Children who learn to swim by the age of five gain significant developmental advantages compared with kids who don’t start the activity at a young age. An extensive study revealed that children who began swimming early experienced more rapid physical and cognitive skill development than might otherwise be expected.
Physical and Visual-Motor Skills
The study showed that the early swimmers generally had more advanced large and fine motor skills than other children of their age. They gained developmental advantages in balance and self-propelled movement and were better able to grasp objects.
Children who learned to swim before age five were also more adept with tasks such as coloring inside shapes, drawing lines and cutting paper.
Compared to children who had not yet learned how to swim, these children had more proficiency in identifying numbers, counting and solving arithmetic problems. They had more advanced language skills, both orally and in reading, and they were better able to name shapes correctly and identify objects in illustrations.
Something the researchers found particularly impressive: on average, the swimmers were twenty months ahead of the non-swimmers in the ability to understand and follow instructions. These children also showed more expertise at recalling short stories than their non-swimming counterparts.
Possible Reasons for the Advantages
Babies and toddlers who participate in swimming use more large muscle groups than young children do in most other types of physical activity. Water resistance helps them build muscle strength. In fact, the stimulation of water resistance over most of the body also stimulates brain development. Early swimmers learn to follow specific instructions and to complete complex movements in the water.
One might think that babies and toddlers who get to take swimming lessons come from more advantageous backgrounds. The researchers looked at this aspect, however, and separated the groups into four different socioeconomic levels. All four groups showed increases in skills compared with children in the general population of the same age.
About the Research
This particular study was conducted by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research and published in 2012. It’s noteworthy because the research was so comprehensive, looking at developmental skills of some 7,000 early swimmers as compared with children in general. Several other studies have also confirmed the benefits of learning to swim at a very young age.
Early Swimming Gives Kids an Edge
Learning to swim before the age of five introduces a person to a lifetime of healthy and enjoyable non-impact exercise. The early advances in skill development give the child substantial advantages in physical ability, as well as with the ability to master any new educational material in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school.
For more information:
Infant Swimming [Wikipedia Article]
Swimming Safety for Children (American Academy of Pediatrics)