With summer's arrival, we all just want to keep our children safe in the water. One way to teach survival is through Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) lessons. ISR has many loyal followers with more than 300,000 students and 800 documented saves in its 45-year history. Its mission is "not one more child drowns."
At the same time, it has been hit with negative media attention in recent years, leaving some parents concerned about this type of lesson.
Below are five facts to bring awareness to this program:
1. The goal of ISR Self-Rescue lessons is survival
Lessons will not mirror typical swim classes that have kids using floaties and learning strokes. Instead, children are taught skills to ensure that they can save themselves in the event they encounter a problem in the water or happen to fall in. Rather than swimming to the edge of the pool, they'll focus on floating and keeping their head above water in a calm manner.
2. Each lesson is individualized to the child
Lessons are one-on-one with an instructor who has been trained and certified. They're often held daily, Monday-Friday for four-to-six weeks for 10 minutes. According to Melissa Larsen, a Certified ISR Instructor and Occupational Therapist from Long Island, New York, " Children this young learn best through daily consistency and repetition. This also ensures maximal muscle learning and prevents fatigue. Each lesson is progressed with precision and dictated by each child's own learning style."
3. “Float like a boat” is the main element of the program
The float is a hallmark component of ISR's program. The assumption of this position will permit the child to breathe and rest while in the water. The use of the float in a sequence is dependent on a child's age.
Babies aged 6-12 months will be taught how to roll in the water and find a horizontal natural float and to maintain this position while they wait for someone to get them. Children aged 1-6 years old will be instructed the swim-float-swim sequence.
The child is taught to swim in a horizontal position with their head in water, roll to a float for a breath or rest, and roll back to swim until they have reached safety or assistance. Larsen states, "Breath control is the first thing taught, and always the first priority throughout lessons. Through positive reinforcement techniques, children learn to effectively take a breath before submersions, and hold their breath in the water."
4. Lessons help prepare your child for multiple circumstances
ISR lessons will include the instruction of your child saving themselves while fully clothed. The research behind this supports that not all water accidents are when a child is in a bathing suit. To ensure that your child can transfer their survival skills to different situations, the instructor will hold lessons with your child in shoes, summer, and winter clothes. The added weight of the garments will force your child to rely on sensory-motor input and adjust to the unknown, bettering their chances of survival in an accident.
5. They will never be dropped into the water
Unfortunately, there has been misinformation surrounding survival swim lessons. These lessons will never include a moment when your child is placed in an unsafe environment. Every moment of the lesson is under a certified trainer's watch. "Children would never be allowed to struggle in the water, and each submersion under the water is controlled to be only for a few seconds," Larsen adds.
While ISR acknowledges that no child is drown-proof and all children require adult supervision in the water, its mission is to help children save themselves when other barriers fail.
ISR offers classes nationwide. To find out more information and locate an instructor near you, visit their website.
A version of this story was published June 4, 2021. It has been updated.