Even if you don’t have a pool in your backyard, making sure your child can swim is vital, because there are bodies of water everywhere on this planet — lakes and oceans, brooks and springs, rivers and fountains — as well as swimming pools at hotels and community centers.

The ever-present need for basic water safety is why the ISR self-rescue method being taught to babies, toddlers and preschoolers is so remarkable. It’s a unique program that shows young kids how to survive in the water, and how to get themselves to safety.

ISR's Self-Rescue swimming lessons for young children

While the information provided in this article comes directly from Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), this is not a sponsored post. We have seen firsthand how successful these swimming lessons can be, and know how much of a difference they can make.

If you’re on the fence about what kind of swimming lessons to choose for your child, you owe it to yourself — and your little one — to understand your options.

While it’s true that the ISR method does require a 5-days-a-week commitment for several weeks, if just one child’s life was saved thanks to the skills learned, it would be a worthwhile experience. Then once you hear that more than 800 lives have been saved — that number based on the company’s documented success stories — and you might realize that now is the time to start getting your child water-safe.

What is ISR, and how is it different from other swimming programs?

ISR is the product over 45 years of ongoing development in the area of aquatic survival instruction for infants and children. ISR’s primary focus is to teach you child to become a productive swimmer, or floater, in any depth of water. The goal of ISR is that your child becomes an “aquatic problem solver,” and children learn the swim-float-swim sequence so that they could get themselves to safety. The techniques learned will greatly increase your child’s chance of surviving an aquatic accident, even when fully-clothed!

Why do you have the children swim in clothes?

Because 86% of children who fall in the water do so fully clothed, we want our students to have experience with such a situation. If a child has experienced the sensations of being in the water in clothing prior to an emergency situation, he or she is less likely to experience panic and be able to focus on the task at hand. (If you have ever jumped in the water with clothes on, then you know that there is a significant difference in weight and feel with clothes, as opposed to a bathing suit.)

Why are lessons 5 days per week, and for only 10 minutes each?

The reason for this is multifaceted. First, repetition and consistency are crucial elements of learning for young children, and research shows that short, more frequent lessons result in higher retention.

Second, most children have fairly short attention spans and will not be able to focus on the task for longer and we want to take advantage of the best time for learning.

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ISR_Seal_LogoA third reason is that, though the pool temperature is maintained at 78-88 degrees, the temperature is still lower than your child’s body temperature. Lessons are work, and therefore your child will also be losing body heat. Instructors check students regularly for temperature fatigue since this is an indicator of physical fatigue.

Why does it take 4-6 weeks for my child to learn this?

The 4-6 weeks is an estimate based on the average time in which it takes most children to learn these survival skills. Every child is unique, and ISR’s Self-Rescue program is specifically designed based on your child’s individual strengths and needs. It is important to realize that this is an average which means that some children will actually finish more quickly, while others will need more practice.

ISR is dedicated to safety and, therefore, we want to provide your child with the time and best opportunity to become proficient in his/her survival skills. We will always honor your child’s needs.

Why don’t parents participate in the water during the lessons?

We do not want the baby to initially associate the water with the love, attention and affection of the parent while in the water. Also, it takes incredible concentration and objectivity to teach the baby how to respond to an aquatic emergency and our research shows that parents often find it too difficult to be objective to be effective teachers with their own children in the water.

How can you teach babies and young children to swim?

ISR instructors teach infants to swim by honoring each child’s individual strengths and experiences. They understand the fundamentals of the behavioral sciences, child development and of sensori-motor learning as it relates to the acquisition of aquatic survival skills; they use this education to guide each child through the sequence of learning to swim and float.

Can you really teach a child who is non-verbal (for instance, with autism) how to swim?

Yes. Consider that children learn to sit, crawl and walk before they learn to speak. Because we teach through sensori-motor learning, verbal skills are not required for a child to acquire Self- Rescue skills. We are able to communicate with our students through touch and positive reinforcement while striving to set our students up for success every step of the way.

Do you have children that just can’t learn the skills?

No. Every child can learn. It is the Instructor’s job to find the best way to communicate the information so that it makes sense to the child.

We set your child up to be successful every time. We start where they are.

How do you teach kids to hold their breath?

Breath holding skills are taught in the first lesson. We shape breath control using highly-effective positive reinforcement techniques. We continue to reinforce these breath-holding techniques throughout every lesson.

baby-floating-isr-lessonHow is it that babies can learn to respond to the danger of water when they fall in? A baby does not need to perceive danger or be afraid to respond appropriately to being underwater. If a baby has learned to roll over and float when he needs air, he doesn’t need to perceive danger in order to respond in this manner. He needs skill, practice and confidence to calmly deal with the situation.

How do the kids react during the first few lessons?

Children often fuss during the first few lessons because they are in a new environment, learning something new and around new people. As your child becomes more confident in his/her ability in the water, the fussing will decrease.

It is not unlike the first time you tried a new exercise class, or were asked to perform a task at work that you’d never done before: the first time you try a new task it is always challenging, until you get the hang of it. It is the same for your young child. Your child is learning to perform a skill that he/she’s never done before.

Will my child fear the water because of lessons?

There is an important difference between being fearful and being apprehensive because you are not yet skilled in a new environment. ISR is not like traditional swim lessons; it is a drowning prevention program that teaches survival swimming. Sometimes as a parent, you make choices for your child’s safety, like sitting in a car seat, because you know they are important. The same can be said for ISR.

Fun can be defined as when skill meets challenge. Once competent in their skills, many children cannot be dragged away from the pool —  they are having entirely too much fun.

What other benefits do the ISR lesson experience provide students?

Every child is unique. However, many parents report that once their young children have mastered learning to swim, the resulting confidence in their abilities engenders a positive self-concept that is often demonstrated in other aspects of their personalities. There are also obvious health and other psychological gains.

Is it the baby fat that makes them float?

Actually, the primary factor in a baby’s ability to float is the ability to take air into the lungs. To maintain this access to air, the child must adjust his/her posture. The difference in positioning for an adult can be inches. For a baby, this adjustment is reduced to centimeters. If a child’s body posture is just a few centimeters off, it can make the difference between the face being submerged or the child having access to air. Can’t babies swim naturally?

Unfortunately, babies cannot naturally swim. If this were the case, there wouldn’t be so many drownings every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4 in the United States.

Will my child need additional lessons?

Based on our research, we know that refresher lessons are important, because children change so much both cognitively and physically during the first 4 to 5 years of life. It is important that their water survival skills grow with their bodies. Frequency depends on the child’s age, growth rate, skill level and confidence level.

The goal of refresher lessons is to help your child adjust his/ her new body size and weight to his/her existing skill level. Your instructor will work with your child to help fine-tune his or her aquatic experience to assist with building efficiency, which will result in self-confidence. This is especially important if your child has not been able to practice any appropriate aquatic skill between seasons.

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What do doctors have to say about swimming lessons?

In May of 2010, the AAP changed its policy regarding the age at which children may start swimming lessons, based on research stating that swim lessons may actually provide reduction in drowning risk of children ages 1- to 4-years-old. That study — which can be seen via Toddlers who take swimming lessons are less likely to drown — was the first to probe the relationship between drowning reduction and swimming skills. The researchers concluded that, “Participation in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in the 1- to 4-year-old children…”

The AAP encourages parents to consider that starting water-survival skills training at an early age must be individualized, based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional maturity, physical limitations and health concerns related to swimming pools.


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