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Do Swimming Lessons Protect Young Children Against Drowning?

You hear it every spring and summer. Drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children ages 1-2 in California. This is true. It’s also true that drownings increase in the summer months, from May – August, so they’re right to start warning us now.  Often, though, we read these warnings in conjunction with swim classes for infants and toddlers.  They don’t actually state that swim lessons will make your child safer around the water, but that’s the implication.  Is it true?

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes a distinction between formal swimming lessons and aquatic programs.  Children are not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until after their 4th birthday. You can try to teach them earlier, but it will take longer.  One study found that regardless of when children start swim lessons, they learn to swim well at about age 5 ½.

So what about aquatics programs for younger children? There is no evidence to support the idea that children who participate in these programs are less likely to drown. So should you enroll your child? The answer is yes, if you want to, go ahead but don’t assume that your child is any safer near the water. Whenever infants or toddlers are in or near water, an adult should be within arm’s length.  That includes bathtubs.  Read the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations here.

Early aquatics programs that emphasize fun may make it easier for children to relax and enjoy the water.  This could in turn make swimming classes easier when they’re ready.  It’s good exercise, and the parent and me classes are another variety of parent-child play, which is always good. Many of these programs also include instructions for adults in water safety.
There are many options for swimming lessons and aquatics programs in Orange County. Many private schools offer swimming all year long, and recreation departments offer classes in the spring and summer.


Blanksby BA, Parker HE, Bradley S, Ong V Children’s readiness for learning front crawl swimming. Aust J Sci Med Sport 1995; 27:34-37
American Academy of Pediatrics