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.
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 childs 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.
on page 2