Learn | 11 min read

The Ultimate Parent's Guide to Kids Swimming Lessons

A child in a private lesson waves to her Mother and Father.
Every parent wants their kids to learn how to swim

From soccer to dance and karate to piano, things can get a little hectic when it comes to managing your kids activities. Because of this, sports that are hard to register for — like swimming, are often the first ones to fall off your radar.

To prevent that from happening we've created this essential guide. In it you'll find everything you need to know to get your children on the path to being safe swimmers. We'll answer all of your burning questions including:

  1. What is the best way to learn how to swim?
  2. How long will it take until my child can swim?
  3. How much should kids swimming lessons cost?
  4. What equipment does my child need for swimming?
  5. How can I tell if my swim instructor is good?

What is the Best Way to Learn How to Swim?

There are lots of ways to learn swimming but in each method you'll find the same core skills being taught: breathing, floating, gliding, kicking, pulling, and treading water. Lessons for young children should also include fun activities that help introduce them to the water including getting wet, splashing, retrieving objects from under water, and safely entering and exiting the pool.

Group Swimming Lessons

Children sitting on a swimming pools edge as they kick their feet and warm up before their lesson begins.
A typical group swimming lesson for children

Both community centre pools and swim schools offer group swimming lessons for babies and children.

Lessons for babies are often called Parent and Tot classes since Moms and Dads also participate in them. In these classes, an instructor leads a large group in songs, games, and activities that provide babies with a first positive water experience while teaching parents basic skills like how to support their baby in the water.

Lessons for preschoolers, aged 3 to 5, generally take place in smaller groups of about 4 or 5 students. Here, toddlers learn basic swimming skills like floats, glides, kicks, and later some basic arm pulls. For the first few levels instructors almost always provide some assistance but in the higher levels, even the tiniest of swimmers will start to do amazing things on their own. In these lessons, there should always be a large component dedicated to water safety and specifically the need to be with an adult whenever kids are going into the water.

Older children, aged 6 to 12, often learn in groups of up to 10 students. In these lessons, children are usually lined up, sitting or standing next to a wall, while their swimming instructor cycles them through various drills. With a single instructor having to split their time between so many students, children who are having trouble with one particular skill may find that they don't get the individual attention that they need. That said, group swimming lessons do help children build social skills and can be a great option for children who enjoy learning alongside others.

Registering for Group Swimming Lessons

The cheapest option available to get started in the water is group lessons and because of this, these classes tend to fill up very quickly whenever they are offered. If you hope to register your kids in group swimming lessons, consider planning things several months in advance.

A long line of people wait outside of a community centre to register for kids swimming lessons.
If you plan ahead at least you can be at the front of this line.

That means, call ahead and find out the exact date and time that registration is occurring next. With sign ups occurring only once every few months with limited spots available, registration is a constant headache that is unfortunately unavoidable for most parents. Once classes are full waitlists do exist, but often they number in the hundreds per class, and they reset every season.

In terms of schedule, group lessons come in rigid sets that require weekly attendance for 2 or 3 months in a row. Once enrolled in these classes, there are typically no refunds or makeup sessions if your child must be absent due to sickness or other reasons.

Private Swimming Lessons

Private swimming lessons are sometimes offered at public pools and swim schools. More recently, new options exist which allow you to book lessons directly with swimming instructors themselves. Lessons between a single swimming instructor and student generally provide more individual attention and better results in less time than group lessons do.

A man holds a boy in the correct position as he learns how to glide in the water.
One on one private lessons provide more individual attention

In the past private lessons may have only been accessible to those with deep pockets but with increasingly competitive prices and proven faster results, private lessons are quickly becoming a more accessible and affordable learn-to-swim option. We'll discuss that in more detail a few paragraphs down the page.

Where to Get Private Swimming Lessons

In community centres and swim schools signing up for private lessons is just as difficult as registering for group lessons. Also, since union swim instructors are shift workers, your child won't be guaranteed to consistently have the same teacher throughout their lessons.

One way to guarantee that your child always gets the same instructor is to book with the instructor directly. Since most pools do not allow instructors to bring in their own students, many instructors choose instead to list on Propela marketplace that allows instructors to host private lessons in local hotel pools.

On Propel you can browse through local swim instructors, comparing them on price, expertise, and schedule. You can book lessons with instructors directly, online and with no waitlists or registration dates. For busy parents, you also have the ability to reschedule or cancel any lesson, at any time, up to 48 hours before the lesson starts. The hotel pools that host lessons with Propel often have free amenities for your family to enjoy such as towel service, wifi, and lounge chair seating for Moms and Dads.

On Craigslist and Kijiji, you will sometimes find people offering private lessons in their condo pools. Unfortunately, most of these sellers don't have permission from the property owner, nor do they carry the appropriate certifications, insurances, or licenses. Since your children will be spending a good deal of time with this person, it's highly recommended that you ensure anyone who is teaching your children has undergone all necessary background record checks and is reputable. Aside from being unsafe, if your child's instructor is new or inexperienced and they teach bad technique, un-learning that technique can take a long time and end up costing you more in the long run.

How long will it take until my child can swim?

