Could toddler swimming lessons prevent drowning?

Could starting swimming lessons at a younger age prevent young children from drowning?

In the past this concept has been debated. Some feared that early lessons would lull parents to believe their children were better swimmers (and safer) than they really were. Others said it would prepare them to react in case they fell in the water.

Well, a new study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine believes that early swimming lessons can help prevent drowning.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“A long-awaited study published today concludes that swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 4 lowers the risk of drowning. The study, conducted by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, looked at the association between drowning and swimming lessons in children ages 1 to 19 in six states. Interviews were conducted with the families of 88 children who drowned between 2003 and 2005 and with the families of 213 control children who were the same age, gender and lived in the same county as those who drowned.”

“The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that among the 61 children ages 1-4 who drowned, 3% had ever taken formal swimming lessons. In contrast, 26% of the children in the control group  had taken swimming lessons. Parent interviews also suggested that children who drowned were less skilled swimmers. Only 5% of them were able to float on their back for 10 seconds compared to 18% of the children in the control group.”

The story goes on to stress that early lessons are no replacement for vigilance by parents to protect their children from drowning around pools.

We started both Rose and Walsh around 3 with lessons and both could swim by 4. We did one-on-one private lessons at first and then last year started group lessons at the YMCA. (I think the private lessons are better when they are first learning. In the group lessons they spend a lot of time waiting around.)  After reading this I will probably start Lilina earlier than I had planned and do some lessons for her this spring or summer.

I am always super paranoid around pools. I’m on alert and following the kids constantly. I see other moms drinking alcohol at the pool gabbing away or reading magazines, and I feel like saying “What are you thinking? You need to be watching your child at the very least or preferably be in the pool with them close enough to grab them if necessary.”

I’m not a big fan of the little arm swimmies because I do think those give a false sense of security. We have used a zip up safety vest on the kids but still stayed right by them.

When did you start your kids’ swimming lessons? How did they respond? Did the lessons actually make them safer or do you feel like it’s a false sense of security? Do you use other safety devices in the water? Are you with them in the water? At what age are you safe to read a magazine in the lounge chair?

35 comments Add your comment


March 24th, 2009
8:50 am

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March 24th, 2009
8:54 am

Nothing replaces parental vigilance. My kids were 4 & 5 when they took lessons and that was some of the best money we’ve ever spent. You always read about the parent that “looked away for 30 seconds” and tragedy strikes. I’d make it MANDATORY for any children who might even think about being around a pool. I have a friend (who’s certified) that does group lessons at community pools if anyone is interested.


March 24th, 2009
9:03 am

We started swimming lessons last summer when my daughter was two and a half, mainly because she is fearless and has grandparents down in Florida with a pool right off their living room. We did private lessons at a school where the focus was on “drown-proofing” the kids before actually teaching them to swim. While my daughter was not able to swim fully by the end of the summer, she did know how to get herself up from underwater, should she fall in, get to the side, and work her way, hand over hand on the wall, to the steps. She was able to go all the way around my parents’ pool using the hand over hand method without any assistance. I think the key with early swimming lessons is finding a school with the appropriate philosophy. While private lessons definitely are not cheap, I agree that very young children get a lot more out of them than being in a class.

Swim Mom

March 24th, 2009
9:22 am

My 5 year old son has been swimming year round since he was seven months old. He is an excellent swimmer and age appropriate diver. He will compete on a team for the first time this summer. He has taken some group lessons, but for the most part has received one on one instruction. I am still very cautious with him around water. Maybe it stems from me not knowing how to swim…nevertheless I would never take my eyes off him around water.


March 24th, 2009
9:23 am

Both of my kids knew how to swim before they were 4 years old. They were both “water babies” that LOVED the pool, and had no fear of the water, which scared me because they would jump in even tho they didn’t know how to swim. It was the best investment I made with my kids. (My daughter even ended up being captain of her swim team in h.s.)

David S

March 24th, 2009
9:36 am

My dad was on his high school swim team. When I was not even 12 months old, my parents put me in the pool and got me swimming. It wasn’t our pool, but they got me back to that one as often as they could. When I was old enough, I took formal lessons to get better and improve my form. In college I lived at the beach in Southern California and went in the ocean virtually every day. To me the water is a natural. A baby spends its first 9 months in water, its only natural to get them back in as soon as possible. Please do your kids a huge favor and a great service. Get them in the water as soon after they are born as the water is warm enough. Take an infant swim class if you feel the need, and make sure they get GOOD swimming lessons as soon as they can. Please don’t delude yourselves into thinking your kid can swim, just because they flop around in the water better than you can. Get over your parental pride and make an objective judgement of their progress. If you don’t know how to swim, take lessons with them. Knowing how to get where they need to get in an efficient manner in the water WILL save their life one day and will certainly make their experience in the water an enjoyable one rather than a frustrating or worse – dangerous one.


