4 Myths to the ISR Swimming Controversy

teacher and baby in a pool in an article on the ISR swimming controversy

Infant Swimming Resource

Have you heard about the ISR swimming controversy?

Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) with its Self-Rescue Program has become quite popular and controversial at the same time, making it a tough decision for parents on how to teach their children to swim.

There are horror stories of ISR swim lessons being traumatic, filled with lots of tears, turning many parents away (myself being one of them at first).

Initially, I went the traditional swim lesson route, where we did private lessons one summer in my niece’s pool when my daughter was maybe one and a half.

After that, we did four months of Aquatots lessons the following summer. Over a thousand dollars later, my daughter still didn’t know how to independently swim or float.

The small group instruction of “learning to swim” with 4 other children in 30 minutes was not efficient or effective for us.

I started asking other mom friends what they did for swim lessons, and everyone told me ISR. I decided to give it a go.

While it was incredibly scary at first, and I wondered over and over whether I made the right decision, the only regret I have now is that I didn’t start it sooner with our children. We LOVE ISR.

The Truth About the ISR Swimming Controversy

teacher and baby in a pool in an article on the ISR swimming controversy

With all the talk about ISR swim lessons, it is normal to feel hesitant to have your child learn to float and swim this way. Had it not been for the many trusted mom friends around me who already loved putting their kids in ISR swim classes, I would not have done it. But, I am SO GLAD I did because it has been a truly amazing experience.

Here are the 4 commonly misconstrued facts about ISR.

I hope in sharing our personal experiences, you will consider ISR for your child, as I believe it is the safest way to go with teaching children water safety.

Myth #1: ISR is expensive.

money in a pile

Private Swim Instructor at my niece’s house: $20 for 30 minutes several days a week.

Aquatots Group Swim Lessons: $25 for 30 minutes with 4 other children twice a week.

Private ISR Swim Lessons: $20 (cash) or $25 (check/Venmo/Zelle) a lesson for 10 minutes 5 days a week.

At first glance, the ISR lessons might seem more expensive with the price being almost the same as Aquatots but less than half the time.

However, because Aquatots is with up to 4 other kids per lesson, it ends up being about 10 minutes of swim time for your child. So, Aquatots ends up being $5 more.

At Aquatots, we spent nearly $2,000 over the course of four months. It was a money grab and a time suck. We quit after month 4 when our daughter still wasn’t able to float.

At ISR swim lessons, we spent $600 per child (for our 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son). By the end of week 6, we had two CONFIDENT floaters. Nearly half the price of Aquatots with PRICELESS peace of mind in less than half the time.

Myth #2: ISR is a big time commitment.

hand on a clock

ISR sounds like a big time commitment. It is 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks.

When I first heard that, I thought, “No way am I driving to a class that takes longer to drive to than the class itself for a month and a half straight.”

Aquatots asks you to commit to attending swim class twice a week. That initially sounded a lot more doable to me. But in rush hour traffic, it was a 25 minute drive, so nearly an hour total both ways.

Add the 30 minute class to the hour of driving–that’s an hour and a half out of your day. Then do that twice a week for four months with little to no progress…

ISR is less time with fast progress.

Myth #3: ISR is traumatic.

boy in a pool in an article on the ISR swimming controversy

My 4 year old daughter (not so much my 2 year old son) SCREAMED the first three weeks almost the whole 10 minutes each class. I was incredibly worried I was putting my children in a traumatizing experience.

The ISR instructor assured me that the first two weeks are the toughest; the screaming usually stops by week two.

When week three came and my children (especially my 4 year old) was still screaming, I was horrified I was making a mistake.

Watching your child scream, cry, and panic for 10 minutes straight is indescribable. I spent many car rides home silently crying, questioning my decision.

I personally had a traumatic experience in traditional swim lessons when I was 7 years old, and to this day, I am not big on swimming. As a result, I am extra sensitive to the concern of swim lessons being traumatic.

After so many days of the screaming, I had my husband go in my place because I couldn’t handle it. He, too, came home questioning our choice to put our kids in ISR.

They say ISR is for every child, but it is not for every parent.

I completely agree. I had to call one of my friends to seek encouragement or tell me I was making a bad choice.

She put my mind at ease when she said her children had a hard time at first, too, but then one day, it just clicked.

One day, her kids just stopped screaming and they understood how to float. She told me to tough it out. By our 4th week, that happened.

It was the most amazing thing to witness–to see my children, especially my oldest, recognize the battle was all in her head and all she had to do was listen to the instructor.

It really taught my children to not give up, to push through their fears, and most importantly, how to survive and breath when in water.

The screaming was absolutely horrible during the initial lessons; but the alternative to not doing the lessons is worse.

Both my kids began to appreciate and fascinate over the idea that they could peacefully float in water. And, one year later, my kids beg to go to swim lessons. They LOVE doing the ISR refresher courses (more on that below) and LOVE swimming.

In hindsight, I believe my 4 year old put up such a battle with the lessons because of her age. She had more awareness and more willpower than that of a baby. If I could have a do over, I would put my children in ISR swim lessons as soon as they know how to crawl.

I think the pushback would have been a lot less, with a lot less tears for everyone.

