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Is Your Preschooler Ready to Swim?

How To Introduce Swimming To Your Preschooler

Have you seen a swim class at your local pool in the past few years? Kids no longer line up in rows at the side of pool getting cold and bored. Take a peek during class time and you'll see children singing songs and playing games in the pool. Many parents list safety as the main reason for taking swimming lessons, but isn't it great that lessons now emphasize the fun of learning and making positive memories?

When to Start Swimming Lessons

If your child has not had formal instruction before the preschool years, now is the time. At age 3 or 4, children are more coordinated and can understand instructions that are more complex. They begin to interact with their peers and notice the world around them.

Swimming improves cardiovascular fitness and coordination. Each new stroke or breathing technique mastered increases self-confidence. Learning to swim decreases the risk of panic if kids fall into the water fully clothed. According to Infant Swim Research Inc., more children younger than 4 drown than any other age group. While learning to swim cannot prevent drowning, it can empower your child so she won't "sink like a stone."

Start Safe

  • Never leave your child alone in the bathtub or pool – not even for a second. The unthinkable can happen to anyone.
  • Leave a responsible adult in charge of safety. This is too much responsibility for an older sibling to handle. Many children have drowned while being watched by an older brother or sister.
  • Never assume someone else is watching your child. Make sure the person in charge of supervision knows it's his or her responsibility.
  • If you must leave, bring the children. Install a phone jack by the pool or buy a cordless if you don't want to miss calls.

10 Things to Look for in an Instructor

1. Every instructor should be trained in child CPR and first aid, and there should be a separate lifeguard on duty during class. Your child's safety should be priority one in any situation. The children should never be left alone or allowed into the water without an adult.

2. Look for an instructor who is enthusiastic and patient. Talk to other parents and see how their children are doing. Make sure the instructor knows how to introduce skills sequentially rather than everything all at once. Enthusiasm is great, but the instructor needs to have patience and allow each child to develop at her own rate.

3. Crying is not a prerequisite. Is the instructor using positive reinforcement and tending to the fears and concerns of the children he is teaching? If you see children fussing and crying in the parking lot or changing rooms then something is wrong. Don't be afraid to ask parents why their child is upset. Most parents love to share their concerns, and this can provide insight into the program for you.

4. Swimming lessons are a great time for bonding. Are parents required to be in the water with their child during the lessons? Dawn Goldsmith of Illinois taught her son to swim at a young age. She still remembers "his big trusting brown eyes wide open looking at (her) from under the water." Her child's first water experiences were with his parents. Goldsmith didn't put her children into the hands of strangers until they were comfortable in the water. Any program for children younger than 4 should involve the parent and child.

5. No child should be forced into a situation until she is ready. Jessie Bishop will never forget her first experience in swimming lessons when she was 4. At 23, she can still remember the terror she felt when her father seized her by the waist and pulled her under the water. She panicked and kicked her father. He let her go and she sank further. By the time she reached the surface, her nose was full of water and she threw up all over her dad's feet. "We never went back, and it was 8 before I taught myself to swim," she says.

6. Preschool children learn differently than babies and school-age children. They need color and movement for lessons to be effective. Singing songs and playing games with balls should be used to stress water safety. Swimming programs for young children should look similar to other programs for that age group, such as Mommy and Me groups.

7. Ask questions over the telephone and drop into classes already in progress. If you sign up for the program and discover that your child isn't enjoying it, switch instructors or pools.

8. Don't leave all the learning for class time. You should supplement any swim education program. Reinforce lessons with a family trip to the pool, just for fun. Goldsmith said that her children spent a lot of time with Dad in the water learning basic rules before the lessons even began. "We started by learning to float in the shallow end and progressing out until they were ready to swim with us," she says. "When they got water up their nose we didn't panic, we just dealt with it."

9. Educate yourself about what kinds of programs are in your community. Check out these Web sites to help you discover what kind of swim program you want.

10. Choose a swim program for more than just safety. Teaching children to swim will not only make them more confident in the water, it also will make them more aware of their own bodies. A child that swims becomes more independent and is able to think for herself at an earlier age.

Like Bishop, who recalls with horror the first swimming session with her dad, your child will remember her lessons. Children fear or embrace the water, depending on how it is introduced.

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