When To Start Children’s Swimming Lessons?

backstroke kids swimming

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, swimming is part of the National Curriculum. However, when swimming instruction must take place, varies by each country the UK.

In England and Wales it is supposed to happen around Years 3 or 4. In NI, on the other hand, it is any time in Key Stage 2 (up to Year 6). And in Scotland, it’s not required at all. That’s quite a range of recommendations about learning to swim.

We might be biased, but we think everyone should learn, and the younger, the better. In fact, NHS guidance says you can take your baby or child swimming at any age. But really, truly, what’s the best age to start lessons?

Splashing Around

Perhaps a better question is can children’s swimming lessons start? The fact is, when you take your baby or toddler swimming, even to a group class, it shouldn’t really be a regimented lesson. At this age, kids learn by playing. The whole world is still brand new and just exploring it is enough to get on with.

From infancy to about age five, “lessons” should be about building confidence and developing basic skills. Parents/carers are almost always in the water with the child to provide support and comfort. The classes should be pretty loose in structure and include a lot of:

●          Splashing

●          Kicking legs

●          Laying on the back

●          Reaching for toys, grown-ups, the wall

●          Blowing bubbles

Beyond this, toddler groups might also build some more advanced skills for kids who show confidence. For example:

●          Swimming underwater

●          Pushing off the wall

●          Jumping in

●          Climbing out without using the steps

●          Floating face down

●          Breaststroke leg kick

●          Fetching a sinker in shallow water

If you’re confident in the water yourself, you could bring your child to a quiet pool session and do these things without a class. A teacher, however, will be able to provide you with a lot of useful guidance on how to support your child’s body to best help their development and sense of security. And if you’re with a mate, it can also be a bit more fun.

What’s On Offer?

Different pools may use different swim programmes to chart children’s progression. Most in the UK will go by either the International Learn to Swim Programme (ILSP) standards, taught by STA trained swimming teachers. Or the Swim England Learn to Swim framework, taught by Swim England trained swimming teachers. Swim England is the national governing body for aquatic sport in England.

Both schemes provide students with a wide range of swimming skills to prepare for safety and sport. And both offer classes for babies and toddlers. Swim England has the Ducklings scheme, and STA offers the STARFISH and STAnley series. Once kids are around age 5, they enter the main programme of lessons for both STA and Swim England.

But My Child Is Really Good

It’s true that some kids take to the water like fish. They just love it. Even so, if they’re very young, they still benefit from:

●          Having a short class

●          Focusing on play

●          Having a parent in the water with them

It has to do with how kids develop their bodies and brains. Before school age, they aren’t ready for intensive training, even in a sport they love and show promise in. They still need a variety of activities to stay physically, mentally and socially stimulated. And perhaps most importantly, they aren’t fully prepared to take instruction from the teacher without their carer’s assistance just yet.

Children at this age are still looking to their most trusted adults for reassurance, clarification and comfort when faced with challenges and uncertainty. Gradually, as they approach school age, they learn to approach problem solving more independently. They should be ready for lessons without a parent in the water at around age five.

If you want to develop your child’s ability, don’t discount an extra leisure swim. Remember, play time is learning time at that age! They’ll learn a lot about rotation and orientation just by goofing off.

The other option is private coaching. A weekly session one-to-one with a personal coach is tailored. It can be play-based while also going at a pace based on your child’s more accelerated ability. For a gifted swimmer, this route can be a major enhancement to their development.

Classes vs 1-to-1

Group lessons are very common. They can be fun if kids are together with friends. And some children really benefit from watching other kids do a move before they try it themselves. On the other hand, individuals will get only a few minutes of individual attention in group classes. In a half hour class with 10 students, that’s only 3 minutes of direct instruction on average per lesson for each child!

Some parents opt for private lessons for this and other reasons. Private, 1-2-1 lessons can be a good option for:

●          Older first timers

●          Children who have water phobia or anxiety

●          Kids about to start school lessons

●          Disabilities that local group classes cannot accommodate

●          Students who want to advance faster

●          Families planning a swimming holiday

For children who didn’t have baby lessons or who are starting at an older age, perhaps 10 and up, swimming for the first time can be more nerve wracking. Alongside children with water phobia or anxiety disorders, these children can really benefit from the calm of a one-on-one lesson in a quiet pool. For those about to start school lessons, private sessions can give a little confidence boost, if needed, before swimming in front of the whole class.

Many disabled children attend mainstream group lessons or disability specialist lessons. But not every pool is accessible or has teachers with appropriate training. The personal approach of private lessons can make a big difference.

For those who want to pick up the pace with their learning, private coaching is perfect. Families who want to get it done before a big holiday can set clear targets and work towards them. Kids who are in group lessons but want to clear their awards faster can spend time on specific skills with a coach.

All of these groups will have the full attention of their instructor. That means faster results, more reassurance, and a totally customised approach.

If you’d like to learn more about private coaching near you, get in touch!

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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