Apex, N.C. — When 3-year-old Natalie Monk climbs into a pool, she’s continuing a family tradition that her mother has passed on – they are both trained in Infant Swimming Resource, also known as ISR.
ISR lessons are taught five days a week – for four to six weeks – and last only 10 minutes per session, but the gradual process teaches infants and young children survival swimming moves to use if they fall in the water.
Instructors first get children comfortable in the water and teach them how to hold their breath. Next, children learn how to make their way to the surface, roll over on their back and float. If the child is not old enough to speak, the training is done through touch and positive reinforcement, using the child's sensory-motor skills, according to ISR.
Once they are floating, children are taught to cry out for help, as demonstrated in a YouTube video showing a baby boy crying and screaming “Da-da” as he floats on his back in the family pool.
Stephanie Monk says the training helped her when she was young, so she wanted to make sure her daughter, Natalie, had it as well. “It saved my life,” Monk said. “Before my grandfather could jump in (the lake) and save me, I was floating on my back already.”
Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children under 4 years old than any other cause except for birth defects, and children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Drowning is a totally preventable accident,” said ISR instructor Kelly Champon, who lives in Apex and is one of six ISR instructors in North Carolina. “These babies can acquire these skills and save themselves.”
Champon first learned about ISR while living in Florida and enrolled her then 3-year-old daughter in the classes. “Being in Florida, there’s water everywhere. We were either in the pool or boating on the weekends,” she said. “We wanted to know that she was able to save herself.”
When the family moved to North Carolina, Champon looked for an ISR instructor to teach her younger daughter. The classes were not available in Apex, so Champon become a certified instructor. She soon began teaching other children and says her schedule filled up quickly.
“Now that the weather has warmed up and people are starting to look into lessons for their children, I’m seeing a bigger increase (in enrollment),” she said.
One of those students is 2-year-old Ellie Grover, who “has no fear of the water,” according to her mother.
“It’s scary for a parent, because she thinks she’s invincible,” Erin Grover said. "We would go to the ocean, and she would try to run right in and didn't want you to hold her hand. She just wanted to be Miss Independent."
Champon teaches parents that even with training, no one is drown-proof. Besides swimming classes, she advises parents with at-home pools to install a child-proof fence and place alarms on doors that lead to the pool. If those layers of protection fail, the hope is that the child’s ISR training will kick in if he or she falls in the pool.
“As a parent, you want to do everything you can to make them as safe as possible in any circumstance, and this is one way to keep them safe in the water,” said Meredith Cardenas, whose 2-year-old son Hollis is enrolled in Champon’s classes.
The ISR program starts with children as young as 6 months. Classes cost, on average, about $60 to $85 per week, and swimming locations vary by instructor.
Champon says training children early is important because very young children can drown in as little as 6 inches of water, such as a bath tub or baby pool. “It's nice to know that when the children are trained, it gives that little bit of comfort to the parents," she said.