(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Teaching babies to swim might assuage their fear of water and provide good exercise, but it could have other benefits as well.

Researchers from Norway and Britain found that children who had taken baby swimming classes did better on tests involving gripping and reaching as well as balance, compared to children who had no experience swimming as babies.

The study participants included 19 4-year-olds from Iceland who had taken part in baby swimming lessons for two hours a week for at least four months when the children were infants. They were matched with 19 Icelandic 4-year-olds who had not done any baby swimming.

The 4-year-olds were tested for manual dexterity, ball skills and balance. While there were no overall differences in performance between the groups, researchers found that the swimming group did better on prehension (seizing or grasping objects) and static balance.

Although this was a small study, the authors considered the results encouraging enough to warrant further study to see what other benefits baby swimming and aquatic therapy could offer. The study appears in the May issue of the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.

jeannine.stein@latimes.com