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How learning to swim shouldn’t be just about safety

Updated: Jul 4

Whilst water safety is vital, an invaluable skill to learn, and the main motivation for most parents to enrol their children into swimming lessons, there are so many other positive benefits to swimming which enhances a child’s development. Here we will explore the stages of learning related to swimming and show what role movement plays in building up a child’s skill set in the pool.

Stages of learning

There are four stages:

Stages of learning diagram
Stages of learning

Stage 1

This stage is when a baby is first introduced to the water. The majority of babies love water. They enjoy their bath and happily make the transition from tub to the pool. Being in the water allows a baby to move independently, much sooner than on land which starts to give them confidence and self-esteem. It can be very empowering as they explore their watery environment and boost their sense of freedom.

For young babies, movement in the water allows them to exercise their muscles and as they get older this will naturally complement their growing repertoire of land-based skills too. Their muscles will strengthen, they will start to build endurance and increase their lung capacity. Also because both sides of the body are involved during swimming, which means both lobes of the brain are too, then swimming increases coordination, motor development and balance at a quicker rate.

Stage 2

Children will become more active in the water as they develop from being a baby to a toddler. The focus is on building up the child's confidence and their muscles so they can begin to swim. They need the freedom to move and strengthen the foundation skills first introduced from stage 1. Make sure you are introducing the skills and moving at the pace of the child so they feel comfortable and ready. Children who are relaxed and happy in the water will respond better and progress quicker than their counterparts who are hesitant and anxious. These children will need more time during the lesson to keep playing so they can work on boosting their courage in the water.

Stage 3

During this stage a child is continuing to develop their strength, confidence and swimming ability in a safe and fun way. Most will have the ability to willingly initiate and practice submersions themselves. Putting your face in the water can be quite scary so patience and having fun are key to continuing the encouragement. Creating games which encourage the children to dip their own faces briefly in the water will make the child focus on the game rather than putting their head in the water. At this stage we are hoping to see the child moving further and faster in the pool, and feeling truly at home in the water.

Stage 4

At this stage the children will have a good level of endurance and both physical and mental coordination. They can link skills together in a sequence. This is where a child will start learning more complex skills such as focussing on individual strokes and the more complex techniques and swimming posture in the water. Motivation and encouragement are key here.

The benefits of being in the water

Science tells us we learn through our bodies and that a child's brain develops through the process of movement, so an activity like swimming is ideal. The more we move the more we learn. With swimming, different parts of the body can move in all directions with barely any restrictions, in an environment which is both stimulating and yet gentle on young developing bodies. There is no other sport or physical activity which provides children with the opportunity to physically and equally engage both sides of their body at one time. Water provides an almost weightless environment in which children can move their limbs, torso, neck and head freely. It requires skills to manage balance in the water whilst traveling through it. Children who swim have the best balance which also correlates to increased coordination.

The repetitive nature of movements in swimming will improve performance over time for all age groups. It makes practice predictable and the ability to predict reduces the amount of mental energy required to carry out the skills. Therefore, for swimmers 5 years old and under, repetitiveness is effective because they can predict the actions and do something slightly different without fearing the consequences associated with change.

As you have read there are so many positives to investing the time and energy in giving all children the opportunity to learn to swim. Swimming is a lifelong safety skill but it has so many further benefits which will have a lasting impact too.



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