What is the best age to teach a child to swim?

80% of Americans say they know how to swim. However, about 50% of them say they couldn’t pass a basic swim test. The swim test is comprised of 5 basic tests that could save your life (keep you from drowning) when in the water. 

Clearly, there is a discrepancy between these numbers, and it reflects a lack of competency in the water among American adults. And why can’t adults swim? Typically, it is because no one ever taught them as a child. This is deeply unfortunate and dangerous; knowing how to swim could save your life or possibly the life of another if the situation were to arise where you or someone else needed help. It is time to correct this, especially if you are a parent of young children who can ensure their kids have the lifelong skill of swimming and keep them safe in that environment forever. 

For all you parents out there who want to teach their kid to swim as soon as possible, you may be wondering what it takes to make your kid a competent or even excellent swimmer, and how soon they could start learning. For that, we commend you. The skill of swimming, or lack thereof, can be extremely dangerous, lead to numerous fears surrounding the water (like aquaphobia), and be an extreme inconvenience in social settings surrounding a body of water (think: beach days, pool parties, or even water parks).  Although there is a lot of information out there surrounding these questions, we would like to give you the best and simplest path forward. 

What is the best age to teach a child to swim?

First, we define what we mean by “swimming.” For this use, what we mean by swimming is “to propel yourself through water using your limbs”. This may seem obvious, but it’s important. You’ll find out why in a second. 

Because basic water safety requires being able to hold your breath, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends you do not start your kid in swimming lessons until the age of four years old. 

Children cannot voluntarily hold their breath until they reach this age. 

But what if my child is under the age of four? 

We’ve got some good news, and we’ve got some bad news. We’ll go with the bad news first. 

Unfortunately, like we noted previously, it is not recommended you start teaching your kid how to swim until the age of four. If you are looking to start your kid sooner, you may want to hold back on getting your kid to do the butterfly stroke by the time they are three years old. However, just because it is not recommended that children learn to swim before the age of four, this does not mean they can’t develop skills that are relevant to the skill of swimming or to water in general. Remember the definition we gave earlier for swimming? Here’s where it comes in handy (aka the GOOD news). 

Although it isn’t recommend children are taught to swim until four years old, prior to this age, they CAN learn survival tactics in the water, even as young as 6 months old! 

Survival Tactics include the all-so-important skill of being able to float on their back. Infants, if trained, can go from a face-down position in the water to a face-up position where they can continue to breath. 

We all understand the reasons for this training. We’ve all heard stories of infants who wandered too close to the pool when their parents weren’t looking, fell in, and drowned tragically. As a matter of fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 350 children under the age of five die every year from drowning in a backyard pool. 

If your goal is to prevent this, we recommend you start water survival training with your child prior to the age of four. Here at Safety 1st Aquatics, we accept children for private, in-home swim lessons as young as age two. Although they may not be taught the specific swimming lessons geared for older children, the experience of learning survival tactics at a younger age than four may prove to give them more comfort in the water when they are ready to learn to swim and will also provide the parents with the comfort of knowing their little one, their family, and their community are protected against a tragedy that happens far more often than it should.  

If Your Child is Older than Four, Here is the Best Way to Teach them to Swim

There are a number of different ways to teach a kid to swim. Before we get to the best way to teach your youngin’ to swim, let’s cover the things you should definitely not do, and the things you might want to reconsider before we get to what you should do. 

We should not have to say this, but we feel we must. DO NOT try the “sink or swim” method.  The “sink or swim” method is, unfortunately, still in use even in today’s world. Essentially, the goal of this method is to induce a panic response in the child, thereby sending them into a frensy of different techniques until eventually, one of them works and the child avoids sinking. It might sound crazy, but believe it or not, some people still do this to their children. There are many reasons why this is an absolute horrific idea. 

First, there is always the resentment this may create towards the person who forced them in. Putting a child into a position where they have to fight for their life and their ability to breathe will make you the cause of their discomfort. In other words, they’ll blame you, not the water, for scaring the living hell out of them. Remember that. 

Second, the panic response induced by almost drowning during their first encounter with full submerging in water may cause them to fear the water for the REST of their lives. This obviously is not conducive to being a competent swimmer, and as a matter of fact, this may make them avoid the water entirely and it may even develop into a phobia known as aquaphobia. Please, spare your child this experience. Aquaphobia is difficult to overcome and may take tears to get rid of. 

Whew, glad that’s through. Now, let’s talk about what you should do. 

Hire a Professional Swim Instructor

There is no secret here. A professional, trained, and certified swim instructor is undoubtedly your best and safest option for teaching your child how to swim. There are two types of swim instruction:

Group Swim Lessons and Private Swim Lessons.

Although both can be effective, depending on your child’s age, you may want to take group swim lessons off the table. Here’s why:

Group swim lessons do not allow for optimum education. There are many reasons for this. Let’s address the most obvious reason: 

Your child will not receive individual attention to the level they need. 


If your child is in a group of other children, they may not receive the attention they need to fully internalize the lessons and techniques they are being taught. Two things can happen from this. First, the instructor may move on to the next step before your child has mastered the previous technique, and second, if the instructor does give your child extra attention and time to help them master a technique before moving on, this may hold the other children back which can result in peer pressure and disdain from the other members of the class who are ready to move on. I would discuss the negative effects of children being ostracized from a group or feeling “less than”, but you get the idea. If your child is very young, such as a child younger than 9 years old, they are more than likely going to need special attention to master certain techniques which may be difficult.

 If you are going to go with group swim lessons, make sure the groups have a limit of 3 children per group. This will at least make sure your child isn’t “lost in the group” and can be seen by the instructor at all times. But, you may want to avoid this altogether. Which is why

Private Swim Lessons are the Best Way to Teach your Child to Swim

Bar none, private, in-home swim lessons are the best way to teach your child to swim. Swim Instructors are professionally trained and educated on how best to see to your child’s individual needs and physical attributes. If you are child is struggling with fear, doubt, a specific technique, or understanding what the instructor means, the instructor can adjust and make sure your child is on the right track to becoming a competent and even excellent swimmer. 

What You Should Know

The number of adults who cannot swim in American alone says everything you need to know: if your child is not taught to swim, they may never learn. The consequences of that can lead to aquaphobia, social inconveniences causing discomfort, and numerous other difficulties that could be avoided had they just been taught. Our advice? Start teaching them to swim as early as you can, and make sure they learn to float on their back as soon as their ready. And if you are looking for the absolute best way to accomplish both of those, then reach to us and say you’d like to discuss getting your child a private, in-home swim instructor. However, if you don’t decide to take that option, then maybe group lessons could be an option. Whatever you do, avoid the sink or swim method at all costs, but still make sure your child learns to swim because they deserve it. 

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