What is ISR Swim Lessons? A Complete Guide From Pro Swim Instructor

ISR swim lessons have become the most effective yet controversial swim program for babies.

In this post, you'll learn:
  • What are ISR lessons
  • Is ISR harmful
  • How much do ISR lessons cost
  • Formal swimming lessons VS ISR
  • And more
The most comprehensive guide to the world of infant self-rescue lessons is here.

If you want to know what you are signing your child for, keep reading.
By Maria Rezhylo
3x World record holder in swimming & swim school owner
Updated - Jan 12, 2023

What is ISR swimming lessons?

Infant Swimming Resources (ISR) aims to teach young children fundamental water survival skills (primarily floating). After completing the lessons, children can perform float without assistance until help arrives at the accident scene. Research proves that children ages 1 to 2 years are UNABLE to learn swimming skills required for self-rescue due to the lack of developmental readiness. Thus, parents should be aware of the limitations of survival swim lessons.

The primary skills children learn during the ISR lessons are:

  • 1
    Determining the closest exit from the water
    Once a child ends up in the water, either by accident or on purpose, they have to be able to get their head out of the water and locate the closest exit.
  • 2
    Swim float swim sequence
    This technique allows a child to have access to oxygen. Here's how it goes: they swim for a little bit, flip to the back, float and breathe, resume swimming for a short distance, and flip on the back again to breathe.
  • 3
    Exit the swimming pool
    Children learn how to exist the pool either by climbing the wall or using the ladder, whichever is the closest.

Lesson structure

ISR are typically 10 minutes long, one-on-one lessons with an instructor.

Because it's only 10 minutes, the frequency of the lessons is pretty high. The standard schedule is Monday-Friday to reinforce the skills learned. After a few months to a year, it's recommended to go through refresher lessons to revive the knowledge of water survival.

Children enrolled in ISR would typically go through the lesson fully clothed to train the skill level required in a day-to-day setting.

It's advised for parents to stay out of the water because a child learns better with one authority role in the pool. However, parents can remain close to the pool to supervise and ensure the safety of their kiddo.

While lesson instruction is tailored to drown-proof infants, ISR age range is broader: classes can be taught to infants, toddlers, and older kids.
What is ISR swimming lessons><meta itemprop=
Did you know?

Besides teaching infants water survival, ISR lessons can also prevent drowning in children ages 1 to 6.

What does ISR stand for?

ISR stands for Infant Swimming Resources. The concept for establishing this program emerged in Central Florida in 1966 by Dr. Harvey Barnett.

At the age of 18, as a pool lifeguard, Dr. Barnett taught young children how to swim. He carefully observed what learning style young children responded to and what skills they mastered best.

Later, after 43 years of practice, Dr. Harvey Barnett patents his child's education program, which is now known as ISR. Since then, their motto has been: not one more child.

Many instructors around the US went through ISR training and now successfully teach floating techniques to kids of all ages.
What is ISR swim lessons><meta itemprop=
Did you know?

Dr. Harvey Barnett established ISR after 43 years of teaching young students to swim.

Why are ISR lessons take only 10 minutes?

ISR's main focus is aquatic safety and self-rescue. Keeping the lessons short makes kids less likely to get tired and cold.

During those 10 minutes, your child will work one-on-one with an ISR-certified, professional instructor. Because every lesson focuses primarily on floating, 10 minutes is usually all young students need to learn.

ISR's approach is designed to be effective in emergency situations, so toddlers and infants can learn to float until help arrives.
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Did you know?

10-minute lessons ensure that your baby doesn't get too tired or cold.

Is ISR harmful?

While there's a lot of controversy surrounding Self Rescue and ISR instructors, these lessons significantly impacted child drowning prevention.

The organization has numerous safety protocols, and thousands of parents and their children have completed the program and remained satisfied. But things are not so black and white.

Some parents left the program just to find out later that their infant was terrified in the water. Why and how does it happen?

The answer is simple. Little kids, just like adults, have fight-or-flight instincts. An unfamiliar swimming pool setting with a stranger instructor can trigger those instincts to kick in. After all, an instructor is not their safety base, and most babies would not be comfortable in this scenario.

If your kid doesn't calm down after a few lessons and the instructor still deals with tantrums, it's time to call it a day. Switching instructors and seeing if your kid does better with another person is best. A negative association with water is proven to affect your kid's future progress in learning to swim.

If you still wish to continue lessons with your kid being terrified every time, proceed at your own risk. Your kid can eventually learn to float through the tears and discomfort. But don't be surprised if they freak out next time you're in the pool together.

