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Is your child ready for swimming lessons?

What to expect at the pool at every age

swimming lessons, swimming, water safety, pool readiness

You've rounded up your little ones, grabbed their favorite Mickey Mouse towel and matching goggles and you're off to the pool! Older kids splash in the deep end and do tricks off of the diving board. Young children run past you in their Paw Patrol trunks and mermaid themed bathing suits
while the scent of over chlorinated water wafts through the air.

You've signed your child up for swimming lessons in the hopes of making the water a comfortable place and to improve their skills. But what is the right age to start lessons? And when should you expect your child to swim sans water wings?

Starting young
Teresa Sperber, New Windsor mom of two, took her daughter to her first swimming lesson at eight months old. She signed her daughter, Lila, up for a class at the YWCA in New Windsor joining other mother and baby duos for their first real experience in the water.

Sperber says, "It was supposed to get babies used to the pool and being in the water. The teacher would show us different aquatic arm and leg movements. When Lila understood she was able to repeat the movements on her own."

Mary Smith, aquatic director for the Hudson Valley's leg of British Swim School says their program starts children in the water as young as three months old.

"Water acclimation is our main focus at this age," explains Smith.

READ MORE: How water smart is your child?

"This time in the pool was quality one-on-one time for my daughter and me and made her more comfortable in and around water at home," says Sperber. "When Lila is five I will sign her up for formal lessons where
she will be expected to be more independent."

Smith insists that age is not the most important factor limiting independence in the pool. "Our classes are skill based rather than
age based," she says of the programs at British Swim School. "Instructors pay attention to children and discuss the possibility of leaving the pool to parents when their child seems ready to be on their own." Starting kids early will only make them more comfortable in the pool without
clinging to their parents.

Independence in the water
Jennifer Brighton also signed her child up for swimming lessons at the local YWCA. Her son Lucas was four years old when he first experienced some independence in the water.

"He had to hold on to the wall and kick, put his mouth in the water and blow bubbles, float on his back and use a kick-board to swim a short distance away from the wall," says the Orange County mom of three. "He became more comfortable as the classes went on and started jumping in the water as long as someone was there to catch him."

READ MORE: The importance of swimming lessons

Smith says, in reference to their program's young independent swimmers, "We teach back-floating and want our students to be comfortable going completely underwater. Their skills improve and confidence increases as they learn."

Brighton says, "The confidence I saw in my son was the most incredible part. By the end, he was putting his head underwater for longer and longer amounts of time. He had no fear."

Continued instruction
As a school-aged child, I took swimming lessons at Valley Central High School in Montgomery. My own mother recalls this and says, "At that age they were less instructional and more useful for the social aspect. Your friends were taking the same lessons and it was like a summer camp."

Smith agrees that swimming lessons are a great place for socialization. "Some parents call to inquire about private lessons but we strongly discourage that. All of our classes are small groups and we see kids do much better in classes like that," insists Smith.

"Kids learn from one another and motivate each other to do better. We see them have a lot of fun."

Jennifer Brighton adds that continued instruction is good for children and insists that she will enroll Lucas in more classes as he gets older. "It is important to have a child that is capable of being in the water independently. The water is dangerous if you don't know how to swim."

Now, my mother is a para-professional at the high school for a student in 10th grade. "The students have to swim as part of their gym class for the year, but at this point they all know how to swim. The classes are for fitness purposes and exercise. They also are learning about CPR and have to "rescue" their peers using a tube or a pole," she explains.

Swimmers can take different classes at British Swim School as their skills improve. Smith says, "Older students take classes to refine their strokes and develop skills in new strokes."

Cassidy Brighton is the editor for Hudson Valley Parent.