The Lifetime Benefits of Swim Lessons For Your Kids
The latest "Growing Up" column
From soccer to gymnastics and track, lots of sports help kids build skills and burn off energy. One sport, however, offers a unique boost to lifelong fitness. Unlike many childhood pastimes, swimming lessons build skills that can translate into a lifetime of safe, effective exercise long after the cleats, ballet slippers and track shoes are put away. Regular swimming builds core strength, breath control and stamina that can enhance performance in other sports, says Jenny and Chris McCuiston, parents and founders of Goldfish Swim School, a nationwide provider of swim lessons for children with locations in Cary, Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. Here’s how to help kids make a splash, safely, whether they’re in the tot pool or the deep end.
Although a small study found that formal swim lessons can reduce drowning risk in children ages 1 to 4, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that preschool-age children should never be considered water safe. Before age 4, children don’t have the motor skills needed to swim independently and still need constant adult supervision in and around the water, even if they have some swimming ability.
Swim lessons, however, still benefit young kids. A study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that in addition to building physical skills, swim lessons gave kids a boost in cognitive and social development. Swim lessons at this age should focus on building basic skills, such as getting in and out of the water safely and comfortably going underwater.
Parents can help by emphasizing water safety rules, Jenny McCuiston says. “Rules are there for a reason, especially when it comes to rules for the pool. Walk, don’t run; make sure an adult is watching; no horse play. Reviewing rules together as a family before you swim helps everyone enjoy the water.”
Just Keep Swimming
By grade school, kids may have the strength, stamina and control needed to master more complex swimming skills, from freestyle breathing to flip turns. With regular swim lessons and practice, a school-age child likely feels more confident in and around the water, and may have passed a swim test or two. At this point, families may be tempted to quit lessons and devote time and energy to other pursuits — after all, the kids already know how to swim, right? Not so fast. There’s good reason to continue with lessons and practice into the tween and teen years, says Matti Svoboda, owner of Blue Dolphins Aquatics in Chapel Hill.
“Every spring when parents come for refresher lessons, they’re surprised at how much their child has forgotten since last summer,” she says. “Just like any other physical activity, kids should keep swimming multiple times throughout the year, whether it be in lessons or free swim, so they don’t lose the muscle memory, endurance and stamina they’ve gained.”
Summertime pools and beaches brim with opportunities for teens to socialize, exercise and relax, but drowning risk doesn’t evaporate once kids outgrow the kiddie pool. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19, with teenage boys and toddlers most at risk. To protect kids from drowning, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children learn to swim, including teenagers. Even if your child learned to swim years ago, periodic refresher lessons can help build and maintain swimming ability.
Prioritize water safety by talking to teens about drowning risks, including the risks of drinking and swimming. Make sure teens understand the risks of unsafe jumping and diving, which can cause severe head injuries and paralysis. Teach teens to dive safely. Never dive headfirst into an unknown body of water or anywhere diving isn’t allowed. Insist on life vests when teens use watercrafts or boats, including paddleboards. Finally, when it comes to pool safety, trust, but verify: Ask about adult supervision before your teen attends a pool party, and confirm that parents are present during any swimming activity.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom.