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Swim Lessons: Start Early, Practice Often

Summer is here, and for many Oklahoma City kids, that means days at the park, sleepovers, summer camps and swim lessons. It’s common for parents to enroll their preschool-aged children in swim lessons, and even toddlers – but what about infants? This summer, local YMCA locations will roll out a new swim lesson program aiming to get kids into the pool at an even younger age – starting at just six months.

Aileen Pollock, aquatics director at the Earlywine Park YMCA, says the Y has been developing this program with extensive research and planning. “A program like this has been in the works for several years,” Pollock says. “Certain Oklahoma City metro YMCA locations have been piloting it, and this summer, we’re rolling it out. Every metro YMCA branch that has a pool will feature this new program.”

Can babies really take swim lessons?

Pollock emphasizes the importance of gradual skill development and progression. “We start our swim lessons at six months,” she says.

“Each stage of swim lessons is broken down into really detailed lesson plans,” Pollock explains. “The earliest stage, for babies six months to three years old, has the parent and child interacting together in the pool. This helps the child get more comfortable in the water and acclimated to being in a pool, and it’s also great for educating the parents. We have several parents who aren’t aware of basic swim techniques or who may not know how to swim, so it’s helpful for them too.”

For the three- to five-year-old age group, children will be in the pool without a parent and will learn more advanced techniques from the instructors, while continuing to focus on safety and awareness. “Early on, it’s more about teaching safety around water and drowning prevention. Our youngest swimmers learn ‘jump-push-turn-grab’ as well as ‘swim-float-swim’ – both techniques even little ones can use,” Pollock says.

A cute happy young female girl child baby relaxing on the side of a swimming pool

Are swim lessons really necessary?

In a nutshell, yes. Pollock can’t stress the safety factor enough, and encourages every family to enroll their child in lessons if possible.

“Anybody that has a backyard pool, even one with a fence – there’s always that risk  – and for families without a pool, too. It’s just natural for kids, when they get to a pool or lake, to run toward it,” Pollock says. “Some of the first things we cover in our lessons are the importance of first asking for permission from an adult, and being supervised by an adult any time there is water nearby.”

If a child does fall into water, having the reflexes and skills learned in swimming lessons can be life-saving.

Swim lessons offer peace of mind and lowered drowning risk, in addition to other benefits parents of young children can appreciate.

“With the toddlers, being in the pool at the gym exposes them to that healthy lifestyle,” Pollock says. “They see the bigger kids in the pool, and the adult swimmers, and they’re learning this is a life skill and something they can always enjoy.”

The tiring nature of swim lessons is a perk, too. “It’s a great way for toddlers to expel that energy,” Pollock says.

The physical benefits of swimming are beneficial for gross motor skill development in babies, as well. “They’re doing the kicking, paddling and floating – all of that is helpful,” she says.

A life skill to practice year-round

While swim lessons may be more convenient during the summer, Pollock encourages parents to consider enrolling their child year-round. “It takes longer than a month to develop these skills,” she says. “Plus, each kid learns at different paces. It’s just like school – if they take a break for a long period, they tend to lose some of the knowledge they’ve learned and often have to start over.”

Fortunately, facilities with indoor pools offer a way for families to practice the important skill of swimming any time of year.

A YMCA membership can grant families access to 19 Oklahoma City metro locations, including the YMCA Healthy Living Center - INTEGRIS. For Oklahoma City YMCA locations with aquatics programs, refer to this list, and for other swim lesson options in our area, check out this guide.

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