By Lana Whitehead, SWIMkids USA
Baby swimming is not only a fun, life-saving activity, but it has a myriad of benefits for a very young child’s development. Baby swim class can help a child to improve socially, emotionally, and physically. It can also help increase a baby’s alertness, intelligence, and concentration abilities. Through interaction in a swim class a child learns to develop confidence, self-esteem, and independence.
Safety skills are usually the primary reason why many parents enroll their babies in swim lessons. With the acquisition of safety skills not only is early swimming life enhancing, it can be lifesaving. The earlier a child can begin their swimming adventure, the sooner the child will be able to build a foundation to perform water safety swimming and floating skills. A study conducted by Ruth Brenner and her colleagues in 2009 at the National Institute of Health, discovered formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children 1-4 years of age. They concluded that swimming lessons had a preventative effect and should be part of a complete preventive program. But there is much more to infant swimming than merely safety.
Between the ages of 2 to 6 months infants can begin developing a healthy relationship with the water by enrolling in classes taught with an experienced certified instructor in a licensed pool, regulated by the health department.
Emotionally, the simple, relaxing closeness in the water environment establishes a deeper emotional bond between the parent and child. Tender loving strokes from the parent provide the baby with emotional nourishment that allows him to feel accepted and loved. The skin-to-skin contact and touch in the water helps satisfy the child’s need for body contact and tactile stimulation. Research has shown that a firm, loving touch gives the feeling of attachment, commitment, and connection.
The early swimmer will also experience a great deal of tactile stimulation from the water resistance over his entire body. The water has 600–700 times the density or resistance of air which encourages neurological development. Tactile stimulation is important for overall neural development. The more tactile stimulation of the nerves the child experiences, the more interconnections and neural pathways can develop.
Early swimming prepares a child for higher learning. Scientific studies of very young swimmers at the German Sports College, Cologne, have shown that early water movement develops the child in three key areas: physically, mentally, and emotionally. As compared with a control group which did not take year-round lessons, the children who swam consistently from infancy (three months) were significantly stronger and more coordinated when tested at 2, 3, and 4 years. The children also scored higher for intelligence and problem-solving, which carried over into excellence in academic achievement. They were found to be more self-disciplined with greater self-control and an increased desire to succeed. From consistent goal setting and skill achievement in swimming, they rated higher in self-esteem. Finally, the children were more independent and comfortable in social situations than the control groups.
In 2009, Griffith University in Australia, embarked on a four year Early Years Swimming Research Project with 45 swim schools across Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. The results showed that children, under the age of 5, involved in learnin to swim are more advanced in their cognitive and physical development than their non-swimming peers. The results also revealed more marginal benefits to social and language development. In 2011, researchers in Melbourne, Australia, determined children who were taught to swim by 5 years of age, had statistically higher IQs because of their early sensory/motor stimulation in the water.
Early swimming or paddling around promotes cross lateral patterning. Bilateral cross patterning movements in crawling, walking, and swimming aid in overall efficiency in brain processes. The more bilateral cross patterning movements, the more nerve fibers develop in the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is a tract of 250 million nerve fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and facilitate the communication, feedback, and modulation from one side of the brain to the other. Cross lateral movements like swimming activate both cerebral hemispheres and all four lobes of the brain simultaneously, which can result in heightened cognition and anincreased ease of learning.
In 2009, research studies conducted at Norwegian University of Science & Technology with Dr. Hermundur Sigmundsson and his colleagues found baby swimmers developed better balance, movement, and grasping techniques than non-swimmers. This difference persisted even when the children were five years old; the baby swimmers still outperformed their peers in balance, movement, and grasping skills.
Scientific studies have shown participation in swim class helps strengthen a child’s self-confidence. In a longitudinal study, Dr. Liselott Diem and her colleagues reported that children, who took part in baby swim lessons from the age of 2-months to 4-years, were better adapted to new situations, had better self-confidence and independence than non-swimmers. In swim class the child cooperates within a social structure to take turns, to share and to cooperate. This fosters a sense of belonging, which builds self-esteem and develops social confidence.
Baby swim class is an essential activity in the enhancement of a young child’s development.
For more information contact SWIMkids USA, by phone at 480-820-9109 or visit www.swimkidsaz.com. Lana is the founder of SWIMkids USA in Mesa, located at 2725 W Guadalupe Road and recognized nationally for her expertise with swimming and brain development and drowning prevention.
Photos courtesy of SWIMkids USA
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