I am very excited to welcome Jennifer Ashton Ryan as today’s guest blogger on Mama OT! Jennifer (pictured below with her daughter) is here to share about why it’s important to introduce children to swimming, plus she will share what happens during swimming lessons and how you can go about getting your little one comfortable in the water.
. . . . .
Labor day has passed, summer is winding to a close, and what am I looking forward to? Starting swimming lessons with my 5-month-old baby girl.
Swimming with my daughter is an activity I’ve looked forward to since I was a little girl stuffing Cabbage Patch dolls under my T-shirts, dreaming of someday when I would become an actual mommy. Now that I am a few months into motherhood, I realize this phase of life is not as idyllic as I imagined. Yet, among the diaper changes, difficult nap put-downs, and laundry loads, what I look forward to most in the next month is starting swimming lessons with my baby.
But I realize that not every parent is as passionate about swimming. Thirty years ago when my own mom signed me up for infant swimming lessons, she did not realize how much of my life I would be spending in the pool. By age 10 I was begging to join a year-round swim team and by 17 was being recruited to swim for Harvard and UCLA, among other universities.
For most children, swimming isn’t what will get them into college, so is it worth the hassle, the extra gear, and expensive lessons? A friend of mine called the other day to ask about her 20-month-old.
“Does he even need swimming lessons at this age?” she asked. “Do I really need to pay someone else to sing songs with my kid in the pool? I can do that.”
She can, I assured her.
Formal swim class isn’t a make-or-break activity for you and your little one. Classes are taught in the mommy-and-me format until the child turns 3, and only then will she begin to learn the basics of a proficient backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. With or without an instructor, what can be learned in the pool from infancy is a love and respect for the water, water safety, coordination, independence, confidence, and social skills. Whether your child grows up to swim competitively, win a cannonball splash contest, fly-fish, snorkel, stand-up paddleboard or try any other aquatic activity, helping her feel comfortable and confident around water is a skill she will appreciate all her life.
The main goal for the littlest swimmers is to expose them regularly to water before they lose their instinctual response to hold their breath and kick their feet. Children who don’t get into the pool until age 3 usually don’t start right away with stroke technique. They must first overcome their fear of water and putting their face in. Children who are comfortable in the water by age 3 will learn the strokes more quickly. But learning to swim isn’t a race, so make the choice about when to start swimming that works best for your family.
Young babies can go swimming in basins and pools filled with warm water as soon as their belly buttons heal. You can easily teach yourself to be your child’s infant swim instructor as long as you’re willing to get wet and sing silly songs. Start with “If you’re happy and you know it, splash your hands,” and go from there. Free resources are available online with age-appropriate pool games (look HERE and HERE).
Between 4 and 8 months you can start practicing submerging, free floating, and breath control. These are skills that a swim instructor will be trained to help with. There are varying philosophies on infant submersion but, regardless of the perspective, it is not recommended that you practice submerging your baby without the direct instruction of a trained professional. Swimming at this age is still mainly for gaining comfort in the water, not for mastering skills. Keep pool sessions short and focused on having fun.
By 8 to 12 months little ones can start learning the basics of water safety. Floating, pulling up on a shallow ledge, and turning underwater are some skills that can be practiced. By 18 months paddling and kicking actions can be practiced with repetitive manipulation of the arms and legs by the child’s parents.
I plan to start my daughter in a mommy-and-me swim class before her 6-month birthday. I want to meet other parents and babies who like the water and learn new pool games and songs. I regularly play with my baby in the pool, but am anxious about submerging her. For me, having a trained instructor show me how to start taking her all the way underwater is important to me. If we’re both feeling confident in the water after the first session of swimming lessons, we’ll probably take a break from formal instruction and practice swimming on our own until she’s at least a year old. But we’ll see how it goes.
The short of the matter is, it’s never too early or too late to start swimming. I hope you and your family find time to enjoy the water this fall.
. . . . .
Jennifer Ashton Ryan is a freelance writer and a consulting editor at Robb Report magazine, where she began her publishing career in 2004. In addition to being a new mom, Ryan is an expert in luxury travel, having experienced the world’s top hotels and resorts throughout more than two dozen countries and writing about her adventures from helicopter skiing in South America to private island hopping in the Caribbean. A California native, Ryan grew up in Sacramento and swam competitively for UCLA, from which she graduated with a B.A. in English and creative writing. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.