Want a three year old fish? Here’s how to get one!
1. Start them at six months of age. Don’t wait! It is perfectly safe for most babies to hit the pool by six months. If chlorine and sensitive skin is a factor, use a private pool as the chemicals are much lower. Overall though, I have seen very few reactions in all my years of teaching that would keep a baby from enjoying the water.
2. Ideally you want your baby to experience the water consistently (consistency is THE KEY to swimming at an early age and becoming water confident by age three or four) starting at 6 months all the way up to age 3 with only small gaps of time off. (no more than a two month break)
3. When it comes to a child's brain, spaced study is preferable to learning in shorter, more concentrated blocks of time. This means that babies and young children learn better and retain more by small doses over long periods of time rather than intense doses for short periods of time.
4. Don’t be Martin Scorsese, meaning, don’t direct your child. Once they start exploring and experimenting, let them take the lead. Additionally, don’t be their teacher. Your job is to bond with them in a new environment. When your child transitions into formal lessons, let the teacher teach. You should simply enjoy the time in the pool with your kids whenever you get it, without an agenda.
5. Playing IS learning. Don’t mistake play for ‘goofing around’ or ‘lack of focus.’ We all know children learn through playing and the pool is no different. In fact children are more incentivized to learn to swim when it’s attached to playing.
6. Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! I can’t say this enough times in enough languages. Breathing is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT skill for being water safe. If you skip it and rush your child through a program that does not teach breathing, you are doing them a huge disservice in their later years of life.
7. Stay with what works. When you find a teacher you like and your child adores, do your very best to stay with that teacher until your child is at least 4.
8. The most crucial component of creating a swimmer by age 3 is starting at 6 months and keeping them exposed to swimming and pools during the ages of 18-36 months.If you can do this fairly seamlessly, you will have a 3 year old who is familiar with all things water, with swimming, and beginning skills so you can simply move forward without regressing.
9. Age 2 is the most challenging year for children to accomplish new skills. They are battling their own egos and are emotional creatures. Many children learn to swim by age 2 but may plateau for a good six months before having another breakthrough. Don’t be discouraged and remember that in the big picture, it’s a small price to pay for the happy water lover you’ll get by age 3-4.
10. Don’t compare apples to apples. Remember that your ultimate goal is down the road, having a child who, by age 6 or 7 is swimming confidently, adept at all strokes, diving, treading, etc... There is nothing that indicates how well your child will or won’t swim at age 2 or 3... and if your friend’s child started swimming at 2 but yours didn’t swim until they were 3, I can guarantee that by the time both kids are 6 you wouldn’t even be able to tell which was which.
One last tip - please approach this adventure with a sense of fun. Of course safety is the biggest factor and we as parents must always be vigilant, but it is our responsibility to be the lifeguards for our children. It is not our child’s responsibility to be their own lifeguard at such a young age. For them, it should all be about fun and exercise. Lastly, avoid using floatation devices at all cost. They give children a false sense of security and they become a crutch that you eventually have to wean them off of. Better to not even introduce it in the first place.
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