It’s never too early. So the saying goes, but is it really never too early to begin learning how to swim and to be safe in the water?
According to Infant Swimming Resource, as long as a child is past 6 months old, it really is never too early.
ISR began after a Florida man found out a neighbor’s child had drowned in a swimming pool in the 1960s. Now, all over the country and even in Canada and Latin America, ISR certified instructors teach children 6 months to 6 years of age floating and swimming skills, “striving for a world in which not one more child drowns,” as its slogan says.
Here in Murfreesboro, instructor Karen Baker teaches ISR courses at the indoor pool at Cornerstone SCUBA, located on Robert Rose Drive. Other nearby sessions are held in Lebanon and Franklin.
Baker tries to be friendly and supportive to the students and can tailor the lessons to each child’s age and skill level, but she stresses the course is hard work for the child and is not simply “fun time” in the pool.
“I want people to know what they’re getting into,” she says. “It’s not blowing bubbles and splashing around.”
Participation in the program takes a real commitment on the parents’ part as well. The course lasts 4–6 weeks, depending on the child’s age, 5 days a week, though just for 10 minutes per day. Baker says the shorter but more frequent lessons are more effective in training a youngster.
Parents must also track their child’s eating, drinking and sleep patterns, and urination and bowel movements throughout the entire time the child is participating in lessons. This close tracking is very important, especially during the first couple of weeks, to catch any health issues as early as possible when the child is first learning to hold his or her breath and go underwater, Baker says.
Teaching little ones to float is much more than a job or a hobby for Baker. She says it is her mission to save children from drowning.
“I feel like this is my purpose, what God put me on Earth to do,” the instructor says. “I believe in this.”
Some of her pint-sized students may have a much different view of the instructor, as well-intentioned as she may be, seeing her not as a savior preventing drowning but as that mean lady who makes them gets water in their ears, nose and eyes. Many parents hear their child cry during the lessons and question putting them through the course.
After Bracken Jr. participated in ISR lessons, it’s evident that the course isn’t for enjoyment. These are serious sessions for the purpose of teaching a baby to float in order to save himself during a drowning situation.
“I don’t know if it’s worth putting him through all of that,” said my wife, Sarah, after two weeks of hearing Little B cry during the lessons. “Our child isn’t at a high risk of drowning. If we had a pool you bet we would finish the course, but I don’t know if this is right for us.”
We stuck them out though, and Jr. had his good days and his bad days. At times he would roll over to the back float position, but other times he refused to work. Baker said this seemed more out of stubborness rather than a physical inability to perform.
The ISR Parent Resource Book says the lessons can be “challenging,” for both the student and parent, and babies are likely to cry during the lessons. But Baker maintains that they do not cry out of fear or pain.
“It’s not scary; it’s hard work,” she says.
Some babies are just used to having their way all of the time, and they expect to be pulled out of the water by a parent after crying out, the instructor says.
“He’s going to have battles with you, but sometimes he is going to have to do it. He may not want to go to kindergarten; he may not want to sit in his car seat,” she says.
And though some babies will begin crying upon returning to the indoor pool day after day, they will still roll over on their backs to a floating position when it comes down to it.
“He’s doing some amazing things,” Sarah said of the especially vocal Bracken Jr., who has just turned a year old. Although once his head was a comfortable distance from the water surface, he would resume screaming.
“He has to express himself,” Baker says. “But he won’t let all of his air out and sink to the bottom. Some will, and I’ll let them. They have to learn.”
Some of her young students “are just natural water babies,” Baker says, but others cry during each lesson, and others may cry for the first few weeks, but eventually they calm down and relax during the later lesson periods.
“I’ve seen it all,” she says. “The crying is not necessarily a bad thing,” Baker explains. “If they fall into the water, you want them to cry out to you.”
Despite the crying, though, Baker says very rarely will anyone quit the program. And she stresses that while it may be hard work in a new and uncomfortable setting for a baby, lessons will not traumatize a child into being scared of the water for life or anything like that. She says some people do have a legitimate physical fear of the water, but very young children have not even fully developed their sense of fear yet.
“If they’re scared, they will tremble,” says Baker, recalling one three-year-old who seemed to have a real phobia of the water.
But those cases are very rare, and most children can learn a great deal about water safety and survival during the classes, and though no one can ever be “drown proof,” many parents feel the security of knowing a child can float is well worth the financial, time and emotional investment into the ISR course. There will be plenty of time later to play in the water and live life; that’s the ultimate goal of the program, making sure every child will be around for a long time.
“It’s my job to teach them how to be safe; it’s the parents’ job to teach them to have fun in the water,” Baker says.
The next class session starts at Cornerstone on Aug. 23, and classes are coming soon to the Smyrna YMCA.
For more information, contact Baker at 394-2952 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Editor’s Note: Now at age 7, with no further instruction, only frequent visits to the swimming pool, Bracken Jr. is now able to swim like a fish].