- Can a baby or toddler learn to swim? Short answer - Yes.
- Can an infant or toddler learn freestyle or backstroke? No. A child's motor skills generally aren't ready for complex skills like freestyle and backstroke until age 3 ½ or 4 years of age.
- Can you drown proof an infant or toddler? Absolutely not. Even if an infant or toddler has learned basic swimming skills, their performance will be inconsistent. In addition, no baby or toddler should ever be in a situation where they have to save their own life, period. Constant, touch supervision should be provided at all times when an infant or toddler is in or around the water.
- Babies and Toddlers can learn to love the water from a young age.
- Babies and Toddlers can learn potentially lifesaving skills.
- Babies and Toddlers can develop the prerequisites of more advanced skills, so that when they are developmentally ready, the skills will come to them almost naturally.
In general, there are three types of approaches to teaching babies and toddlers:
- Water Acclamation Approach: The emphasis of the instructor is simply to have the child enjoy the water. This is positive approach, though there is minimal advancement in terms of skill acquisition.
- Forceful, Skill-centered Approach: The instructor forces skills on the baby or toddler, with little or no regard given to the child's readiness or happiness. The baby is treated more "like an animal" than a "fragile young human being." The infant-toddler's "well being" is tragically in the hands of someone who claims or even thinks they are doing something good for the baby. There are recent reports that young babies have even drowned during this type of lesson. Be aware of this type of instruction, as it can be both damaging and dangerous for your young child.
- Progressive, Child-centered Approach: The instructor teaches swimming and safety skills but they are taught in progressions, and the approach is gentle. The child's happiness is priority. Infants and toddlers actually learn and develop skills in this format, while the philosophy is to produce a healthy, positive experience first--learning and skill progressions are second. In other words, the child will learn swimming and safety skills in this setting, but never at the expense of the child's safety or happiness. It's a child-paced, child focused approach.
This secret to developing swimming skills and a life-long love affair with the water is taking a gentle, Progressive, Child-centered approach. And while no child should ever be considered "drown proof," infants and toddlers under age three can learn to swim distances up to 10 feet with the right opportunities in the right environment.
Jim Reiser, the author, and About.com and its assocaties, are held harmless against all injury and liability that may result from the use of this article as a teaching aid. This article does not qualify the reader as a professional swim instructor. Any person using the methods described above as a teaching aid takes sole responsibility for the safety and health of the children involved. As with any physical activity, exercise, or instructional program, the participant should seek the advice of a physician.