What are these self-rescue lessons I keep hearing about?
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Betsy Partin, and I am a Certified ISR (Infant Swimming Resource), Self-Rescue Instructor. ISR Self-Rescue lessons are nationally recognized as the safest lessons for children ages 6 months to 6 years and train them with the independent skills to react safely in an aquatic emergency. It is about more than just swimming; it is about surviving.
There has recently been an increase in media attention regarding childhood tragedies, specifically drowning. The Today Show recently aired a segment featuring Bode and Morgan Miller and their children’s participation in ISR lessons following their daughter’s tragic death. Because of this renewed public awareness, I am often asked about the difference between self-rescue lessons and ‘traditional’ swim lessons. This question and its answer are quite complex.
Let’s start by looking at some startling statistics….
- Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4.
- 70% of preschoolers who drown are in the care of one or both parents at the time of drowning (it is generally not a lack of supervision but a lapse in supervision that puts a child at risk).
- Drowning is quick and silent. There is no splashing and yelling like in the movies, and it only takes minutes to result in permanent damage or death.
- Drowning takes the lives of 3 children in the U.S. every day. Another 5 children will receive emergency care for non-fatal drowning accidents.
(Statistics from parentpreventingchildhooddrowning.com and Safekids.org)
According to the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) in their 2019 Policy Statement Regarding Drowning Prevention: “Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death in children. In 2017, drowning claimed the lives of almost 1000 US children younger than 20 years. A number of strategies are available to prevent these tragedies… Water competency is the ability to anticipate, avoid and survive common drowning situations… Evidence suggests that many children older than 1 year will benefit from swim lessons… High-quality swim lessons provide more experiential training, including swimming in clothes, in life jackets, falling in, and practicing self-rescue….
According to Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning, in their article “What is a High-Quality Swim Lesson?”:
Self-rescue programs emphasize a respect for the water, whereas water acclimation classes may give your child false confidence without water competency. Children should learn how to survive in an aquatic environment before learning this environment is safe and inviting. Self-rescue lessons are taught by instructors who receive hands-on training and academic education. They are CPR, and First Aid certified.
Self-rescue swim lessons should teach your child how to rescue themselves if they should find themselves in a body of water alone. A combination of skills can accomplish this feat:
- Your child should learn how to independently roll back to a float to breathe. This is important if they are unable to exit the body of water they fell into, or they lack the physical ability to pull themselves up at a wall or edge.
- Children should be taught proper breath control. This means teaching children to hold their breath when the water rises on their body and not to exhale underwater. Please do NOT teach your child to blow bubbles underwater. Blowing bubbles underwater removes all the air from your child’s lungs, making them less buoyant and desperate for air.
- Your child should learn and practice all these skills fully clothed. In addition, they should practice how to respond if they were to fall into a pool. This involves a safe method of simulating falling into the pool and performing these skills.
- These lessons do not use flotation devices to teach the child how to swim; they can confuse your child. Flotation devices create either a vertical or head up posture when swimming, and these postures cannot be maintained without the use of the flotation device. Flotation devices also do not provide your child with the opportunity to practice and maintain their own buoyancy.
- High-quality lessons are private with a 1:1 student to instructor ratio, and customized to the child’s needs. Progress happens in weeks, not months. Verify your instructor’s credentials, training, and certifications such as CPR and First Aid. Not every program is right for every child. Ensure you thoroughly research the program and meet your potential instructor.
Some of the questions and concerns I often hear regarding ISR lessons: cost, time commitment, ‘short’ lesson time, and children ‘just’ learning to self-rescue not ‘swim’.
- Cost – there is often a bit of sticker shock when it comes to the cost of lessons, but the lifesaving skills they learn are truly invaluable (and much less than the cost of hospital bills or a funeral). Also, their skills are learned in weeks, not months (or years) with other methods, which adds up over time. Ask the family to help with swim lesson fees instead of birthday/Christmas presents, etc. There are organizations (and many instructors) with scholarships available for those with a financial need.
- Time Commitment/Short Lessons – six weeks of dragging your hungry child (safety protocols = no food or drink 2 hours prior to lessons) and 3 towels (again with the protocols), every day for a 10-minute lesson?!? ISR teaching methods are backed by over 45 years of research. They are taught one on one, so each child gets the instructor’s personalized lessons and attention during that time, they are not sharing two 30 minute scripted lessons per week with X number of other children for months. They are not sitting on the side getting cold in between their ‘turns’ in group lessons. They are taught in small approximations (how they learn naturally) and repetitions, with each lesson building on the previous, without days in between every lesson for them to forget or have to re-acclimate to their instructor.
- Self-Rescue/Swim – getting your child water-safe is always the primary goal of ISR Self-Rescue lessons. That takes different forms for different children. But the big, most important skill is floating on their back (and being able to get to and maintain this position independently). This is where they can safely rest and breathe. Being a swim coach, in addition to an ISR Instructor, I LOVE how easy it is to transition my ISR Swim-Float-Swim students into “stroke” work, once they are safely skilled. ISR students are never taught to swim or breathe in a head-up position, a vertical posture, or with the use of floatation aids (except a properly fitting life jacket for use in open water) so there aren’t those bad habits to break. The mechanics of the rollback to float uses the same body rotation as side breathing for freestyle. ISR students are comfortable on their backs, so backstroke comes easily. ISR lessons are an excellent foundation for future stroke work, but more importantly, it trains them to have independent, lifesaving, aquatic skills.
Self-rescue lessons are just one layer of protection in drowning prevention. While no child is ever “drown-proof,” in conjunction with supervision, pool fences, door/window alarms, and caregiver CPR training, self-rescue lessons give your child the best chance of survival in an aquatic emergency, should the unthinkable ever happen.
Additional resources regarding the ISR Self-Rescue program are available at infantswim.com. For scholarship information, go to livelikejake.com or judahbrownproject.org, and for pool fences, please consider poolguardtexas.com.