How Helpful Are Swim Lessons for a 2 Year Old?
June 30, 2015 12:19 AM   Subscribe

I've heard mixed things. Some people say that a child at 2 won't get much from swim lessons other than becoming more comfortable in the water, which isn't something you need a paid instructor for. They tell me to just take my kid into the pool with me to play and hang out. What do y'all think?
posted by Anonymousness to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My two-year-old was in swim lessons until recently, when we took him out for logistical reasons. Since then, we've been taking him to the pool a lot by ourselves. My take? Swim lessons at this age don't provide much in the way of knowledge. They are useful for:

- Enforcing that you go to the pool often, which is really helpful for attaining and keeping comfort in the water. In the three months since we stopped we've noticed we go a bit less consistently, and our son is maybe slightly less willing to try new things. Not a big deal but if you wouldn't go very often without the impetus of lessons, it's a factor.

- Encouraging your child to try new things, with more variety. The combination of having an instructor tell the kids to do activities as part of a structured lesson -- and for all of the other kids to do them -- made my son more willing to try things like jumping off the side than he has proven to be when it's just us.

- Practicing specific skills more often. Because of the above two factors, we just don't end up targeting specific skills like the lessons did. We'll still have him, e.g., blow bubbles or try to float, but not as consistently (and he won't as consistently do it either).

As for whether those things matter? Eh, I'd say it's up to you. Our personal sense is that we did enjoy having him in lessons, and he liked them, but I'm not particularly fussed if he learns to float at age three or age four, which is (at most) what the skill differential will amount to. So for us it made sense to take him out given the other logistical issues we had going on. But if you don't have any logistical or other issues making it difficult, and you'd think your child would enjoy it, there are some subtle benefits to lessons.
posted by forza at 1:08 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Swimming lessons are only for children you don't want to see drowned. If the lessons do not do as Hal said, change instructors/swim schools/whatever until you find one that does.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:42 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Swim lessons were immensely helpful for my boy when he was 2. They taught him to float on his back so he could breathe calmly and how to climb the wall to get out of the pool. While I am not a child development professional, I personally think it is never too early for proper, professional swim lessons. (I have also found that 'Swim Schools' with group lessons tend to be fairly useless. We had fantastic results with a private instructor.)
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:13 AM on June 30, 2015

How often are you around water? If you're around pools often, say a family member or friend has a pool, I think it's worth it for the safety side of things. Otherwise, so long as your kid is comfy in and around water, they can pick up the rest up pretty quickly from age six or so. (I taught swimming lessons for primary school kids during uni. Many came in without any formal lessons, but if they were happy to stick their face in the water and try new things, they picked up the basics pretty quickly.)
posted by kjs4 at 2:47 AM on June 30, 2015

I know a two year old who takes swimming lessons. It's completely unlike hanging out in the pool. Their whole lesson takes place in three feet of water - they are learning how to cope safely and happily with being out of their depth.

I won't be surprised if she's swimming short distance unassisted by the time she's three. But she's already clearly much more drown-proof than she would have been just mucking about in a pool.
posted by emilyw at 3:28 AM on June 30, 2015

Here's what The American Academy of Pediatrics says:

Swimming lessons DO NOT make your infant/child "drown-proof". They still need adult supervision at all times while in the pool.
posted by cnanderson at 4:15 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with cnanderson, swimming lessons at 2 do not prevent drowning. But they can be fun.

I tried various things when my son was 2, and before (we went baby to baby swimming classes etc) and we did go and go to the pool a lot. My experience was the group lessons were fun but not helpful. I never did hire a private instructor but did observe a lot of them at the pool, trying to figure out if I should. I think for an older child it will work well, when they can actually follow instructions about how to move their legs and arms and coordinate the movement in a meaingful way. But it did not seem to me it would work below 4 or perhaps even 5. But maybe this was only the type of instruction provided by the children's coach at that particular pool? Their recommended starting age for lessons was 4, btw.

And while he was nearly ready to swim on his own without aides last summer with age 5, only this spring he learned really quickly, within 10 lessons daily of 30minutes over two weeks given by an instructor, to swim competently on his own, with strong strokes, and to dive and jump in. He took an exam at the end and is really proud (as he should be) of the achievement. ALso, I think it was good that it was without mom or dad watching anxiously, but on his own.

