In a move many aquatics professionals have long awaited,
the American Academy of Pediatrics has reversed its
position against swim lessons for children under 4 years of
Previously, the organization discouraged swim lessons
for children younger than 4, citing a lack of scientific
evidence about the effects of lessons for this age
“The [AAP’s] policy has always been
that kids 4 and older should learn to swim,” said
Jeffrey Weiss, MD, author of AAP’s new policy
statement. “It was the younger ones we
weren’t so sure about.”
Two recent studies prompted the new guidelines. The
research, which analyzed a group of children aged 1 to 4,
suggests that formal aquatic instruction may potentially
decrease a child’s risk of drowning, according to
Julie Gilchrist, MD, a medical epidemiologist with the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who
worked closely with Weiss to develop the new policy.
“The studies are certainly not strong enough
for us to say, ‘Everybody must run out and get
their 1-year-old swimming lessons right
away,’” Weiss said. “I wish I
could just say, ‘At a certain age, this is the
right time.’ But each kid’s different.
AAP’s announcement came as no surprise to Bob
Hubbard, director of Hubbard Swim School in Phoenix.
“We’ve been teaching kids under the age
of 4 to swim since ’92,” he said.
“We’ve had hundreds of doctors and
pediatricians in the water with us. So we’re
tremendously supportive of the [AAP’s] change in
Weiss and Hubbard emphasize that lessons alone
aren’t an all-around defense against drowning:
Layers of protection, including lifeguards and close
parental supervision, are crucial.
Still, some questions remain unanswered. Though the
studies determined which of the children had taken swim
lessons, research didn’t distinguish the frequency
or structure of lessons and at what age they began.
“It’s not the age at which the kids
are taught,” said Johnny Johnson, director of Blue
Buoy Swim School in Tustin, Calif., “but the
amount of stress and aggressiveness in the format of the
Gilchrist urges parents to choose a program with
sensible expectations, no matter how lessons are