In a report published in April 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that drowning is the leading cause of accidental injury and death in Florida, Arizona, California and Texas. In an updated policy, they also reported “children are not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday”. This statement has received much debate from those parents who feel strongly in support of this statement as well as from those in opposition to it.

Deciding when to enroll your child in swimming lessons is a personal choice. Whether you feel your child would most benefit from swimming lessons as an infant, toddler or older child, take the time beforehand to do some research and speak to your pediatrician. Fully understand the options you have regarding the type of swimming lessons available before you determine whether or not your child is ready for them. Living here in Florida, this is potentially one of the most important decisions you can make for the safety of your child.

The following article provides some insight to my own children’s experience with swimming lessons at an early age …

My daughter was born in January. It took several months until the weather turned warm and the water in the pool was comfortable enough to enter without shivering. But as soon as the pool temperature reached a cozy 85 degrees in April my daughter had her first experience with water that wasn’t in a little tub or coming out of a faucet. She was so excited to have the freedom to flail her arms and kick her feet. Soon after that, I enrolled her in swimming lessons. She was a young 5 months old when Miss Suzanne (complete with white nose cream, sun visor and 20 years of experience) helped me guide her through the water along with 12 other new swimmers and their Moms. Some of the little ones (they ranged in age from infants to toddlers) screamed from the time they changed into their tiny swimsuits to the time they were re-united with their pampers. Others, like my daughter, found the experience exhilarating. Eventually, they all learned to enjoy swimming lessons. We looked forward to our once-a-week, half-hour group lesson. Miss Suzanne was encouraging yet sympathetic with those who needed a bit more encouragement before letting go of Mom. In just a few months we went from bouncing in the water to swimming underwater from Mom to instructor or from Mom to the side of the pool.

Three years later, my son was born. I enrolled him in a 20 minute twice a week, private swimming lessons. My son was just over a year old when Miss Stacy took him into her pool for the first time. Going in with a stranger instead of Mom took some coaxing at first, but soon became routine. Five weeks later my son was jumping into the pool on his own and swimming back to the wall. At 14 months old, my son was able to rescue himself from the pool. Was I proud? You bet! Was I confident that he could save himself should he ever fall in accidentally? Not at all! To me, swimming lessons meant that my children gained a certain comfort level that allowed them to enjoy the water far more than simply splashing in the shallow end of the pool. The ability to swim and dive was an added bonus.

My children are now 10 and 7. Does their love of water and ability to swim allow me to let my guard down? NEVER! Just as I took precautions like patio door locks and motion-detector sensors while the kids were younger, I still require pool safety rules and adult supervision when they swim now.

There are several good learn-to-swim classes in our area. Most pediatricians can refer you to programs or instructors with proper credentials. Contact your local YMCA and Red Cross; both are well known for their excellent programs. And remember, don’t let seeing your child swim from end to end of the community pool give you a false sense of security. You can never underestimate the speed and curiosity of a child or the silence of a splash.