There are many important milestones that young children hit as they develop through early childhood. Naturally, babies will learn how to crawl, walk and speak. But learning how to swim is an important skill that comes with practice.
Tali Cornblath, assistant director at Falcon Camp in Carrollton, and Sonali Morris, owner of Goldfish Swim School in Warrensville Heights, said learning to swim can start as early as when the child is a year old, or even younger.
“We think the benefits of getting babies swimming are numerous,” said Morris, whose program is available for babies as young as 4 months. “First, it’s great to get skin-to-skin contact with the parent. But you’re also starting to condition them at a really young age to be comfortable with the water. You’re conditioning them to deal with what might happen. Work on floats, and how to get out of a pool, just building up those gross motor and fine motor skills for babies.”
Although experts say that learning how to swim is something that should be done year round for a multitude of reasons, the benefits are even more prevalent in the summer.
“If a child attends a camp where there is swimming, it is more fun for the child if they can swim with their friends and are comfortable in the water,” Cornblath said. “Second, some camps require campers to learn how to swim if they don’t know, so arriving with the knowledge could open up other opportunities. And finally, safety. Sending your child to camp when they already know how to swim means they have skills to help themselves.”
Of course, learning how to swim can be a frightening experience for a young child. Being in an unfamiliar environment with strangers can cause great deals of anxiety. At places like Goldfish Swim School, parents can stay in the water with their child up until they are 24 months old. After that, they have the option to have their child work independently with the instructor.
“We use something called the ‘science of swim play,’” Morris said. “What we know is that learning is aided by engagement and having fun. So, we try to really infuse our classes with that. It’s not just like playing with ducks and things in the water. Everything we do is done in a fun and engaging way. So I find that the kids retain more and they want to come back. I think what happens is that teachers really try hard to create those bonds.”
Cornblath said, “The most important thing parents and instructors can do to make children feel safe and comfortable in the water is to provide emotional and physical support. Part of teaching how to swim is not throwing your 5-year-old in the water because that’s how you learned. Children will learn these skills, but ensuring trust and comfort is important in their relationship with water in the future. Be clear about what is going to happen. If you say you will be there to catch them, be there. It is much harder to learn how to swim if you are scared.”
Morris said one of the most important things when learning to swim is to be repetitive and consistent in coming to lessons. Goldfish Swim Camp offers ongoing professional lessons that meet once a week for 30 minutes. In the summer,they offer “jump-start clinics,” which are five consecutive days of 30-minute lessons.
“I think the key is that you’ve got to keep at it,” Morris said. “As with any skill in school, when you’re learning, you have to really be diligent about it. You can’t just kind of go in and out of the program. I find that the children that stay in really progress faster.”