June 17, 2019

Classes to teach your child how to swim are worth the time commitment even with your busy family schedule.


“I thought I was going to learn how to swim.”

That was my then-4-year-old son’s reaction after his first-ever swim class.

I chuckled a little to myself, appreciating the preschooler’s ability to take everything we say so literally. I explained that it takes a lot of practice and a lot of days.

I guess he’s right, in a way. It wasn’t truly swimming.

At Joaquin’s first class at the Vanderbilt University Student Recreation Center’s swim school, his group of beginners dunked their faces in the water, blew bubbles and kicked their feet.

He thought by the end of class he should know how to tread water in the deeper parts of the pool AND play water basketball.

I felt a bit guilty. He would soon turn 5 , and this was his first lesson. He was the biggest, and likely oldest, of the 4-year-olds in his group. Better late than never, I suppose.

By the time I was Joaquin’s age, I was already swimming pretty proficiently, having taken classes at my local YMCA. I was also lucky enough to have a neighborhood pool where I spent every day of the summer with my mom. Joaquin did not have that luxury.

As I was deciding where to sign Joaquin up for swimming lessons, I came across a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics about when to introduce swimming. It offered some food for thought. The first tip was to teach children to swim when they are ready. Other tips offered:

  • Children ages 1 to 4 may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. However, there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than 1 year of age.
  • The decision to enroll a 1- to 4-year-old child in swimming lessons should be made by the parent and based on the child’s developmental readiness, but swim programs should never be seen as “drown proofing” a child of any age.

So, then I went the other extreme – from no classes to a lot of lessons. Four, 40-minute classes per week for four weeks. And I prepared myself to keep signing him up, even though it would mean juggling kindergarten, fall baseball practice and games, swimming and whatever else piled onto our plates during that time.

The swimming lessons were worth it. In Tennessee, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4. I know lessons are just one among several steps to ensuring pool safety.

So, the guilt eased a bit knowing I was doing the right thing NOW regardless of having waited. And we made it work, busy schedule and all. That’s parenting. And our children are too precious not to protect.

swimming class

Christina Echegaray is an information officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

See additional tips on swimming safety.

Parents: Remember the ABCs of water safety for kids