I love the water, and I’ve been swimming since I was little. So, it was no surprise to my family and friends that when we dipped my daughter in the pool for the first time, it was like she was part fish. She loved splashing, letting us glide her through the water, and “floating” on her back with our support.

I knew when I was pregnant that I would want to introduce my daughter to the water as soon as she was old enough. Swimming is an excellent physical activity for kids. But equally important, it is a vital safety skill. Consider the devastating drowning statistics highlighted in this all-around wonderful guide on recreational swimming safety. It notes a Consumer Products Safety Commission statistic from last year–174 children from ages 1 to 14 drowned between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

But how young is too young? I knew that while the American Academy of Pediatrics noted it was okay for children between the ages of 1 and 4 to take swim lessons, the organization didn’t strongly recommend it. So, I did some digging and what I found was surprising and promising. Introducing your toddler to the water can keep them safe, and it has many other benefits:

Why your toddler needs swimming lessons

Helps to develop water safety awareness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 people who die from drowning is 14 and under. Many areas have swimming schools that help introduce parents and their toddlers to water safety. They also help young children become more confident in the water, which can help them later on when they’re ready to take formal swim lessons.

I think having already been in the water was a huge help to my daughter. Plus, it set her up to take full advantage of the physical benefits of swimming. As this article notes, it’s great for muscle development and strengthens the cardiovascular system.

Speeds up cognitive development. I don’t know a mom who would turn down an opportunity to help make her child smarter and stronger. If you’re like me, you can’t help but read studies about how this, that, or the other thing will boost your child’s brain. A study that caught my attention recently came out of Australia. Produced by the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, the researchers found that children under 5 who swim reach developmental milestones more quickly than those who don’t. To learn more about the study, check out this intriguing Q&A with its lead researcher.

Gives you peace of mind. Of course, a small child should never be in the pool when an adult isn’t within arm’s reach. That said, if your little one is comfortable in the water and has been taught swim basics, they’ll be better prepared if they were to tumble in. In fact, an ABCNews.com article cites data that found that drowning rates may actually decrease for children under the age of 4 who’ve had swim training.

Creates strong bonds with their caregiver(s). When I began taking a “mommy and me”-style swim class with my daughter, I was surprised by how relaxing it was for both of us. I quickly came to value the one-on-one, no distractions time we had together. Even better, psychologists believe the skin-to-skin contact that babies get when swimming with a parent or caregiver helps strengthen their bond with you.

Among the above-mentioned benefits, swimming also helps to fight against childhood obesity and improves mental and emotional health too.

For parents who are hesitant to take their toddler into the water, my advice is to give it a shot. I truly believe you’ll find that it’s an activity that the two of you can thoroughly enjoy together. I know I will always cherish the time I spent in the pool splashing around with my daughter.