The price is too high for a basic skill like floating that you can teach your baby on your own. When you ultimately choose to teach your children swimming skills beyond floating after completing ISR, breaking the fight or flight response will take a while.

Other than that, ISR CAN save your baby's life one day, but adult supervision is still REQUIRED after completion of the program.

Are ISR lessons effective

ISR has a limited but proven track of success. You can find positive thousands of positive reviews on the web, with some dissatisfaction here and there. So, where's the truth?

Parents should be aware that before children reach the 3-year-old mark, they are physically and cognitively not ready to learn the swimming skills associated with self-rescue. Read more about it here.

Per Infant Swimming Resource, they conducted over 7 million lessons across the United States. To combat the ISR swimming controversy (2020), 800 cases have been researched and demonstrated to prevent drowning in children.

But if you make some calculations, things are not so black and white. Per their research: out of 7 million lessons, 800 were effective. Thus, the effectiveness of the lessons ends up being 0.0114%. More in-depth research is needed to verify the ways in which ISR methods have proven to drown-proof kids.

How much do ISR lessons cost?

The cost of ISR swim lessons varies from region to region. On average, a week of classes costs anywhere between $80 to $110. That includes five 10-minute lessons a week.

See the table breakdown by the swimming schools.
ISR swimming
Paid weekly
Cost per week
Registration fee
Discounts for siblings
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Did you know?

ISR swim lessons cost varies from state to state and is offered by many individual instructors.

Why are ISR lessons so expensive?

Mainly because it costs a lot for instructors to get certified in ISR. Basically, you are paying for the education and time your instructor put into being an expert in the field.

Hiring a certified ISR swimming instructor gives you a layer of protection from being scammed. But unfortunately, there are a lot of instructors who pretend to have satisfactory credentials with ISR.

So, the cost of quality instruction guarantees the safety of your little one, and satisfactory level of instructor's education.
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Did you know?

On average, instructors spend from $8,000 to $12,000 on ISR certification.

Do pediatricians recommend ISR?

While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't directly recommend ISR lessons, medical research recommends swim lessons for kids as a layer of protection from drowning starting from 12 months. However, AAP confirms that before age 4,5, kids are not developmentally ready to learn the swimming skills associated with self-rescue. Ultimately, ISR lessons can be an excellent step in the right direction towards water safety.

AAP recommends the following:

  • 1
    All children and adults have to learn to swim
  • 2
    Children can start taking swimming lessons as young as one year old
  • 3
    Adults and older children should learn CPR
  • 4
    Adult supervision is required near the water at all times
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Did you know?

AAP scientific research confirms that parents must sign up their kids for swim lessons for drowning prevention from a very early age.

ISR vs Traditional Swimming Lessons

During traditional swim lessons, kids learn swimming skills like pulling, kicking, and breath control. Instead, the ISR instructor focuses solely on the child's water survival skills, like flipping on the back and floating.

What is the best fit for your kid is up to you. If the ISR instruction and methods are too harsh for them, try traditional swimming lessons.

Traditional swimming lessons are typically less traumatizing. Certified instructors incorporate different teaching techniques, like playing games and diving to get toys, while constantly assisting the kids in the water to learn effortlessly. Additionally, parents are welcome to join the process during traditional swimming lessons.

However, if you want to teach your kid to solely float on their back in the shortest possible time, ISR lessons should be your go-to choice.
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Did you know?

ISR capabilities are limited to water survival skills. Traditional lessons focus on kicking, pulling, and correct breathing with less harsh teaching techniques.

Are ISR lessons worth it?

If ISR lessons are worth it or not for your family depends on multiple factors.

Here are a few things you should know to make the right decision:

  1. Evaluate the level of comfort your baby has during ISR lessons. No matter what others say, constant tantrums, worrying, and screaming is NOT good. A negative experience in the water is BAD and will affect your baby's ability to learn to swim moving forward.
  2. Make your goals clear. Do you want your children to be able to swim or just float? Floating doesn't equal survival swimming. It can increase the chances of survival, but it won't 100% prevent drowning.
  3. Explore different options. Go to the different swimming schools, meet swimming instructors, and see who would make your child most comfortable in the water.
  4. Talk to other parents. Talk to other parents whose children are/were enrolled in ISR. See what they say. They might have a good instructor to refer you to.
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Did you know?

There is no clear answer if ISR lessons are worth it for you. Evaluate your goals, explore the options, and see what's the best fit.

Have you tried ISR swim lessons?

How was your experience?

Have you had any success with ISR lessons?

Let me know in the comments down below!