I was also told it has to do with body development, a 2yr old still has a ver large head in proportion to the rest of his body (hence the danger of silent drowning, the head pulls them down), and the coordination of limb movement on command is still hard. But I am sure it is also individual development.
posted by 15L06 at 5:05 AM on June 30, 2015

Swimming lessons can be:
  • fun - peers and play!
  • structured - someone else has to figure out how to keep your kid busy!
  • cheap - a lesson set of 30-45min often works out cheaper than paying an adult admission
But that being said lessons for a 2 year old are not going to teach them to swim, certainly not any better than regularily taking your kid to the water and playing with them yourself. At that age it's all acclimation, exposure to breath control and exploring the water as a 3 dimensional medium. They just don't have the physical literacy (or proportions) for anything else.

In short the most effective option is the one where they will have the most attention and engagement - be it with you or an instructor.

Oh and "water safe" might be a thing but "drown proofing" isn't.

posted by mce at 7:09 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

We took both of our kids to the local Y for swim "lessons" practically since they were babies. Early on (through their toddler years and up) it's all more of an acclimation class with appropriate safety devices. It helps them not to be afraid of being in the water (i.e. avoiding panic) A parent is in the pool with them at all times. And, yeah, it's fun as hell. It's good bonding and really does work well in getting them comfortable in the water.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:11 AM on June 30, 2015

This really depends on the school or instructor. Classes at the Y, local pools, or through community education are much more focused on being comfortable in the water, singing/splashing, and learning rules like no running around the pool.

Some places are focused on actually teaching children to swim as babies and toddlers ("drown-proofing" kids) and the kids I've seen who learned there are extremely capable swimmers at very young ages. These classes are expensive - like several hundred dollars per kid per "semester". Schools like Foss Swim School and Infant Self-Rescue swimming are what I'm talking about.

So it depends on where you're considering the lessons, on your own kid (can they pay attention? are they terrified of the water or okay with it now? will you be around pools once the classes are over, so the information remains fresh in their mind?) and your budget. My daughter took "lessons" at about 15 months old and they helped her get comfortable in the water (she went from screaming at the sight of it to asking to go to Grandma's pool) but she by no means learned to swim from the class.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:06 AM on June 30, 2015

Just to clarify, when I described a kid as "more drown proof" I emphatically didn't mean to suggest that a kid could be unable to drown or that they should ever be around a pool without very close supervision!

I do think that in the case of an awful accident, the lessons have increased the odds of the kid I know being able to self rescue, or to stay alive for a little longer so other people could effect a rescue.
posted by emilyw at 8:15 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was a lifeguard and someone who also took swimming lessons at a pretty young age. I think this

Swimming lessons are only for children you don't want to see drowned.

is fairly extreme. Lessons won't keep a kid from drowning necessarily and an absence of lessons doesn't make your kid more likely to drown presuming that someone in the family is a good swimmer and/or good about water safety. The things that I think are really good for young kids and lessons are

- the fear issue - some kids are worried about the water, breathing, whatever, having another grown up talk about these things like an expert can be helpful
- safety in groups - classes with multiple kids don't just teach personal safety but also how to play safely which is good especially if it's a community where your child will interact with these kids over and over
- you + me + the water - experiencing the pool as a fun family activity can be enhanced by lessons which really encourage parents bonding around the water. If you are not a strong swimmer or really excited about the water, that can rub off on your kid and send suboptimal messages. Many instructors are really good at the "Hey isn't this FUN?" aspect of being in the water that might be missing

And at some level just the idea of getting a kid into any structured activity is worth having a thought about. Some kids do a lot of this as they get older, some don't. This is an early opportunity to get on that bus or not get on that bus.
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a friend with a two-year-old who has been in small group or individual lessons for several months now and that child can SWIM. My daughter is six and plays splash ball (water polo for kids), so she is a very strong swimmer, and the two-year-old can keep up with her in the pool. It's very impressive. They don't have a pool at home or anything, it's all from the lessons.
posted by Missense Mutation at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2015

I'm going to second mce here. I think 2 year-olds need interaction to help them develop but they're not really doing direct skills acquisition at that age. I think it's good to get them comfortable in water so that when they take lessons later on they're ready to focus on the skills and not on any hang-ups about being in a pool. Some two year-olds might be able to dog paddle or do a front crawl but I don't think I'd say that it's something I'd expect every kid to do.

But like mce says:

Swimming lessons can be:
fun - peers and play!
structured - someone else has to figure out how to keep your kid busy!
cheap - a lesson set of 30-45min often works out cheaper than paying an adult admission

All of which I heartily agree with.
posted by GuyZero at 9:54 AM on June 30, 2015

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