The Criticism and Controversy Surrounding Infant Swimming Lessons (we agree!)

March 10, 2017 | JoAnn Barnett, ISR SMI
Tags: Controversy, ISR Certification

Whether it’s your hairdresser, massage therapist, or even general contractor making a minor repair to your home… you can bet they have been through a state and/or federal licensing process specific to their industry. As consumers, we look to this as a baseline for safety and standard of care. But what about swim lessons for young children?

Strangely, there is no regulatory body, nor accredited certification, to guarantee a requisite standard of care where the safety of students in swim lessons is concerned. To put it bluntly, anyone can put up a website, make a social media page, and present themselves as a professional swim instructor. Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) is pushing for greater regulation within our industry based on videos online of individuals purporting to “do the same thing” or “get the same results” as Infant Swimming Resource Instructors, but without any sort of formal training and certainly without ISR’s comprehensive Instructor Training Program. Even more troubling, we are aware of individuals using videos of ISR students displaying their in-water skills to promote their own lessons with varying levels of efficacy. In that regard, the criticism and controversy surrounding swimming lessons for infants and young children is well founded.

For over 50 years, with our ISR Self-Rescue(r) technique, we've been the trusted leader and pioneer in providing the safest most effective survival swimming lesson for infants and young children, and as such, we have seen quite a few individuals and programs come and go after attempting to pass off the results of the ISR program as their own or purporting to “do the same thing.” With varying levels of standardization for training or safety protocols, and more often than not, none at all, especially when coupled with dubious marketing tactics, we believe leaving swim instruction for young children to just anyone is in fact, controversial.

Avoid the controversy: Find an ISR Certified Instructor
At ISR, we’ve built our reputation by providing the highest standard in Instructor training, support, safety, and quality assurance for decades. While ISR may have once been considered controversial (see on overview of our history below), with more than 8,000,000 safe and effective lessons over the last five decades, there is no longer any controversy over ISR lessons. We will continue to push for better standards for the industry and level specific criticism of practices we know to be unsafe in the future while we continue to hold our Certified ISR Instructors to the very highest of standards every day.

Infant Swimming Resource Instructors complete a comprehensive training including 60+ hours of hands-on training in the water with a Certified ISR Master Instructor, as well as extensive academic coursework in the behavioral sciences, the application of the ISR technique and safety protocols, and the anatomy and physiology of the young child. As demand for the ISR program has grown, we have never sacrificed the quality of our training program or the standards to which we hold ourselves and our team. For more information about becoming certified by Infant Swimming Resource, please visit

The training program for ISR Instructors is just the beginning of the support we provide to our team. We annually recertify all of our ISR Instructors based on in-water work, academic coursework, and continued training similar to the away in which medical professionals complete Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits to maintain their licenses. ISR Senior Master Instructors offer annual re-certification pool visits and our Instructor Support Teams provide individualized support, ongoing professional education webinars, and real-time trouble-shooting assistance when needed spanning from right here at home in the U.S. as well as in the 17 countries across the globe in which ISR is offered.

Want to be sure your child is working with a Certified ISR Instructor? Go to and enter your zip code in the Instructor Locator.

50 years of Infant Swimming Resource
Some time ago, media outlets would oftentimes introduce or "tease" ISR as controversial in an effort to gain a larger viewership for their evening segments. However as of late, in light of the more than 300,000 ISR families supporting ISR and it’s mission, national coverage from the likes of Fox & Friends, The Daily Mail, and a host of other national and international outlets increasingly tell a different story. What was once presented as that "new" or "controversial" program teaching babies to swim is now referred to as the life-saving method taught to infants and young children in media pieces like this one by Vox Media with only a nod to the past controversy and criticism:

In 2016, ISR celebrated our 50th anniversary and, more importantly, marked more than 8 million safe and effective lessons offered by our highly-trained ISR Instructors. As a pioneer in survival swim instruction, ISR certainly expanded people's expectations of what little ones can learn to do in the water. A look back at our story shows we're not new and there is no controversy around ISR's long history of teaching infants and young children to Self-Rescue®.

Founded in 1966 by Dr. Harvey Barnett, the ISR technique was developed in an effort to end the tragedy of pediatric drowning. In the pre-internet decades of our history, families only knew of ISR if it was available in their immediate area or through friends and family members who had an ISR Instructor nearby. Each time our Instructors brought ISR to a new community, there was a fair amount of initial disbelief that children so young could safely and effectively learn to to help themselves in an aquatic emergency. National media coverage in the 1990s on Dateline NBC and ABC 20/20 featured the ISR program in the midst of controversy about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stance on swimming instruction (a position which was reversed after a study with 1-4 year olds showed swim instruction does have a protective effect against drowning). ISR experienced huge growth thanks to the national media coverage in the 1990s as millions more families became aware of our program and the skills we teach. Now, it’s much easier to share that information and we have grown to serve families in 17 countries. Thanks to the hard work of our ISR Instructors and, with some help from several viral videos in the last two decades, families all over the world now look for ISR Certified Instructors to teach their children and our growing team of Instructors is working to keep up with the demand.

Much about the world has changed over the last five decades, however, our approach to drowning prevention has consistently stayed true to our mission: Not One More Child Drowns. Our technique stays grounded in the behavioral sciences and the highest of safety protocols. Our Instructor Training Program remains as rigorous as ever, and we’re now able to use cutting-edge technology to provide even greater support to our Instructors. And most importantly, the focus of everything we do is aimed at making the next ISR lesson the safest and most effective. We still believe the successful prevention of the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 4 in the U.S. will require a large group of caring and capable professionals whose sole focus is to save lives. Over 50 years later, we remain committed to creating, training, and supporting those individuals who bring ISR to families in their communities every day.