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Learning to swim has many benefits for kids

CHEN Deng has stood outside a swimming pool at a community gym for 30 minutes, waiting for her son's swimming class to end.

Her son is five years old and takes the course during summer vacation with other kids aged four to six years.

"He started last year," Chen says. "I hope he can protect himself in an accident and build up a powerful physique through exercise."

Asides from health and self-protection, Chen wants her son to learn how to swim at an early age to meet a school requirement.

"Some elementary schools have made swimming an obligatory course," Chen says. "A good swimming performance will also lead to a higher score in physical education, which counts for a certain proportion in the entrance examination for senior high school."

Her son still hasn't fully mastered how to swim but she's not worried. "He will do better as he grows."

Another mother, surnamed Xie, whose son is also five years old, says she hopes her son can learn to swim in six months.

Li Yuan, a professional swimming coach, says it's unrealistic to expect young children to learn so fast. "It's almost impossible for kids at this age to learn swimming in one or two courses (10-12 lessons per course). In most cases, it takes them more than a year before they can swim."

"About 90 percent of the kids are afraid of water when they come for the first time." Li says. "It may take them three or four lessons before they dare to take their first dip."

Learning to swim during childhood is good for kids in both physical and mental development. Swimming can improve fitness, ability to concentrate and help build confidence.

However, experts says that kids under four years old are advised to wait before learning.

"Four years old is quite suitable to start," Li says. "Kids under four just play and splash in the water."

Community gyms, professional swimming training centers and big gym chains are all offering swimming courses for kids aged four to six.

Swimming courses at community gyms usually are the cheapest - 50 yuan (US$7.36) to 60 yuan per lesson - and correspondingly, provide poorer facilities and services.

Courses at both big gyms and professional swimming centers cost around 80 yuan to 120 yuan per lesson.

Tips for parents:

Water temperature and quality is extremely important for children between four and six years old. The proper temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius.

A thorough physical examination is highly recommended. Children who have chronic or infectious diseases should not attend any course before recovery.

A small-class (4-6 kids/class) may be better than one-to-one teaching for children aged four to six.


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