What Age Can You Start Swimming Lessons?

Life Jacket Safety

You can start swimming lessons as soon as your infant is 1 year old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Between the ages of 1 to 4, drowning is the highest risk your child will face. It might be in the bathtub or a shallow pool, or on a swimming or boating trip.


Can my baby really start swimming lessons at 1 year old?

Most children begin to learn the 4 basic swimming strokes in swim class (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly) between the ages of 3 and 5. By this point, they have gained enough self-control and bodily coordination to start adapting to the form and style. Hopefully, by this point, they also have the stamina to complete short laps in the swimming pool.

Infant swimming lessons

What, then, is your baby learning between the ages of 1 and 4? 

Not to panic

Your baby needs to learn how not to panic in water where they can’t feel the floor and walls, even as you hold them. This is not an approach that can be rushed. If your child already is afraid of water, swimming lessons might not be the best approach to solving it. You might want to check your options with their pediatrician first.

If your baby panics in water, the swimming lessons won’t kick in, and they won’t be able to respond well. Starting swimming lessons early gives your baby more chances to respond without panicking. 

To keep their heads above water

The two most important things your baby can learn early are treading water and turning on their backs. Both treading and turning serve the same function: to help the baby lift their nose and mouth above the water. Not for too long, but just for enough time that a grown up can reach and rescue them. 

To enjoy playing in the water

Your child will probably encounter water activities in the future. Parties by the pool or by the seaside, or invitations to water-related trips and activities, all carry their own risk. 

Backwater boating

The earlier your baby sees playing in the water as fun, and the earlier they are equipped to take care of themselves in water, the better. Dealing with a fear when they really need to save themselves is not something you want to happen.

Will my baby learn how to swim faster if I start swimming lessons earlier?

No, your baby will not learn how to swim faster if they are enrolled earlier than 3 to 5 years old. The reason is mainly developmental. It is between 3 to 5 that your child grows enough into their body to properly absorb the lessons. Usually, no matter how old children are enrolled, they fully learn all the strokes around the age of 5 and a half. 

The opportunity you have, while your children are young, is to equip them to save themselves from drowning. Your goal might be an early shot at sports scholarships or the Olympics. In that case, it’s okay to wait until they are around 3 years old to enroll them in formal swim lessons. 

What are some safety tips for swimming lessons?

Pick the right provider

Don’t settle for the nearest or cheapest option. You will be part of the lessons most of the time, so find a place that you trust and enjoy going to every week. Talk to the instructors, explore more than one option. Try out the pool yourself!

Lifeguard on duty

Pick the right teacher-to-student ratio

Ideally, there should be one swimming instructor to every six students. Sometimes the instructors will be supervised assistants, and that should be okay as long as the supervisor is there. If an assistant swim instructor is leading, check that they have been under supervised training for at least 6 months. 

Pick the right session length and frequency

For a lesson to stick, it should be at least 30 minutes long, repeated at least once a week, over a period of 8 to 10 weeks. It’s the consistency of repetitive lessons that will help the baby absorb them. 

Check the pool’s safety precautions

Does the pool have a qualified lifeguard on duty for all of the pool hours? Do the teachers and assistants know CPR? Is there a dedicated space for teaching infants how to swim? A pool that is shared with other parties or swim teams might be dangerous if a student doing the backstroke can’t stay in a straight line. Only enroll in a swimming program if you are satisfied with the pool’s water safety. Otherwise, you won’t have peace of mind.

What’s your role as parent / guardian?

  • Keep watch. As long as your baby is in the water, you are still the primary guardian. Make sure you can see your baby at all times.
  • Keep within arm’s reach. If you are outside the pool, stay close enough to grab your baby if they go beyond the reach of a teacher or assistant. If you are inside the pool, always stay close enough to grab your infant.

Should my baby wear floaters during swimming lessons?

No, your baby should never wear any kind of vest or puddle jumper during swimming lessons. They are learning how to manage their bodies when left alone in a body of water, so it would be more dangerous if they depend on the swimming aids to keep them up. Floaters are for water-play with their families, not for learning how to swim. 

That being said, swim lessons and the right kind of PFD go together. For example, if you’re going on a boating trip, your child is required by law to wear a Type II infant life jacket (for babies 30 lbs and below). Swim lessons and the right use of flotation devices equip your baby to respond in any kind of water situation.