Kids all learn how to swim at different speeds. Even siblings from the same families who have the same upbringing and participate in the same sports often have wildly different experiences in the water.

Short Answer: As Little as a Month

If you just want your kids to learn to be safe around the water, they can usually pick up the fundamentals with a month of combined private lessons and regular practice at your local pool. It's important to note, you won't produce an olympian overnight. Younger children who are still growing and don't yet have amazing coordination may plateau after a time. This is normal and so many parents choose to put their kids in swimming lessons seasonally rather than all at once.

Long Answer: Years — If You Aren't Consistent

Consistency is the most important factor in learning any new skill. To really set your kids up for success, the more regular your schedule is, the better. If you can ensure that your child always learns from the same instructor, they will also benefit from the routine.

A boy looks out into the water from the beach.
Learning how to swim can take awhile if you aren't consistent (photo: Freepik)

If you can only get your children signed up for lessons semi-regularly and they skip or miss classes, then they are likely to take longer when learning. Every time your child switches instructors they may also have to adapt to a new teaching style and thus their progress may be disrupted.

How much do kids swimming lessons cost?

With community centre pools, swim schools, and independent instructors all offering different prices and packages, it can be difficult to compare. Anecdotally, many people say they've watched their kids learn more in one private lesson than they did in several whole sets of group swimming lessons. While this may not be the experience for everyone, in general children make incredible progress when they receive enough individual attention to ensure their needs are met.

I saw my kids make more progress in their first lesson than they did in 3 or 4 lesson sets in the program they were enrolled in before. —Ian F.

We looked at rates from over 20 separate swimming lesson providers across Canada and compared them by cost per minute of individual attention each child received. Have a read — the results may surprise you.

What does my child need for swimming lessons?

1. Bathing Suit

There's really no need to get fancy with your child's swimming suit, so stay away from anything related to competitive swimming if you're just putting them in learn-to-swim lessons. Walmart, Canadian Tire, and Gap Kids all have very affordable options especially during the summer months.

For babies and youngsters who are not yet potty trained, water diapers are essential. Also, if your kids have long hair a great way don't forget to bring a hair band or two or better yet spend a few dollars on a swim cap which also helps to keep them warm.

A young girl wearing purple arm floaties and a blue bathing suit.
Arm floaties are actually not on our list of recommended equipment

2. Goggles (Highly Recommended)

Swimming goggles do much more than just keeping water out of your kids' eyes. They also let you see where you're going, allowing your kids to keep themselves from crashing into the wall during a swim.

When it comes to goggle quality, stay away from cheaper pairs that you can get from the dollar store and instead get a pair for $15-20 at Walmart, Canadian Tire, or Amazon. Cheap goggles are made of hard plastic that can be very uncomfortable or even worse, leaky!

3. Warm Gear

If your children are skinny or generally complain about being cold whenever they are in the water, consider picking up a wetsuit or swimming cap. Wetsuits provide an extra layer of warmth and also help kids float, which is great for building confidence early on. Swimming caps are very inexpensive and keep kids' heads warm. Just make sure you don't get one that is too tight!

4. A Goal

Most parents just want their kids to have a basic understanding of swimming so that they can be safe around the water. If you can set a goal that is tied to a fun family activity though, kids may find it much more motivating and rewarding.

Children gathering star fish shells on the beach.
There are lots that kids can do once they've learned how to swim (photo: Freepik)

For instance, telling your children that they need to learn to swim so that they can go surfing on your next family vacation is definitely more motivating that telling them that they need to learn to swim because they simply "need to learn".

BONUS — Flip Flops

It's a well known fact that public changing rooms can be a pretty nasty affair. If you'd like to keep your children's feet protected from athlete's foot and foot fungus, take a trip to the dollar store to get some cheap sandals.

How do I know I have a good swim instructor?

Unfortunately with most swim lesson providers, you won't have the option to choose your instructor. That said, it's helpful to be able to recognize what good and bad instructors look like so that you can try lessons elsewhere if your children and their instructor don't click.

First and foremost, if your instructor is standing high and dry on the pool edge while your kids are in the water, this is bad sign. If your instructor won't get their hair or face wet and isn't giving demonstrations of what they expect your children to do, this is also bad!

A good instructor will be in the water right next to your kids, happily showing them exactly what to do while providing support and feedback after every float and glide. If your kids are in a group lesson, the instructor should be trying to keep everyone engaged while taking brief moments to work individually with each child.

A young girl and her swimming instructor having fun at the pool.
An instructor who can keep kids engaged and challenged will always product the best results

While some instructors may have decades of experience teaching or they themselves previously swam at a competitive level, these qualities alone are rarely the hallmark of a great swimming instructor. It is much more important to find someone who your kids enjoy being around — someone who is engaged, patient, and genuinely excited to introduce them to a whole new aquatic world. Whereas adults may be driven by long term large goals, children just want to have fun. An instructor who is able to keep kids engaged and challenged will always produce the best results.

Did we miss anything?

If you're a parent who is putting their kids through the learn-to-swim process for the first time and you still have questions, drop us a comment below and we promise to provide you with some answers.

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