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Goal of swim program for infants is to prevent drownings

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at 7:55 p.m.

Wichita-area parents soon will have access to a program that teaches babies how to flip, float and survive in deep water before they know how to walk or talk.

The program, called Infant Swimming Resource, aims to prevent drownings – the leading cause of accidental death among children younger than 2 – by teaching babies self-rescue techniques. Erin Spitz, an Andover mother and the area’s first ISR-certified instructor, will provide lessons at the Wichita Swim Club beginning Jan. 6.

“I just sort of honed in on what I really want to do, which is stop drownings,” said Spitz, 46, who swam at the collegiate level for the University of Kansas. Since then, she has taught swimming and coached swim teams in Kansas, Texas and elsewhere.

“If you want your kids to be truly water-safe, this is the way,” she said. “It’s amazing, but it works. … I wish it had been available when mine were little.”

ISR Self-Rescue lessons are aimed at children ages 6 months and up. Infants learn to roll onto their backs and float in deep water, then to rest, breathe and maintain that position until help arrives.

Toddlers and older children learn a “swim-float-swim” sequence in which they swim with their heads down, roll onto their backs to float, rest and breathe, and then roll back over to resume swimming until they can safely exit the water.

Lessons are 10 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, over the course of four to six weeks. They are one-on-one with the instructor, with parents nearby on the pool deck.

Children often practice in clothes rather than bathing suits because most youngsters who fall into water do so fully clothed, and the lessons aim to replicate emergency situations.

“I’ve been teaching for a long time, and my mind was blown,” said Spitz, who traveled to Huntsville, Ala., this fall for the six-week training course to become an instructor. “The goal is to have your child water-safe, so if you have a pool or the grandparents have a pool, it’s about peace of mind.”

The program has been controversial. A policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2006 cautioned that dog-paddling infants and toddlers, cute as they may be, could lure parents into a false sense of security.

“Regardless of an infant’s or toddler’s apparent level of comfort and competence in or around water, constant close supervision by an adult is necessary to prevent drowning and near-drowning,” the statement said. It concluded: “Children are generally not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday.”

Some worry that the program could traumatize young children and make them fearful of water. Others say it could make them too confident.

“Until you see it, it’s kind of hard to explain,” Spitz said. “It’s definitely not, ‘Throw them in the deep end and see what happens.’ They’re eased in. It’s all very structured.

“But by the end of the first week, you start to see results.”

The course can cost upward of $500 – a $105 registration fee, plus $75 a week for the lessons. Infants normally finish in about four weeks, Spitz said; older children, who learn to swim as well as to float, take about six weeks.

The bigger challenge for most families is the time commitment and logistics, Spitz said.

“It’s only 10 minutes, but it’s every day because that repetition is crucial,” she said. Spitz eventually hopes to offer evening classes, but at first they will be only during the day.

Toward the end of the course, parents join the instructor in the pool and learn techniques for playing with their children in water and maintaining the child’s floating or swimming skills. Once a year, the children can return to the instructor for a free refresher course.

For more information about Infant Swimming Resource Self-Rescue and to see video demonstrations, visit the ISR website, www.infantswim.com.

For information about the new Wichita program or to enroll, contact Spitz at 316-210-7649 or e-mail her at e.spitz@infantswim.com.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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