Baby swimming could lead to improved physical skills, Norwegian researchers have found.
Hermundur Sigmundsson of the Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology and colleagues set out to explore the effects of baby swimming on subsequent motor abilities.
A range of motor abilities was examined in 4-year-old children who had previously participated in a programme of baby swimming and compared with children of same age group but who had not had the experience.
The only factor that separated baby swimmers from the control group was swimming. All other factors, such as the parents' education and economic status, were the same.
The baby swimmers had participated in swimming classes for two hours a week from the age of 2-3 months until they were about 7 months old.
A typical session might involve helping the baby do a somersault on a floating mat, having the baby dive under water, jump from the pool edge, and balance on the hand of a parent while reaching to pick up floating objects.
When they were five, the two groups were tested with a number of exercises such as balancing on one foot, skipping rope and catching a beanbag.
Professor Sigmundsson said he was simply overwhelmed by what the instructor was able to get the babies to do.
"The instructor was able to bring three-month-old babies right up to a balanced position, standing on his palm. The babies locked joints - it was amazing to watch," he said.
He believes that the survey shows that specific training in young children gives results.
"It's incredibly exciting that specific training for young babies has an effect later in life. Development is a dynamic interplay between maturation, growth, experience and learning.
"Our study shows that we must never underestimate the learning aspect," he noted.
They said in the study published in the May 2010 issue of Child: Care Health and Development, "Suggestions are made as to how the theme of this hypothesis-generating, demonstration study can be pursued in the future with more rigorous experimental controls and applications to children with disabilities and impairments."