Babies spend nine long months paddling, kicking and blowing bubbles in the underwater world of mum’s womb – so it’s no wonder that little ones are born with the natural ability to swim.
Thanks to two intelligent, survival reflexes – the swim reflex and the dive reflex – babies will move their arms and legs in a swimming motion when supported in the water (tummy-side down), and can hold their breath and open their eyes when beneath the surface.
Because these reflexes are strongest in the first six months of life, it seems a good idea to take that opportunity to try out swimming lessons; and not necessarily to start prepping in advance for Olympic gold – or an escape plan should the family one day be marooned on a desert island.
Paul Thompson, co-founder of award-winning swim school, Water Babies, explains, “In their first year, a baby’s brain grows more rapidly than at any other time, so it makes sense to start early and maximise their exposure to learning experiences in a variety of environments.”
Discovering new sights, sounds and feelings within an aquatic setting can be an incredible sensory adventure for tots.
It’s also a great way to immerse both you and babs in an activity that capitalises on snuggles…
“This magical time spent one-on-one with your little one in the relaxed environment of a warm swimming pool offers the chance for parents and carers to spend regular, and quality, bonding time with their children,” emphasises Paul.
Obviously, swimming lessons also help your child gain confidence in the water and learn a potentially life-saving skill. “Most of our toddlers can swim short distances by around the age of two,” says Paul, “and have mastered vital skills including how to turn around and hold on and, where possible, how to clamber out.”
But even though learning to swim for the sake of safety is a serious deal, you want your child to thrive in water, and view it as something to be enjoyed and loved – not feared.
Paul gives some handy tips for getting newbie swimmers ready for that first lesson, and keeping them happy in the water:
• Use bath time to prepare
If bath time is a positive experience, this will make the transition to the pool much easier. Encourage splashing and playing with toys, smile, sing and talk while
maintaining lots of reassuring eye contact, and wrap them up in a cosy, warm towel with plenty of cuddles afterwards.
• Make sure the pool is suitable
The pool temperature should be at least 32 degrees if baby is under three months old or less than 12lbs in weight, 30 degrees if they’re older or heavier. And keep in mind that wetsuits work well to keep little bods from getting chilly.
• Take your time choosing a baby swim school
Teaching babies to swim from birth is a skilled profession, requiring considerable training. However, there is fairly limited regulation, so it’s vital that as a parent you take the time to make a well-informed choice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and check qualifications. A good company will be happy to oblige.
• Have a pre-lesson visit
Babies usually take time to adjust to new things (no matter how much you know they’ll inevitably enjoy them). Try to take your baby to the pool before the initial lesson, sitting on the side and getting them used to the noises, colours, splashing and general excitement.
• Bond in the water
As you enter the pool together for the first time, smile and talk to your baby to reassure them it’s a pleasant experience. Be calm and positive as they’ll take their cues from you. Get your shoulders under the water and hold your baby so the water covers their chest. Try alternating between holding your baby very close, with lots of comforting skin-to-skin contact, then at arm’s length, allowing them more freedom of movement and independence.
• Remember to Have FUN
Arguably the most important step! Always keep the tone of your pool sessions light; don’t get wound up about doggy paddle if other kids seem miles ahead. The emphasis should be on you feeling like you’re evolving at your child’s own pace, and on both of you having bucket-loads of fun.