Learning Swim at Any Age: A Parent’s Guide for How to Ensure Water Competency

Learning swim is not merely a recreational activity; it’s about ensuring water competency and the crucial skills that enable children to be safe in and around water now and throughout their lives. Water competency is a critical life skill, and to achieve it involves building a combination of knowledge, habits, and skills. 

As a parent, being prepared to assist your child in aquatic environments is vital, but equally important is instilling water competency in your child themselves.

What is Water Competency?

Water competency comprises three fundamental components that collectively contribute to ensuring safety in and around water. These components are:

Water Smarts

Water smarts involve developing an awareness and comprehension of the aquatic environment. This includes recognizing potential hazards, understanding water dynamics, and being mindful of the surroundings. Teaching children water smarts empowers them to make informed decisions, fostering a sense of responsibility and caution when near any body of water.

Helping Others

Helping others is a crucial aspect of water competency that involves knowing what to do when someone is drowning both for the safety of self and others. Instilling this readiness to help ensures that children not only safeguard themselves but also contribute to creating safer water environments for everyone.

Swimming Skills

Swimming skills form the practical foundation of water competency. These skills go beyond the basics of staying afloat; they include proper techniques for different strokes, controlled breathing, and understanding how to navigate in various water conditions. As parents, guiding your child in learning swim not only enhances their safety but also boosts their confidence and enjoyment in aquatic activities.

Learning Swim: Why Skill Level Matters More Than Age 

Every child learns at their own pace, starting at different ages and progressing uniquely. While there are general age groups based on typical childhood development, it’s crucial to recognize that skill levels matter more than age.

For infants (6 to 35 months), learning swim is about getting comfortable in the water, not specific skills. From ages 3 to 12, kids start building trust-based abilities like holding their breath. There’s no strict age limit—it’s all about the child’s readiness. Some kids might be ready for stroke techniques at a younger age, while others might excel later.

Swimming Skills By Age & Stage

While swim lessons should adapt to each child’s skill level, some groupings by age, considering typical developmental stages, can help facilitate effective peer learning. Understanding the levels of learning while embracing differences in age and development is the best way to ensure enjoyable swimming education for every child.


For infants aged 6 to 35 months, the focus is on creating a positive water experience, emphasizing trust, and building comfort. Trust continues to be nurtured as they progress to the next stage, learning swim through fundamental techniques.

Ages 3–12: Mastering the Basics 

At H2FLOW, we recognize 5 stages of basic skill development as children transition from holding their breath to mastering simplified freestyle and backstroke. These stages lay the foundation for a child’s water competency, taking them from basic aquatic interaction to more readiness for more advanced swimming techniques.

Stage 1

In Stage 1, learning swim means finding a sense of security and confidence in the water, laying the foundation for fundamental water safety skills.

Skills learned:

  • Safely entering and exiting the pool
  • Jumping into the water
  • Comfortably opening eyes underwater
  • Submerging for short durations (5 seconds)

Stage 2

Stage 2 focuses on enhancing balance and introducing breath control—crucial skills for building a solid swimming foundation.

Skills learned:

  • Floating on the back and front
  • Turning around and grabbing the wall
  • Rolling over in the water
  • Jumping into the pool
  • Rolling over and floating on the back

Stage 3 

In Stage 3, kids learn how to move through the water efficiently and safely.

Skills learned:

  • Kicking and pulling with proper body and head position on the front and back
  • Rolling over to breathe
  • Jumping in, swimming out 15 ft, turning around, and swimming back to the wall

Stage 4

Learning swim in stage 4 involves mastering body rotation, a pivotal skill for advanced swimming techniques.

Skills learned:

  • Kicking in a side position with eyes looking up and down
  • Taking a single stroke on the stomach and rotating to rest and breathe on the opposite side
  • Taking a single stroke on the back and rotating to the opposite side

Stage 5 

Learning swim in stage 5 is a consolidation of skills as kids learn to integrate strokes and rotations for fluid movement in the water.

Skills learned:

  • Integrating skills by taking 3 strokes on the stomach and rotating to the opposite side to rest and breathe
  • Taking 3 strokes on the back and rotating to the opposite side for rest and breathing

Ages 12 and Up: Learning Swim Techniques 

When children graduate from the first 5 stages of basic skill development, they can begin to master freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and other techniques. This graduation commonly happens after age 12, but again, it’s important to note that children develop swimming skills at different ages; and it is possible for younger children to be ready for these advanced stages if they have mastered the necessary fundamentals.  

Stage 6

Learning swim in stage 6 is all about mastering the freestyle stroke and refining the essential components for efficient and confident swimming.

Skills learned:

  • Achieving proper head and body position
  • Executing a proper kick
  • Rotating hips effectively
  • Perfecting arm recovery and catch
  • Timing breaths for a seamless swim

Stage 7

Advancing to Stage 7, the focus is on refining the backstroke, emphasizing proper technique and endurance building.

Skills learned:

  • Maintaining proper head and body position
  • Executing a proper kick
  • Rotating hips effectively
  • Perfecting arm recovery and catch
  • Continuing work on freestyle endurance

Stage 8

With the backstroke mastered is typically when we introduce the butterfly stroke, concentrating on the intricate movements and coordination required for this advanced swimming style.

Skills learned:

  • Achieving proper head and body position
  • Executing a proper kick
  • Mastering arm recovery and catch
  • Timing breaths effectively
  • Continuing work on freestyle and backstroke endurance

Stage 9

As we continue advancing into more complex techniques, stage 9 dives into the breaststroke with an emphasis on precision in head and body position, kick, arm recovery, and breath timing.

Skills learned:

  • Achieving proper head and body position
  • Executing a proper kick
  • Mastering arm recovery and catch
  • Timing breaths effectively
  • Continuing work on freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly endurance

Stage 10

To ensure a well-rounded and proficient swimmer, learning swim in these later stages involves individual medley and building endurance.

Skills learned:

  • Mastering turns for IM, freestyle, and backstroke flip turns
  • Executing proper starts
  • Performing underwater pullouts
  • Excelling in IM, incorporating all strokes
  • Building endurance through a 10-minute non-stop swim

Once kids demonstrate proficiency in all of these skills, demonstrating full water competency, they are ready to continue on to more advanced activities and engage in competitive swimming through swim team

Learning Swim on the Spectrum

At H2FLOW, we recognize the importance of tailored approaches for kids with special needs. Not only are our standard programs designed to accommodate diverse learning styles and provide a supportive environment for every child, but by partnering with Kaleidoscope Pediatric Therapy and All Can Swim, we help facilitate safe and effective swimming lessons for children on the autism spectrum.  

Learning swim is a crucial activity for everyone, and there’s a point of entry for kids at every age. Help your child set the stage not only for safety but also for a lifetime of fun, fitness, and growth in and around the water. Whether you’re looking for swim lessons for 2-year-olds or 12-year-olds, our Boise swimming lessons can help guide your kids safely and effectively through the stages of growth, fostering confidence, skill, and a love for swimming that lasts a lifetime.