By Bob Hubbard, Founder of Hubbard Family Swim Schools
Part of the joy of being a parent is introducing your little ones to all kinds of new skills and fun activities. And the important skills and activities that you teach should take place on both the land and in the water. Teaching your children how to swim and how to be safer around water is one of the most crucial life lessons that you will ever offer.
Swim schools across the U.S. are concerned that 2021 will be a very busy drowning season. Maricopa and Pinal Counties saw an increase from five pediatric fatal drownings in 2019 to 14 in 2020 among children between the ages of 0 and five years of age. (www.childrensafetyzone.com).
The number of children that would have been learning to swim during the past 12 months was drastically reduced when swim schools throughout the U.S. had to close or operate at a small percentage of normal students. More than 60% of the schools are still operating at reduced capacities.
Drowning is already the number one cause of accidental death for children ages one to four and a leading cause for older youth. Anyone can drown, and it only takes seconds. Preventing drowning deaths involves many layers. Adequate supervision – described as close, constant, and attentive supervision of young children around any water – is a primary and essential preventive strategy.
To prevent unanticipated access to water, barriers must be in place. Four-sided fencing with a locking gate that isolates the pool from the house has been shown to prevent more that 50% of swimming pool deaths in children. Door alarms, pool alarms, and rigid pool covers are other less-studied prevention strategies.
Swim lessons, including for children one to four years, have been shown to decrease the risk of drowning in some children, but parents need to understand that swim lessons cannot “drown proof” any child, and supervision and barriers remain essential.
In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics formally stated that children and parents need to learn to swim. Basic water competency swim skills according to the AAP include the ability to enter the water, surface, turn around, propel oneself for at least 25 yards and then exit the water. Swim instructors work hard to meet those goals by laying a strong foundation for skilled, confident swimmers.
Parents often ask us, “How young can a baby be to start swim lessons?” My answer is that a baby can be introduced to the water between two and six months of age. Warm water and protection from the sun is very important when teaching water acclimation to the babies at this age. In our schools we see smiling happy babies between the ages of eight weeks and six months learning to enjoy water over their faces and being able to initiate submersions by themselves as they put their faces and heads under water after the water prep lessons.
One of the benefits of baby swimming is that it starts building water confidence early. Going in the water with your baby will not only make them more assured about being in and around water it can build your confidence as well.
Benefits of Swimming on Baby’s Body & Brain
- Swimming strengthens your baby on the inside. While swimming will certainly help to develop their muscles and joints, it also improves the strength of their heart and lungs and helps to develop their brain.
- Swimming can help to improve a baby’s coordination and balance. Because much of your baby’s body is supported by water, the main focus for them is on maintaining balance.
- Swimming can improve their sleeping pattern. While it isn’t going to make them sleep through the night every night, the extra exercise will help to make your baby sleepier.
- Swimming can improve a baby’s appetite. Lots of gentle exercise and warm water helps to make a baby hungry.
- A study done by Griffith University in Australia in 2012 showed that children who participate in regular swimming activities not only reach physical milestones faster but have a higher level of intelligence due to earlier brain and cognitive development.
Enjoy ‘Tub Time’ at Home to Help Prepare Baby for Swim Lessons
- Practice getting baby’s face wet. It’s important to get your child comfortable with water on their face. You can do this by first wetting different parts of their face. Move on to a slow trickle of water over your baby’s face and down the back of the head.
- Teach bubble blowing. Blowing bubbles in the bathtub teaches children how to clear their nasal passages when they don’t have any free hands to plug their nose. One way to do this is to blow ping pong balls across the surface of the water. You can teach bubble blowing by making funny noises while blowing. Not only is this fun for your toddler it also prepares them for skills they will need in formal swim lessons.
- Use bath toys or household items that they can interact with in the tub. Not only do bath toys help your little one to develop their motor skills, but this kind of play time in the bath allows them to use their limbs more freely in the water.
Enrolling your baby in swim lessons this summer may prove to be one of the most enjoyable, special bonding experiences the two of you will ever experience. Trust me, when you eventually watch your child take his or her first swim strokes across the pool, it will be just as exciting and memorable as watching them take their first walking steps across the floor!
Bob Hubbard and his wife, Kathy, have become internationally renowned speakers and experts in the field of infant swimming. The Hubbards own four swim schools around the Valley – in Phoenix, Peoria, Mesa, and Goodyear. Operating since 1998, the Hubbard Family Swim Schools offer lessons to babies and children, eight weeks up to 12 years of age. The swim schools also offer private swim lessons to children with special needs. For more information, call (602) 971-4044 or visit www.hubbardswim.com