Starting your little one on swimming lessons as a toddler can have an impact on their future pool safety learn when its time to start.

As summer approaches and parents wisely consider the benefits of swim lessons for their children, the question arises, When is the best age to begin teaching my child to swim?

Here at Emler Swim School, we would say, As soon as the umbilical cord falls off. Of course, those very early lessons start in a full bathtub, not in a swimming pool, with a loving parent singing and socializing with the newborn. But whether you’re talking about an infant, a toddler or a preschooler, the best time is sooner rather than later when it comes to the lifetime sport of swimming.

A 2010 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) backs up this opinion. For years, the AAP’s position has been that children weren’t ready for swim lessons before their fourth birthday, but recent studies suggesting children ages 1 through 4 that have received swimming instruction may be less likely to drown have caused them to soften that stance. The Institute of Child Health and Human Development also concluded in March 2009 that participation in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88 percent reduction in the risk of drowning for 1- to 4-year-old children.

Another report issued from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 found that Texas, California, Arizona and Florida share the same sad distinction of listing drowning as the number one reason for a child under the age of 5 dying an accidental death. This tragic statistic is partially due to these states warm climates and large number of backyard swimming pools. The majority of other states list drowning as the number two reason for the accidental death of a child under 5 years of age.

Although all preschoolers near water are at risk, the data from past drownings indicates that the most typical victim is a 2-year-old male. He is at his highest risk during the summer months and on the weekends. The most dangerous time of the day is between 4 and 6 p.m., and the scene of his accident is typically in a backyard pool.

Clearly, the research findings suggest that the need for swim lessons is immediate and may make it safer for toddlers to enjoy the water. But aside from those numbers, I tell parents that swim lessons can be a preschoolers fondest childhood memory if they’re placed in the right swim program. Participation in quality parent-and-baby swim classes can create mutual success and baby-to-parent bonding. Swimming is also one of the first sports that a child can master. Its fun for preschoolers to experience their parents cheering them on as they excel in the water.

So how do you identify a good swim lesson program to give your youngster the best advantage? Here are some tips to help you find a wonderful place to introduce your child to swimming.

  • Ask your friends and check out online reviews to find the most recommended swim lessons in your community
  • Always expect to be able to view your child’s lessons beware of programs that ask you to leave while they teach your child to swim
  • Visit the swim lesson program in advance and hope to see the following:
  • Friendly staff and teachers who are certified in swim instruction
  • Happy students who are making good progress
  • Sparkling clean and heated water for preschoolers and babies
  • Written expectations of skill acquisition at the end of the course

The bottom line? No matter what age your child is introduced to the wonderful world of water, swim lessons with a qualified instructor should be a nurturing and fun adventure for your child. He should be dragging you to swim lessons, not the other way around.

As parents, you also play a vital role in helping train your child. The AAP recommends that the parent or caregiver of a young child always be close enough in the water to touch that child. This practice of touch supervision is an essential preventive strategy that minimizes the possibility the parent might get distracted from keeping a young child safe in the water. Another proven preventive measure is the installation of four-sided fencing with a self-latching gate around the backyard pool. If swim lessons, supervision and barriers are not successful in preventing harm to your child, you should be prepared to respond to an emergency with the knowledge of how to administer infant/child CPR. A phone should always be kept nearby to call 911.

No matter how long your child has been swimming, his safekeeping is up to you as his parent or caregiver. Three minutes with him out of your sight is all it takes for a tragedy to occur. Commit to keeping your eyes and hands on your kids the entire time they are around the water. After all, what could be more fun and safe this summer than actively watching your family enjoy their time at the pool or beach?

Tips for safe swimming

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following advice and tips for ensuring water safety:

Supervise when children are in or around water. Avoid potential distractions like talking on the phone, playing games or doing yard work while children are around the pool.

Use the buddy system. Teach children to never swim alone. Choose swimming locations with lifeguards on duty whenever possible.

Air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices. Many water toys like noodles can float, but they are not designed to take the place of safety equipment like life jackets.

Clear the pool and deck of toys. Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool without supervision.

For information on three simple things you can do right now to prevent drowning, go to lonestarlifesavers.org.

Jan Emler founded Emler Swim School in 1975, which now teaches nearly 25,000 students annually. A sought after consultant by swim schools utilizing the Emler curriculum, she has received national awards for innovative teaching and exceptional leadership. Jan is a charter member and Hall of Fame Award winner with the U.S. Swim School Association, a three-time member of the organizations Board of Directors and a frequent speaker at national and international aquatic education conferences.