When Did You Learn to Swim?

Did you know: Swim lessons before age 4 are not recommended as a way to keep kids from drowning.

A tragedy happened on a school trip to Algonquin park in the summer of 2017.

Jeremiah Perry, 15 years old, was on a canoe trip with other students from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate. he was swimming in Big Trout Lake when he slipped under the surface and didn’t come back up. According to the CBC report, “TDSB protocol requires that students pass a swim test in order to go on such a trip” and “of the 30 students on the trip who took the swim test, 15 failed.”

This is a terrible story and it makes me wonder, should swim lessons in school be mandatory?

I know how to swim. I can’t remember the exact moment that I learned how to swim but I can remember NOT knowing how to swim and thinking I could. I was maybe 4 years old and I was with my mother and another family, in the little creek on their property.

It was a hot summer day and the kids were swimming while the adults stood in the water. I remember thinking “I can swim and I’m going to show my mum.” So, I got out of my white foam float ring (remember those?) and began to sink. My mother will tell you that she only felt a little brush against her leg and realised she couldn’t see me anymore, so she looked down and saw me, drowning, and pulled me out. It was hella scary for her. She says I said “I was trying to say ‘mummy help me’ but only bubbles came out.” When I hear this story now, as a mother, it hits me right in my gut.


I grew up around water and it was just expected that I would learn to swim.  For most of my friends, it was the same thing. My parents taught me. They learned how to swim the same way and for the same reasons. In fact, I don’t think I met an adult whom I knew couldn’t swim until I was an adult. When I do meet someone who cannot swim, I find it strange only because I can’t imagine having that skill.

We have a pool in our back yard. It was just a shell when we bought the house but I convinced my husband that we should rehabilitate it. My argument “Don’t you want to have a pool to teach our children how to swim? You don’t want them to be afraid of the water!“I had seen my little cousins spend hours in their backyard pool learning how to swim by 3 or 4 and not being afraid while some other kid family members would scream if you tried to get them into water.

My daughter is 4 now and still can’t swim. Last year, while in a lake, she jumped up from standing and swam to me, but when she tried again, she started to sink and now she will almost never try to swim without a floaty.

She’s the perfect age to start real swimming lessons though. My husband actually used to be a swim instructor. My dad was as well, so, there are many people to help her learn.

Lessons earlier than age 4 can actually be harmful. Why? Because it gives parents a false sense of security that their children can swim when they can’t.

The Canadian Paediatric Society says:

Swimming programs for infants as young as several months of age are widely available in Canada. These programs are designed to introduce young children to water, build water confidence, and teach water safety to parents and guardians. […] Parker and Blanksby reported that children’s earliest mastery of water confidence and basic aquatic locomotive skills is four years of age, despite the age at which lessons commence. Blanksby et al reported that children achieved the skills necessary to perform the front crawl at 5.5 years of age, regardless of whether lessons began at two, three or four years of age.
There is evidence that swimming lessons improve swimming ability and deck behaviour in young children (two to four years of age); however, the long term maintenance of these skills has not been reported. There is no evidence that swimming lessons prevent drowning or near drowning in this age group.

I think, with older people (teens, adults), it is even more dangerous to not know how to swim because, unlike with little kids, where parents are vigilant and watching them at all time, a lot of people wouldn’t even think to do that with young adults. They just assume they know how to swim.
So, this brings me back to my original question: Should swim lessons be mandatory in schools so that all people can have the skill to swim?