Children of all ages are splashing into summer by heading to the pool, and swimming lessons will soon be in full swing. But choosing the right swim instruction isn't always as simple as calling up the local YMCA. Follow these tips to ensure that your child is enrolled in a quality program that teaches both safety and confidence in the water.

1. Explore your options.

There are a variety of swim programs to choose from, especially during the summer months. Group instruction at your local community pool or YMCA is convenient and relatively inexpensive, but before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to consider your other options.

Private lessons, swim teams, and locally-owned swim schools — where highly trained instructors often specialize in swimming lessons and water safety — often tend to improve a child's skills and confidence more quickly and effectively.

2. Know what questions to ask.

If possible, observe a class and talk with other parents about the lessons you're considering. In addition, be sure to ask the school or instructors the following questions:

  • Will instruction be tailored to my child's age and ability level?
  • What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
  • How much one-on-one time will my child have with an instructor?
  • What safety precautions do you take in the water?
  • Are instructors CPR-certified?
  • How many classes before students begin to master skills?

3. Start early.

The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend against swimming lessons for children under the age of 4, but research now indicates that babies actually benefit from early lessons in the water. Early exposure tends to prevent or limit fear and allows children to develop the submersion skills they need in order to swim safely and effectively.

4. Make safety a priority.

Nearly 1,000 children die from drowning each year, so water safety should always be a top priority. According to Coach Ruthie Zarren — a certified swim coach and the founder and owner of Little Fishes Swim School — a low student-to-teacher ratio during lessons is crucial.

"Our group classes have no more than five children, and each class has two instructors," she says. "While one instructor is working on skills with each individual child, another instructor ALWAYS has her eyes on the other students."

Water safety is a passion for Coach Ruthie, and she talks about the topic frequently. Her article Life-saving Truths About Learning to Swim dispels many of the most common (and dangerous) myths about teaching children to swim, and is a must-read for parents.

5. Stick with the program.

If you think swimming lessons are just a summer affair, think again. Children need continued exposure to the water and repeated skill reinforcement to become proficient swimmers. "I'm a big proponent of year-round swimming, at least until it becomes like riding a bike," says Coach Ruthie. "Being in the water and swimming safely should be second nature for every child."

6. Consider your long-term goals.

If you're looking to build water skills that will last a lifetime, make swimming lessons a priority. Coach Ruthie finds that parents are usually amazed by how quickly children can acquire new skills when they receive quality instruction.

"They see their children learn in three classes at our school what they haven't learned in three years of lessons elsewhere," she notes. "As parents, we often we don't realize what our child is truly capable of, but our instructors all know how to motivate students, and build the trust that is needed for kids to really let go in the water."

It's often hard to know which of the many lessons and activities available for kids today will truly be worth our time and money. But, as parents, we can't afford to overlook the role that strong swimming skills play in our children's lives. Quality lessons are an important investment in their future — and their safety.

Are your kids enrolled in swimming lessons? Which type of program do you like?