Myth #4: ISR is dangerous.

boy floating in a pool in an article on the ISR swimming controversy

Some critics say that doing ISR lessons provide a false sense of security for parents, causing them to not watch their children closely when swimming.

I think that no matter the swim lessons your child receives (ISR or otherwise), parents should never take their eyes off their kids in the water.

After my daughter finished her first round of ISR swim lessons, she was invited to a preschool pool party where the parents hired a lifeguard.

My daughter, who confidently knew how to float, was reaching up to a tall wall that was just out of reach for her. I saw her arms reaching, reaching, while her head was submerged under water and her legs were frantically kicking.

I could tell she was panicking. I ran over to grab her while the lifeguard sat staring at the concrete–not even looking at the pool, missing it all.

I swooped her into my arms as she let out fearful cries. Even if there is a lifeguard, never take your eyes off your child.

Another reason critics say ISR swim lessons are dangerous is that the act of repeatedly submerging your child under water can be harmful. I cannot speak for every instructor, but I know they undergo intense training. And ours did not just repeatedly submerge our kids under water.

There were breaks. There was conversation. The instructor supports and guides.

How Do ISR Swim Lessons Work?

girl in a pool in an article about survival swim lessons

ISR (Infant Swimming Resource) swim lessons are a type of swim instruction specifically designed to teach infants and young children survival swimming skills. The primary focus of ISR lessons is to equip children with the ability to self-rescue in the event that they fall into water.

Here’s how ISR swim lessons typically work:

One-on-One Instruction:

ISR lessons are usually conducted on a one-on-one basis between the child and a certified ISR instructor. This personalized approach allows the instructor to tailor the lessons to the individual needs and abilities of each child.

Gradual Skill Development:

ISR lessons are progressive, with skills building upon each other over time. Children are gradually introduced to various water survival skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Floating Techniques:

A key component of ISR lessons is teaching children how to float on their backs independently. Children learn to relax and float on their backs, keeping their heads above water to breathe.

Rolling to Breathe:

In addition to back floating, children are taught how to roll onto their backs to breathe if they find themselves face-down in the water. This skill is crucial for self-rescue, as it allows children to maintain a position where they can breathe until help arrives.

Breath Control and Breath Holding:

Children also learn breath control techniques, such as holding their breath underwater for short periods. These skills help children remain calm and composed in water situations.

Submersion Training:

ISR lessons often involve controlled submersion, where children are gently and safely submerged underwater for short periods. This helps children become comfortable and confident in the water and teaches them how to hold their breath.

Parent Education:

Parents are typically involved in the ISR process and may receive education and training on water safety, supervision, and the importance of ongoing practice and reinforcement of skills learned during lessons.

Consistency and Practice:

Mastery of ISR skills requires consistent practice and reinforcement. Parents are encouraged to continue practicing water safety and swimming skills with their children outside of formal lessons to maintain proficiency.

ISR swim lessons are typically conducted over 4 to 6 weeks, with children attending frequent short sessions to reinforce skills and gradually progress through the program. The goal of ISR lessons is to provide children with the skills and confidence to safely navigate water environments and potentially save themselves in emergency situations.

Tune-up lessons are done throughout the year. For example, we did the initial 6 week course in the summer. We then did a 1 week refresher course in the fall. We took a break in the winter and then started another refresher course in the spring.

My daughter only needed one 10 minute refresher before moving onto stroke lessons, while my son needed a couple weeks. To see the muscle memory in action is pretty neat!

How to Prepare Your Child for Survival Swim Lessons

toddler girl near a pool in an article on survival swim lessons

Preparing our kids ahead of time is key to success with anything we do that is new. These are the different ways you can help your child understand what they are about to learn:

1. Watch a YouTube video like this one.

Letting your child see an actual ISR swim lesson prior to attending their first one is really helpful. They get to see the lesson in action from a bird’s eye view.

2. Arrive early and stay late.

With the lessons only being 10 minutes in length, arrive a little early to watch other children do their swim lesson. Stay late to watch a couple more if you’re able.

My kids really took to this. It was very helpful for them to see other children just like them doing the safety techniques of rolling over, breathing on their backs, etc. without crying and screaming.

It also really helped me as the parent! When I was questioning my decision in the beginning, I realized my kids were the loudest screamers…My kids were also the oldest…I think our experience would have been different had we started right when they were able to crawl…Hindsight!

Who Should Do ISR Swim Lessons?

ISR (Infant Swimming Resource) swim lessons are typically recommended for children aged 6 months to 6 years old. These lessons focus on teaching infants and young children survival swimming skills, such as floating on their backs and swimming short distances, in case they accidentally fall into water.

ISR swim lessons are especially beneficial for:

  • Infants and toddlers
  • Children who have access to pools or bodies of water.
  • Children with a history of water-related incidents to help build confidence and safety skills.
  • Parents who want peace of mind knowing that their child has the skills to survive in water if they accidentally fall in.

Learning how to swim and save yourself until help can come in the event of a water emergency is an incredibly important life-skill. It is a skill that takes much devotion and time from both the parent and the child.

The peace of mind ISR swim lessons have given me, and the confidence and sense of pride it has given my children, is something I cherish.

If you are feeling reluctant because of the ISR swimming controversy, I hope my family’s story gives you the courage to try them out. I think you will see the lessons are truly priceless.

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