As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sick to my stomach every time I see another headline about a child drowning. From Levi’s story last summer to Granger Smith’s story this summer, it seems there is always a tragic, high profile case that demonstrates how quickly a child can drown. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of death in children. It’s terrifying, which makes it easy to understand the attraction to ISR, Infant Swimming Resource, a program that claims to teach water survival skills to help prevent drowning.

ISR is a method of swim training that includes teaching infants as young as 6 months old to roll over onto their backs in the water. In many youtube videos, often circulated online, children “fall” into the water and then “flip” onto their backs to float until someone rescues them. While the program has its supporters, it’s also received a lot of criticism. It’s methods are controversial for many reasons – it can be extremely traumatic for kids (and parents) and the first few weeks of lessons are often full of tears and angst.

While teaching water safety skills is a priority at Swimwest, there is NO research to support these (often traumatic) ISR methods of swim lessons. Instead, we work hard to promote safety through gentle measures, building rapport with instructors and developing a genuine love and appreciation of water.

Here are a few differences between ISR and Traditional Swim Lessons:

Introduction to Water: At Swimwest, we make swimming fun! Young kids will blow bubbles, play with water toys on the steps, and sing songs with their instructors as they learn to float. In ISR, children are submerged under water in order to “train” them to flip onto their backs. We believe that a gentle introduction to water is important to creating a love of swimming. For many kids, putting their heads in the water is scary and we try our best to make that step as un-traumatic as possible!

Safety: We have special safety weeks focused on teaching children basic safety skills – from wearing a life jacket to jumping in the water with clothes. The most important thing you can do to keep your child safe is to make sure someone is ALWAYS watching the child any time you are near water. ISR has been criticized for giving children a false sense of confidence near water – they may jump in thinking they know how to stay safe.

Parents: Our youngest swimmers start in parent-tot classes, which build up a love of water through game play, songs, gentle splashing and kicking. From there, kids start swim lessons on the steps of the pool where they may have water poured on their head through a bath toy or learn to put their eyes in the water. Parents are always welcome to sit with their child in these early lessons to help them feel safe and comfortable in the water. Many stories of ISR involve children crying, flailing or feeling scared. We try hard to offer a different experience, one that builds a foundation of safety and confidence in the water.

No matter what type of swim program you choose for your child, make sure you do research on the program and instructors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and follow your gut – if you don’t like what you see, find a new swim school!