Keep within an arm's length of your preschooler as she learns to swim.

Swimming Milestones for Children

by Anne Reynolds

Your little one seems ready to embark on the brave new frontier of swimming. While she may not consciously remember sloshing around inside embryonic fluid for nine months, the familiarity with being under water is stored somewhere in the back of her memory bank. Since swimming milestones are reached at various ages, don’t panic if your pint-size mermaid’s comfort level seems more like a “fish out of water” than a swimming champion.

1. Preparation for Preschoolers

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Generally, children are not developmentally ready for swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday.” So how do you prepare your preschooler to take the plunge into the world of swimming? Your little one’s comfort level in the water has a lot to do with it. Up until age 3, the bathtub may be the easiest place to feel at ease in the water. Allow extra time so your tot can play with water toys, giggle as she splashes you and practice blowing through bubble bathtub toys. Once she’s learned to relax and enjoy the bathtub, take a day’s outing to the local swimming pool. Practice bobbing up and down in the kiddie pool and rehearse preliminary dog paddling, as you hold on to her waist.

2. Water Safety

Your child has learned how to enter and exit the pool correctly. Just as you’re gathering towels to dry off, you notice your little one skid across a puddle, fly into the air and land squarely on her behind. Oops! You forgot to mention to walk carefully and not run across the wet concrete. Teaching safety both in and outside of water areas builds strong habits and helps alleviate accidents. Just because your 4 year old takes swimming lessons does not guarantee she knows how to stroke like an Olympic star. Make sure you are within an arm’s length anytime she is in the water. Put her life jacket on, whether she’s dog paddling in the deep end of the pool or riding in a boat.

3. Preliminary Swimming Concepts

While you’ve faithfully practiced dog paddling together, preschool swim lessons should teach a variety of additional preliminary strokes. Even if you feel confident to teach your child yourself, the American Red Cross recognizes a preschooler has attained Level 1 when the following concepts are reached. As your child has accomplished blowing bubbles using bathtub toys, she should easily graduate to blowing bubbles both through the mouth and nose. Dog paddle strokes progress to treading water, easing into front and back leg actions, as well as rolling from back to front. Possibly the biggest milestone your little one will reach is completely submerging her head underneath water and grabbing an object.

4. Advanced Techniques

As your child grows more accustomed to learning water fundamentals, she is ready to advance to harder swimming milestones. Both Level 2 and Level 3 American Red Cross lessons build on what was learned in Level 1. While your preschooler has been watching rubber ducks floating on the surface of the water, she is now ready to learn how to float on her front and back. Once she becomes more confident with floating techniques, arms and legs will be added, demonstrating how to move more quickly. By the time she graduates from Level 3, her confidence in and around the water will have vastly increased from the days of clutching onto you, kicking and screaming at the sight of a pool.

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