Is Your Child the Next Michael Phelps?

Swimming experience in children linked to earlier development

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) What's a good way to help reduce the risk your child will drown? Swim lessons. What's a surprising activity that's linked to better development across many skills? Swim lessons.

A recent study found that children who swim sooner also show better developmental skills than average kids.

The study could not show that the swimming lessons actually improved children's development. But there was a link between stronger verbal, math and social skills and kids who had swimming experience.

"Children need daily exercise."

The report, led by researcher Robyn Jorgensen at Griffith University's early years swimming program in Australia, involved two methods of gathering data on children's development. The first was a survey of 6,930 parents from Australia, New Zealand and the US. Over three years, responses were collected on children's developmental milestones.

Then, the researchers conducted more in-depth testing of 177 Australian children, aged 3 to 5, from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds and swimming experience levels.

The children underwent four major assessments that measured their skills in language, comprehension, math reasoning, cognitive development, gross motor and fine motor, drawing and social and emotional development.

When the researchers compared the data for the children, they found that children with more swimming experience tended to score higher on several areas of development, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Specific skills where the children with swimming experience scored higher, on average, than children without swimming experience included letter-word recognition, understanding directions, passage comprehension, applied problems, picture vocabulary and quantitative (math) concepts.

Based on their data, the researchers estimate that swimming children are approximately two to three months ahead of the normal population on gross motor and stationary skills, as well as the cognitive skills above.

The data from the social and emotional assessments has not yet been analyzed.

The researchers did not control explicitly for socioeconomics, so there is room for some interaction between kids doing better because of their backgrounds and because kids from higher social classes are more likely to receive swimming lessons.

However, kids with swimming experience from all four levels of socioeconomic background performed better than the average population.

In general, the researchers found "children who had been attending swimming for longer periods of time scored better according to their time in swimming."

For example, children are developmentally expected to be able to "climb onto and down from furniture unassisted" by age 2. Nearly 80 percent of the children in the group with swimming experience met this milestone between 1 and 1.5 years old.

Another limitation of the study was that the survey results involved reports from parents, who may have overestimated their children's skills.

However, this limitation may partly cancel itself since parents of children across all developmental levels are probably equally likely to overestimate by similar amounts.

The report was published in a November report from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research. The research was funded by Griffith University and was a collaborative project between Griffith University, Kids Alive Swim Program and Swim Australia. Information on disclosures was unavailable.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 18, 2012
Last Updated:
April 18, 2013