So far this year, more than 40 Texas kids have drowned, including three siblings recently pulled from an apartment complex pool in Irving.
One North Texas swim instructor is taking an approach that’s much different from the traditional “Mommy and Me” lessons.
Four-year-old Lily swims like a dolphin. She’s mastered the forward crawl, flipping to her back for a deep breath when she runs out of air. She crosses her teacher’s pool in less than a minute and is all smiles when she breaks the surface.
On the other hand, there’s 1-and-a-half year-old Jhovan, who’s sobbing.
“A lot of times, especially in the beginning, they will cry during lessons but once they become skilled, then they’re confident and usually you can’t get them out of the water at that point,” says instructor Ilise Kohleriter.
Teaching babies to swim
She’s been teaching what’s known as Infant Swimming Resource, or ISR, swim lessons for nine years now. She teaches babies as young as 6 months old to float unsupported and kids as young as 15 months to swim to the side of a pool on their own.
It was Jhovan’s last day of class. Because most kids fall in the water fully clothed, Kohleriter is making sure he’s mastered the float by dropping him in the pool, dressed for a cold December day.
“He’s wearing long pants, long sleeves, a winter jacket and shoes,” she says.
Jhovan pops up like a cork and floats without a problem, but he isn’t pleased. Kohleriter isn’t surprised.
“The learning process can be challenging. It’s hard to learn new skills. It is work; it’s not playtime,” she says.
Video: See a baby use the "swim, float, swim" technique
With ISR classes, it’s just the child and the instructor in the water. Parents sit off to the side. Because these lessons involve completely submerging infants and toddlers, some critics call the ISR experience traumatic and claim it leaves their children scared of the water.
Kohleriter believes in the program, calling it a way for children to survive.
“In Texas and 18 other states, drowning is the top cause of accidental death for children 4 and under. So it’s vital that they learn how to swim and save themselves in the water,” she says.
Swim class five days a week
ISR classes aren’t cheap. Parents spend about $600 for a five-week course. That’s a 10-minute private lesson, five days a week.
Kohleriter says partial scholarships are available.
“And if they can’t do ISR, get to your local rec center," she says. "Get anywhere you can as early as you can to learn these skills.”
Which means she’ll be happy to teach little ones to float, before they can even walk.