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Surviving or Thriving? What Parents Need to Know About ISR vs. Traditional Swim Lessons

May 12, 2021

Did you know that there is more than one method of swim instruction out there? Many parents will sign their kids up for survival swim lessons (also known as ISR, or Infant Swimming Resource) and don’t realize that there are many different styles and curriculums to teaching children how to swim. 

Parents need to be educated on the differences before making a decision that could save their child’s life. Swim lessons aren’t like other extracurricular activities because they are a layer of protection to prevent drowning. Here is what you need to know before your child puts a toe in the pool.

The ISR/Survival Swim Method

ISR is a very different system of teaching kids how to swim and is touted as the “self-rescue” approach. It involves more of a cause-and-effect technique, which can make a child very fearful instead of confident around water.

ISR puts a baby on its back in the water with little instruction with the intention of the baby learning that moving in certain ways will cause them to sink, and then they are expected to learn how to get back to the surface. The main method used in ISR is the back float, which means that a child is waiting in the water to be rescued instead of knowing how to exit the water by themselves.

This back float “drownproofing” is well intended since drowning is the number one reason for accidental deaths of U.S. children under the age of 5, but it is a very risky method of teaching an infant or toddler. (And note that there really is no such thing as “drownproofing.”) The child stays in a back float position until an adult notices and can rescue them from the water. This fear-based approach can be very traumatizing to a child over the long run. In addition, parents are asked to stay on the sidelines, which can also be very stressful for young children. The ISR swim method is usually taught in 10-minute lessons for 4 to 6 weeks, and then stopped.

The Traditional Swim Method

In contrast, traditional swim lessons always include the parents in the pool, especially for children under the age of 3. When the young ones graduate to more advanced levels, then caretakers are asked to stay nearby, out of the water after the kids feel safer and more comfortable in their abilities.

Traditional swim lessons also have longer class times. This is because repetition and longer times in the pool help cement the recently learned swimming techniques into muscle memory. The traditional approach also focuses on self-rescue instead of independent back floats. Emler Swim School teaches a technique called Jump, Turn, and Swim (JTS) so that all Emler students can get themselves out of the pool. This allows them to be proactive in their own rescue and not just wait for an adult to notice that they need assistance.

When kids reach the appropriate level, Emler asks them to come to a class fully clothed to experience what they may feel if they accidentally fall into water unexpectedly. This prepares the child for an actual water emergency whether or not adults are present. The JTS approach allows the child to turn around and swim to safety instead of floating indefinitely.

The Main Difference

The biggest difference between ISR and traditional swim lessons is that traditional lessons happen in a more positive, affirming environment. ISR involves a child waiting in the water to be rescued whereas traditional swim lessons allow the child to jump, turn, and swim to save themselves. ISR is taught in short periods for 4 to 6 weeks and then they end. Traditional lessons are ongoing, are conducted for longer intervals, and focus on self-survival and having fun instead of waiting for assistance from an adult.

Most importantly, traditional swim lessons such as those provided at Emler Swim School are nurturing and supportive, but also taught with a little splash of love and fun. This allows your children to learn to respect the water and love their time in it without being fearful or afraid. Traditional lessons go above and beyond survival swim lessons and are conducted with full parental involvement and in a more positive environment.

Which Do You Prefer?

If you want more information on ISR or how Emler chooses to approach swim lessons, visit the FAQs to learn more. While some parents may decide ISR is more beneficial for their children, we feel our proven approach is more compassionate, more beneficial over the long run, and definitely more fun for your child!

We are an award-winning swim school with a proven curriculum that allows us to be the only swim school with a 100% swimmer guarantee. We believe every child has the ability to swim, and it’s our calling to help them discover that ability. If you’d like to learn more, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch.