But of course, what they can learn is dictated by their level of motor and cognitive development.
Newborns and very young children are obviously not ready to learn “swimming” in any real sense. But this is an important age at which we can teach “water familiarisation” and help them to feel comfortable and safe in this environment. If you are interested in taking your baby to a group “water babies” type swimming class, be aware that 6 months is usually the minimum age at which they will be accepted.
As a child gets older, they will pass through developmental stages at which we can share more water-based activities with them until they reach the age where basic swimming skills, such as holding breath, floating, or blowing bubbles, can be taught.
Age: 0-6 months
A baby is too young to have any organised control of their own movements. Therefore, their experience of the water is a largely sensory one, where we can help them to become familiar with water and the new environment, be that in the bath, shower, or swimming pool.
Please have a look our our post on Water Familiarisation for some ideas of ways in which you can help your baby at this stage.
Age: 6-12 months
A child of this age is beginning to be able to exert control over their own posture and movements, and is in a highly “exploratory” phase. Therefore, you can have a great time with them in the water, either in the pool or bath, as they will love to splash the water with their hands, reach out and grab for floating toys, and are able to begin to experience and appreciate their own buoyancy.
Have a look at our post for some tips on different ways to Hold your Baby in the Water as he or she grows and develops.
Age: 12-24 months
By this age, a child is upright and walking, and has good control over their posture and movements. Therefore, it’s a perfect time that they are able to begin to learn a wide range of real swimming skills. A toddler of this age may be able to learn to independently enter and exit the water, and may be able to begin to propel themselves through the water, when assisted by a floatation aid.
Age: 24-36 months
From this age, toddlers are really coordinated enough to learn skills such as breath control, blowing bubbles and holding the breath, for example. But don’t force it – depending upon a child’s level of comfort, it may take some time for them to be happy to put their face underwater. Some children may also be able to pick up toys from the bottom of the pool if they are confident enough.
Age 36-48 months
This is the age at which you can really start to see your toddler swimming, and developing skills which will give them freedom to move about in the water, and begin to grasp an understanding of the safety issues too. The ability to float, propel themselves to the side of the pool and to exit safely are all skills which a child of this age can master.
Age 48 months and beyond:
Beyond that age of 4, a child is quite able to participate in formal, group swimming lessons which are teaching “proper” swimming skills, such as basic strokes, treading water, diving and so forth.
Of course, these are guidelines only and every child is different. A child which has not been exposed to a swimming pool environment until a later age will obviously take longer to master the basic skills – but don’t worry, they’ll catch up in no time. The important thing is to never force the child, and to always provide a secure, reassuring and safe environment for them to learn and play.