By Nora Maberry
Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife Morgan Beck suffered an unimaginable loss earlier this summer when their 19-month-old daughter, Emeline, fell into a neighbor’s pool and drowned.
Sadly, they are not alone. In the U.S. drownings are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, and three children die every day as a result of drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Due to the number of drownings each year, more parents are looking to enroll their children in survival swim lessons.
Andie Groff, a certified infant swimming resource instructor, said survival swim lessons differ from traditional swim lessons in that the children are taught self-rescue skills.
“This is not a traditional swim class where they will be playing in the pool with other kids,” she said. “Nor will they be learning stroke work or other swimming techniques. This is a course designed to teach children and their bodies how to respond and rescue themselves in a potential aquatic emergency situation.”
Groff works for Infant Swimming Resource, the national leader in aquatic survival swim lessons. The company has taught more than eight million survival swim lessons and has 600 instructors worldwide.
Groff said that what children are taught in survival swim lessons depends on their age.
Children 6 months to approximately 14 months old are taught a rollback-to-float technique. This technique teaches infants and toddlers to flip over from a face-down position, move to the surface of the water, flip over into a floating position and float on their back while breathing comfortably. They then wait to be rescued.
Children ages 15 months to 6 years old learn a swim-float-swim technique. The children are taught to hold their breath and swim underwater for four or five seconds. They then roll back into a float position so they can catch their breath and relax their muscles. They then flip back over to swim underwater again. They follow this pattern until they can reach the side of the pool, stairs or ladder.
Groff said these techniques increase a child’s chance of surviving an water emergency.
“We have over 3,000 documented cases of children who were witnessed falling into water and using their survival swimming skills to rescue themselves,” she said. “By the time an adult reached them, they were breathing and resting.”
Groff said Infant Swimming Resource also has more than 800 documented cases of children whose lives were in immediate danger and would have resulted in drowning had they not be taught survival swimming self-rescue techniques.
However, Groff stressed that survival swim lessons are just one piece of the water safety puzzle.
“Drowning does not just occur in the backyard pool,” she said. “It can happen anytime, anywhere. In a bathtub, the toilet, a bucket of water, a neighbor’s pool, a drainage ditch.”
Some parents are hesitant to send their child to survival swim lessons because they have seen videos on the Internet of babies being thrown into a pool and watched them struggle as they try to float. Groff said those videos do not show acceptable survival swim lesson instruction.
“Children are never handled that way by a certified ISR instructor,” she said. “I always inform parents up front that the safety of their children is my number one priority along with theirs.”
Groff said she likens survival swimming lessons to putting a child in a car seat.
“When our children are babies, they generally cry or throw a tantrum when they don’t want to get into their car seat and get buckled but we would never drive away without putting our children into those safety seats and making sure they are buckled in before our vehicle begins moving,” she said. “Car seats provide safety for our children in the event of an accident. ISR lessons are the same way … we should never allow our children access to water without first giving them the necessary tools to keep them safe. Most importantly, children are quick and can slip away in a matter of seconds, and all it takes is one second for a child to find themselves in a dangerous situation such as a potential drowning accident.”
Currently there are no locations offering ISR lessons in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Cody Demas, the University of Illinois Campus Recreation Aquatics
Coordinator said campus recreation has considered survival focused
swim classes as part of their program but because campus recreation is
experiencing their highest enrollments ever within the program he
doesn’t see them offering survival swim lessons any time soon.
“Not to say this will not be a possibility in the future, but we are
currently in the process of trying to refine our program within our
current pool space constraints,” he said. “We are currently facing a
very high volume of club sports and community rentals making it tough
to expand our current internal programs.”
More information on ISR can be found at the Infant Swimming Resource Chicago website.
To see Chambanamom’s list of traditional swim lessons click here.
Nora is a mom of two who enjoys photography, writing and spending
numerous hours with her kids at local parks.