Babies Taught to Swim Have Better Skills
You must learn to crawl before you can walk, but what about swimming? Babies who have been taught to swim have better balance and a better ability to reach for things than non-swimming babies, according to a study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Little research has been done on the benefits of teaching infants to swim. Two professors went to Iceland to study 19 baby swimmers and 19 children who had not been taught to swim as infants. All of the baby swimmers had attended swimming classes for two hours per week beginning at age 2 to 3 months until they were about 7 months old.
The babies participated in various activities, including diving under water, jumping in from the edge of the pool, doing somersaults on a floating mat, and balancing on the hand of a parent while they reached for objects floating in the water.
Both the controls and the babies who had been taught how to swim were tested using similar exercises when they were all at approximately age 5 years. The tests included balancing on one foot, catching a beanbag, walking on tiptoes, and skipping rope.
Hermundur Sigmundsson, a professor of psychology at Norwegian University, and Brian Hopkins, professor of psychology at Lancaster University, reported that the babies who had been taught to swim had better balance and grasping abilities than the children who had not taken swimming lessons. Sigmundsson said he believes these findings demonstrate that specific training in young children can yield good results in subsequent motor skills.
Other research suggests that babies and toddlers who are introduced to the water early and who learn to swim even before they learn to walk develop improved lung capacity, coordination, endurance, and strength. Early swimming lessons have the potential to increase concentration, perceptual abilities, and confidence.
A study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health raises another issue concerning baby swimming, that of adverse health effects. The study noted that early exposure to swimming pools, especially among infants, is related to higher rates of infections. Compared with babies who did not participate in swimming, baby swimmers experienced higher rates of diarrhea, ear infections, and airway infections.
The Norwegian study did not address questions about adverse health effects, something parents should consider if they choose to enroll their babies in swimming classes. The study did demonstrate, however, that babies who are taught to swim had better balance and grasping skills. “Our study shows that we must never underestimate the learning aspect,” noted Sigmundsson.
Schoefer Y et al. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 2000 Jul; 211(3-4): 367-73
Sigmundsson H, Hopkins B. Child: Care Health and Development 2010; 36:3