Babies and Swimming: How Young to Start?

Aquatics Director, James Behan, who teaches at Sportsplex in New Windsor, starts little swimmers at the age of six months, and when his little students first enter the water, they usually smile and shriek. But, it could go either way, he points out, because of the parent’s attitude. “Their fears influence their kids,” he said. “For the most part, if the parents are comfortable, they’ll do alright.” Behan says kids do well and babies stay calm in quiet atmospheres, with soft music. The pool water is kept at about 85 degrees, cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough so it doesn’t shock the little ones.

There are many different philosophies of teaching little ones to swim, Behan says. “One thing that works best is to allow them to explore, walk in with them slowly, let them dunk and splash in the water, wearing age appropriate floatation equipment,” he said. “This builds comfort and balance and they can work on actual skills. It’s important to just gain balance and the memory of the balance in the water.”
Cathy Walker of Cornwall says her daughter, Ellie, started swimming lessons at Sportsplex at the age of 20 months. “She loves the water”, said Walker. “She’s my third child, and she sees the other two kids in the water. I figured it would be something fun to do while the others are in school.” Walker said she didn’t start her older two children with swimming lessons at a young age but decided to enroll her youngest daughter. “She’s my fearless one,” she said. “She loves the water and did really well.”

The four words of wisdom about kids and safe swimming: from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign

Robbin Colandrea, formerly of Newburgh, says her kids were in the pool by the age of four months and both started swimming independently by the time they were three years old.
“I totally believe in waterproofing babies,” she said. She worked in the Newburgh area for 10 years at the YM and YWCA as well as a summer program at Newburgh Free Academy, and estimates that in 10 years, she’s taught about 1,000 kids to swim.

Her advice is that parents need to remember that even if the child knows how to swim, they’re still not safe alone, no matter what age.
“A ‘daredevil’ child is always a challenge for a class and a teacher,” said Colandrea, who would appoint these children as her ‘helpers’ and models. She added, “I kind of ‘hung onto’ them, rather than trust they would stay.” For the fearful child, Colandrea recommends a few private one-on-one lessons, or a class that was smaller and quieter.

Parents have to be careful not to push too hard, said Colandrea. “Water in a big pool can be scary, so for older kids, if mom or dad can drop them and let the instructor take over, it’s sometimes easier.

Anita Manley is a freelance writer. She’s looking forward to doing the doggie paddle in her backyard pool this summer but insists she will not get her hair, ears or nose under water.