Our Experience with ISR Self-Rescue Swim Classes
Last year, I signed my four-year-old son Lucas up for what turned out to be a somewhat disastrous swim class. At the beginning of the first lesson, I explained to the teenaged instructor that it was his first swim class and that while he was comfortable in the water in general, he was a little nervous about the class. She nodded and then instructed him to “safety slide into the pool and do three bops.” Lucas stared at her blankly, so she repeated her instructions more loudly. When he still didn’t do anything (what on earth is a bop??) she just moved on to the next kid and left my son sitting in confusion on the edge of the pool.
After I told her that he (and I) had no idea what those phrases meant, she explained it to him in about two seconds, and when he still didn’t get in the water, she moved on to the next kid again. For the entire 30-minute swim class, Lucas never entered the water. We ended up switching to a different swim class (with a different teacher) in which the parent gets in the pool with their children. After six weeks of one half-hour class a week, my son could kick his feet while holding onto the wall of the pool, and he knew how to put his face in the water and blow bubbles, but he couldn’t swim.
Unfortunately, he was convinced that he could swim. When we would take him into the pool for swim class, he’d shout, “Let go! I can swim!” then launch himself out of our arms and sink. Though the new teacher did a much better job of explaining things, the format of the class simply wasn’t conducive to teaching young kids to swim in a short period of time.
That would be fine if we could be sure our kids wouldn’t accidentally get too close to water unsupervised, but we live directly across the street from a lake. And in addition to my now five-year-old son, I also have a two-year-old daughter whose newest hobby is darting away from me and running as fast as she can. We kept our doors locked, we kept a close eye on our kids, and they never went in the water without life jackets on, but them drowning was still a very real fear of mine.
Recently we heard about Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) and their Self-Rescue swim classes for kids ages 6 months to 6 years old. ISR’s mission is “Not One More Child Drowns,” and their instructors teach children how to roll over and float on their backs to wait for help should they fall into the water.
Though their website is full of testimonials and videos of babies and toddlers floating unassisted in the water, and even though a friend had recently posted to Facebook a video of her own six-month-old baby rolling over to his back and floating after three weeks of classes, I’ll admit that I was skeptical.
And then I met Kym.
Kym Smith Cragel is currently the only full-time ISR instructor in the Toledo area. One-on-one classes are five days a week for ten minutes each day, and students need an average of six weeks of daily classes before they graduate. Babies and young toddlers are taught to roll over to their backs and float until help arrives if they fall into the water. Older kids learn a swim-float-swim technique in which they swim until they need a break, roll onto their backs to catch a breath and rest, and then swim again.
My two-year-old daughter Calista screamed for the entire first week of lessons (I’m so sorry for any hearing loss you may have sustained, Kym), and I thought for sure that she would be the first student Kym ever had to give up on. Except that by the third week, Calista was actually begging to do a “starfish” (ISR’s term for the back float in which the kids spread out their arms and legs to resemble a starfish) while we were swimming in the lake in our neighborhood. She still occasionally tells Kym “no thank you!” when Kym tells her to roll over and swim, but she is now able to float unsupported in the water.
I’ve seen videos recently of a new type of swim class in which babies and toddlers are thrown into the pool to learn how to swim and float on their own, and to be clear, this is not that type of class. Kym stays in the water with the child the whole time, holding them and guiding their movements until she knows they’re ready for her to let go. Before and after our ten-minute classes, I’ve seen at least ten other babies and young kids during their own classes with Kym, and all of them have learned to float unassisted in the water.
Because drownings often happen when kids aren’t actually playing in the water (ie, a kid wanders to a lake or pool unattended and falls in), kids who graduate from ISR swim classes must first show that they can float and swim fully clothed. Having already practiced swimming and floating with the added weight of clothes and shoes makes it less likely that an ISR graduate will panic upon accidentally falling into the water clothed and will still be able to save his or her own life.
After five weeks of ISR classes with Kym, five-year-old Lucas officially graduated. He jumped into the deep end of the pool and rolled over to float on his back, swam the entire length of the pool by himself (rolling over to rest as needed), and floated and swam in both summer and winter clothes. Two-year-old Calista still has a few more classes to go before she graduates; ISR is personalized to suit each child’s needs rather than making all learning fit into a specified period of time, so she’ll graduate when she shows that she would be able to save herself should she fall into the water.
As for me, I’m just thrilled to have one less thing to worry about.
For more information on Toledo-area ISR classes, email email@example.com or visit her website, swimwithkymisr.com
To find an instructor outside of the Toledo area, visit www.infantswim.com
Read more awesome articles by Bethany and her adventures as a Stay-at-Home Mom at, I was promised more naps, http://morenaps.blogspot.com/