1. Make the most of bathtime.
Begin by using this time as an opportunity to familiarize babies with water. “When he’s in the bathtub, get him wet and let the water go over his head and get into his ears,” Garcia suggests. “Having water in the ears is a very strange feeling, and he might not like it, but you have to keep doing it.” By age 1, kids should feel comfortable having water on their face.
2. Enroll in a mommy-and-me swimming class.
These programs, for kids ages 6 to 36 months, introduce swimming in a small and comfortable setting and help toddlers develop the motor skills needed to swim. “Parents don’t have to be swimmers to participate—the pool is very shallow so they just need to stand in the water,” Garcia says. During classes, parents do exercises such as positioning kids atop the water’s surface on their tummy and slowly rolling them onto their back, while letting them kick their feet and splash.
3. Sign up kids for lessons at age 3.
It’s time to progress to private or group swimming lessons without parental involvement. “If kids aren’t comfortable in water by age 4, learning how to swim will become harder with every additional year that you wait,” Garcia warns.