What to Expect at Baby Swimming Lessons

BY: Aimee Algas Alker |May 29, 2018

Water safety is a concern for many parents, especially leading into the summer months. One thing parents can do to help kids be safer around water is to put them into swimming lessons when they're young. How young? Six months old.

At least, according to Jeffrey Alpern of KISS Aquatics in northeast Ohio, who specializes in the "swim float swim" technique—a method for teaching babies as young as 6 months old to feel comfortable in the water. He shared with us why parents should teach their children how to swim and what to expect in baby swimming lessons.

What is the "swim float swim" technique?

So first things first, can babies swim? Jeffrey says that, while they might not swim per se, starting at 6 months old, children can learn to "hold their breath [and] float." What's most important, though, is that they become "extremely comfortable in the water"—comfortable enough to maneuver themselves to a safe position: floating on their back.

As a child gets older, he or she learns to roll back to their stomach and paddle over to an adult or to the pool wall, alternating a few strokes at a time with a few moments of back-floating, hence the term "swim float swim."

What happens during a lesson?

Each lesson is about 10 minutes long, which doesn't seem like much, but is actually plenty of time for a baby. Keep in mind, says Jeffrey, that this is nothing like a typical "Mommy and Me" class. In the first few lessons, the parent does not get into the water with the baby. As these are private, one-on-one classes, most of the interaction will be between baby and instructor. The instructor uses a combination of verbal and physical cues, repeating each exercise over and over, to guide the child into the proper technique.

The goal of these lessons is not to teach a baby to swim, per se, but to teach them to get into a position to help prevent drowning. So over the course of up to 24 ten-minute lessons, the child learns to "instinctively roll to their back so they can breathe air." This helps the child calm down enough so they can wait for rescue.

How long does it take?

Depending on the child and how often the lessons take place, this technique can be picked up in as few as 12 lessons. "Kids younger than one year take a lot less time to learn than older kids," says Jeff. "To them, everything is new. They don't have that 'no' button yet."

Frequency of the lessons is key to a baby picking up this technique. With a minimum of 24 private lessons per session, lessons should take place at least twice a week. And even if the technique is mastered after the sixth lesson, Jeff stresses the importance of continuing. "You don't graduate from college with the goal to stop learning," says Jeff. "It's the same for swimming."

"If [the lessons] don't continue, the child's knowledge will diminish over time." And as children grow, he says, the movements they need to make in the water will change.

Can any child learn this technique?

In all the years he's been doing this, and all the babies he's taught, Jeffrey claims he's never had a child who was unable to learn to float, no matter how panicked they might have been the first time they hit the water. "To watch them acclimate, to calm down, you can see the light going on, and then you watch them enjoying doing it, that's when it becomes cool."

What are the benefits?

"Every child should be safe in the water," says Jeffrey. "And the best way to be safe is to feel comfortable." While it's rare, he's seen kids as young as two-and-a-half years old swim laps. "Now they don't swim the length of the pool the way you or I do," he says. Instead they use the techniques they learn in class: "They swim three strokes, they turn over and rest, all the way down the pool." And Jeff claims that confidence isn't limited to the water. "It does carry over to their everyday lives."