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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Infant swim lessons save lives

Jul 01, 2015 09:10AM ● By J. Chambless

The Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) is a nationally recognized course that teaches children as young as six months to flip over and float to prevent themselves from drowning.

By Steven Hoffman\
Staff Writer

Nadya Davis holds three-year-old Braydon Shirilla just above the surface of the water, carefully flipping him over so that he lands in the water on his back. When Davis pulls her arms away, Braydon begins to sink a little, but he quickly makes an adjustment and starts to float. Nearby, Braydon's mother, Marcia, smiles. Two months earlier, a splash-down in the water likely would have made her son cry. Today, however, Braydon is a miniature Michael Phelps. If Davis positions herself a few feet away from the boy, he will swim toward her. He can perform a full swim-float-swim sequence that allows him to move across the pool.

Braydon has been taking basic survival swimming lessons known as Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), a nationally recognized course that teaches children as young as six months to flip over and float to prevent themselves from drowning.

“I feel very confident with him in the water now,” Marcia explained.

That's important, especially with the arrival of summer, when the Shirilla family will often be around water. There are trips to the pool, vacation days at the beach, and a pond in the backyard of the family's home in West Grove, Pa. As a parent, Marcia is well aware of the dangers that water can pose, and she feels much more confident since her son started taking lessons with Davis, the aquatics director at the Hockessin Athletic Club.

Davis and two other instructors at the Hockessin Athletic Club, Lauren Horney and Devon Wittenbach, underwent the training to become certified ISR instructors in 2012. ISR was founded by Dr. Harvey Barnett in 1966, and during the course of nearly 50 years, the program has been responsible for eight million ISR Self-Rescue lessons across the country to thousands upon thousands of youngsters. There have been 800 documented survival stories where a child who has undergone the ISR training kept themselves safe and afloat during a potentially life-threatening incident in water.

“The mission of ISR,” explained Davis, “is that not one more child drowns.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental drownings are responsible for more deaths among children between the ages of one and four than any other cause except congenital anomalies. Among children up to the age of 14, accidental drownings are the second-leading cause of unintentional deaths behind motor vehicle accidents.

Davis said that the Hockessin Athletic Club was definitely meeting a need in the local community when instructors there brought the ISR training to the Hockessin area. While there are numerous programs that teach infants water safety, Davis said that during her research she found the ISR training to be the most cohesive and beneficial for youngsters.

“It's great for the child who is just starting out or the child who has maybe had a bad experience in the water,” Davis explained. “The kids come away with competence as well as confidence. We've had an overwhelming response to this program.”

The Infant Swimming Resource course lasts four to six weeks, although each child will progress through the course at his or her own pace, depending on the comfort level in the water.

Generally speaking, children between the ages of 6 and 12 months are taught the basic skill of rolling onto their backs to float, rest, and breathe. They learn how to maintain this position until help arrives.

The older children learn the full ISR Self-Rescue sequence, which involves swimming until they need air, rotating onto the back to float, then rolling back over to continue swimming. ISR students are taught to repeat this sequence until they reach safety.

The lessons are typically short because of the young age of the children—short but effective. Many children have results similar to Braydon's, where they become comfortable in the water very quickly, reducing the chances of an accidental drowning.

When it comes to drowning prevention, Davis explained that she and the other instructors at the Hockessin Athletic Club emphasize to parents the need for several different layers of protection for youngsters. Pools should be fenced in. Children should always be supervised by adults. Indoor pools should be equipped with an alarm that signals when a person enters the pool. At backyard gatherings where there is a pool, at least one adult should be supervising children at all times.

As any parent will attest, once a child starts walking, they develop an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles like pool fences so, despite these layers of protection, there is a potential risk for any child.

“Children are very capable and very smart,” Davis explained. “They will scale barriers and do things that we, as adults, can't even fathom.”

The best, final line of defense is to make sure that children have the ability to save themselves if they ever find themselves in the water alone.

“A drowning is not like what you might see on TV,” Davis explained. “There's not necessarily a lot of kicking and screaming. It can happen very quickly, and very quietly, and that's why you have layers of protection. ISR is that final layer of protection.”

During the course, instructors set up a very controlled environment, where the children are put through different scenarios that they might find themselves in. Falling into a pond in the summer is very different from falling into a pond in the winter, with heavy clothes on, so the instructors lead children through different situations. A child may also need regular maintenance lessons as they grow a little older because their bodies are changing rapidly at that age.

Since the Hockessin Athletic Club started offering the ISR training, more than 200 children have become fully skilled. Davis said that she personally knows of a handful of instances where a child who went through the ISR program there was able to stay afloat and safe during incidents where they found themselves alone in the water.

Horney said that the biggest benefit of the ISR training is that children gain the skills necessary to protect themselves if they are ever in the water alone.

For parents like Marcia Shirilla, the infant swimming program at the Hockessin Athletic Club has provided an invaluable service by teaching her son how to save himself in the water. She said that she recommends the course to other parents of small children.

“I tell people all the time, and I'm always posting videos on Facebook,” Marcia explained.

Davis said that parents tell her about the benefits of the ISR course all the time.

“What we do every day makes a difference,” said Davis. “It's life-changing. We'd like to think that we're making the community a little safer.”

For more information about the Infant Swimming Resource course at the Hockessin Athletic Club, visit, To find an Infant Swimming Resource instructor, go to

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected].

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