March 24th, 2009
9:42 am

I can’t remember ever NOT being able to swim. My parents put me into lessons before I could walk and talk. I was always one of the best and strongest swimmers out of all my friends and even one of the best in the county where I grew up. Was all this a result of early swim lessons? Maybe or maybe not, but it didn’t hurt.

Water is everywhere and swimming is just something that everyone should know how to do. Elephants can swim, rabbits can swim, why some people CAN’T swim is beyond me…

My overall point is, get your kids in the water ASAP.

new mom

March 24th, 2009
9:46 am

I am absolutely in favor of swimming lessons. We are looking at some options for our 18 mth old this summer, and I’m not sure if we will go with private lessons or small group (for her age, one option I found is a class 4 or less, with the parent present the whole time…which I think would be good too!) I’ve mentioned before I was on a swim team for years, and love all things related to a pool…so it would be fun for me to help her in a class and also know what lessons are being taught, so we could continue them on our own.

As far as the false sense of security issue–that solely belongs to those swimmies and swim vests. When kids have no clue how to swim but think they are OK since they are wearing a certain item, they are really helpless when they are ‘on their own’, without them. I have seen friends’ kids FREAK OUT when one of their swimmies came off…At least with lessons, you are developing a skill.
And yes, I’m with her in the water, at her age holding on to her.


March 24th, 2009
9:48 am

Swimming lessons are essential. As Lori stated, “drown-proofing” comes first, then actual swimming. Remember: Nothing replaces adult supervision. Children panic easily. I have one Grand-daughter who does not want other children to play “ruff” in the pool with her. Sometimes kids do not understand this and an adult has to intervene.


March 24th, 2009
9:49 am

My son took lessons last summer at 5. But he has been in the pool with us since he was an infant.

While at the lessons, there were babies on the other end of the pool. While the lessons for those babies may not end in their swimming abilities improved long term, I think that it was at least an excellent bonding experience for the parents.


March 24th, 2009
9:56 am

My daughter was in her first pool at 6 months. She is an Aquarius so it comes naturally to her. I can’t get her OUT of the pool……

I love to play with kids in the pool. I become “pool counselor” and get the kids to play games, etc. Especially fun on vacations, where theres a ton of kids at the hotel pool.

I have been to an ocean just about every single year of my life, with the exception of 2008. Never made it to the beach. Didn’t even put a swim suit on at all last year. How said is that? But I’m definately making up for it this year, and already have three trips to the beach planned!!! WOO HOO.


March 24th, 2009
10:20 am

Oops, I meant how SAD (not said) is that?


March 24th, 2009
10:50 am

If you have ever doubted that swimming lessons could save your child’s life or if you think your kids need lessons but are too young, please watch this video. AMAZING×2U


March 24th, 2009
11:30 am

my toddler did before her 2nd birthday. she knows how to swim and float. my 6 month old will start in a few months and my soon to be 3yo will begin a refresher course.

question: what would happen if your child feel in a pool and you weren’t there? could she or he remain afloat?

my child can float fully clothed for more than 5 minutes. to watch this is scary but it’s some of the best money spent. and no, i didn’t ask my doctor.


March 24th, 2009
11:32 am


March 24th, 2009
1:59 pm

I’m going to hi jack the blog for a minute. Did anyone see the headlines lately on AJC? 6 carloads of people showed up to brawl over a cell phone that two women were fighting over. Kids ages 1 to 12 were in the cars with the parents!!!!! Two women were fighting over a cell phone, and it turned out 11 people got arrested, gun fire broke out, two people wounded etc……unbelievable……


March 24th, 2009
2:11 pm

I teach survival skills for kids between the ages of 6 months – 6 years. It is amazing that these kids CAN learn to save themselves if ever in an aquatic situation. I highly recommend checking out the ISR website at There is a ton of information about the program and you can search to find an instructor nearest you. It is awesome to watch a 6 month old roll over to float all by themselves! And a 1 year old be able to do a swim-float-swim. My son took the program before I began teaching it. We had a blast at the pool that first season! Check it out!


March 24th, 2009
2:51 pm

JJ…what is even more frightening is the number of children that witnessed all of this!! How can a mother willingly subject her child/children to such violence? That is totally beyond my comprehension!


March 24th, 2009
2:54 pm

Violence begats violence. If children witness their Mother’s being violent, chances are they too will see it as a way to deal with situations…….this is why the cycle is never broken.

