionals that is written and distributed by the Preparedness and Health and Safety Services Division of the American Red Cross and its publisher, StayWell. Copyright ©2008 by the American National Red Cross.

American National Red Cross
2025 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
(800) 667-2968


Kate Plourde
The StayWell Company

When Are Children Ready to Learn to Swim?

One of the most common questions aquatic directors get asked by parents is at what age they should enroll their child in swim lessons. Stephen Langendorfer, PhD, member, American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid, Aquatics, Safety and Preparedness has been studying aquatic readiness for many years and believes there are two main milestones that indicate readiness . . . age and individual experience.

Although some child development studies suggest that age four is a landmark age at which most children have both the cognitive and physical abilities to master foundational swim skills, Langendorfer believes that a child’s individual personality and life experiences are more important factors relating to individual aquatic readiness. For example, a child with a backyard pool may be ready earlier than the same age child who has had little contact with water.

“The bottom line is that every child is on an individual timetable, regardless of his or her age and life experiences,” said Langendorfer. “But we do know that a number of factors occur between ages four and five for most children that allow them to master certain fundamental aquatic skills such as breath control, body positioning and a simple paddling skill.”

He believes his observations are supported by the drop off in drowning rates that are seen in children older than four and a half years. Apparently, between four and five years most children seem to develop both a cognitive awareness of the risks associated with water and a basic level of competency in the water.

But Langendorfer has found that there is a big difference in what “readiness” means to aquatic professionals. “Many water safety instructors believe that a preschooler can be taught formal swim stokes, such as the crawl, and that is not usually the case for most children,” he said.

He believes toddlers and preschoolers between the ages of two and four years are ready to begin the “exploration stage” of learning to swim. His research indicates that there is a natural developmental pattern of how children acquire aquatic skills, just like there is to land-based motor development such as learning to crawl, then walk and run.

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