C’mon baby, momma needs to rumble…..gotta go help my homies with a dispute. Grab the guns pumpkin…..


March 24th, 2009
3:00 pm

My daughter (now 10) took survival swim lessons at age 15months. It was the best life investment ever! 6 years later I became an instructor! ISR has been around for a long time, they have done all of these studies, they have a 100% survival rate! That’s awesome. Teresa, I wish you would do some research and check this out, we’re all about the kids and saving lives. So many drownings can be prevented with lessons. Ask around, don’t take my word for it!


March 24th, 2009
3:51 pm

I went to the ISR web site, looking to join and become an instructor. It’s ONLY $15,000 and financing is available…….

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 24th, 2009
3:53 pm

Hey Cindy — I just got a note from a PR person for ISR and I’ll try to set up an interview where we can learn more about these techniques as well as classes available.


March 24th, 2009
5:30 pm

I am all for a healthy respect for the water. I am also for knowing how to swim. However I would also “stress that early lessons are no replacement for vigilance by parents to protect their children from drowning around pools”

I encourage that any parent that plans to be around the pool, lake, or White Water with their young children get certified in First Aid and CPR as a minimum….It may not even be your child you need to help. I also encourage Life Guard Certification (check the YMCA) as well.

When I was still married my MIL used to fret like crazy about the babies at the pool or beach—keep in mind she cannot swim. I showed her my certification and her vacation became awhole lot less stressful.

Veteran Teacher

March 24th, 2009
8:12 pm

We had our son take ISR lessons beginning at 10 months. We lived in FL at the time and had a pool. Our pool was completely enclosed by a baby fence (I refused to move into the house until it was installed.) At 20 months, he fell into the pool. We were both very close by when it happened, but before we could get to him, he had ALREADY turned to his back, gotten his breath, turned back over and was kicking to the wall. He knew exactly what to do. We were there supervising, but he was able to save himself. It gave us great peace of mind knowing he could do it. Again, supervision can never be replaced, but being taught by ISR was invaluable…worth every penny.

Veteran Teacher

March 24th, 2009
8:13 pm

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March 25th, 2009
11:31 am

Hi Theresa, what a great article!
Last night one swimming program did save a 15 month old’s life in West Palm Beach – the child had been through the Infant Swimming Resource ( program at the local JCC. Here’s the link to the story –


March 26th, 2009
3:19 pm

Thanks for the link for ISR!
Although we don’t have instructors in Columbus (tsk tsk tsk), I contacted the two closest ones for more information for my 2 and 4 year olds.


May 13th, 2009
6:33 pm

We live in Orlando. Mr Phil from Big Fish Swim School gave swim lessons to my two children last couple of years. This year, he would be teaching my baby boy and giving refresher lessons to my older sons. He is the best swim teacher you could get for your kids. He is serious about his work and makes sure the kids get it RIGHT.


May 14th, 2009
12:57 pm

BIG FISH Swim School in Orlando offers ISR Self-Rescue swimming lessons to children as young as 6 months old! And if you live in Windermere, Dr. Phillips, or Bay Hill we can have an instructor come to your home! Check out our website at


May 29th, 2009
11:24 am

Alto Aquatics is a swim lesson program in Palo Alto, California. The instructor teaches swim lessons — private swim lessons — one-on-one for all ages. This includes adult swim lessons — private adult swimming instruction. .


May 29th, 2009
8:30 pm

I had my kids in various swim lessons in the Orlando area. The best experience we had with Big Fish Swim School. What others teachers couldn’t teach my son in two weeks Mr Phil taught him in three days, because he is very consequent with his instructions and expectations. His classes are fun and very effective.


August 20th, 2009
3:31 pm

Great article, and I couldn’t agree more with its content. I grew up without knowing how to swim and didn’t learn until I reached college. I was absolutely terrified of the ocean after an incident when I was about 10, and had been timid ever since. Now my wife and I have a little girl who is nearly 1 and a half and we have had her in swim lessons since she was 1. She loves it and we are super comfortable with the instructor we hired.


August 20th, 2009
3:36 pm

and if you live in the los angeles area, we highly recommend our child’s swim instructor. His name is tyler and his site is


November 19th, 2009
5:24 pm

I’d yardstick the world of to ordeal that too!


April 15th, 2010
9:28 pm

Very touching article. I think it is sad that some parents will sign up their children for gymnastics, art, sports, etc., and not swimming!! I enrolled my preschooler last summer in private swimming lessons through Sunsational Swim School in Southern California and had a great experience with them. If you’re in the LA area I would highly recommend their service…