Kids are known for being impulsive, curious and clumsy, with a side of charming naivety. However, their inherent innocence can be life-threatening, especially near water. After traditional swim lessons didn’t give a local mother the peace of mind she’d hoped for, she took matters into her own hands.
This October will mark 10 years Leslie Harrison has been certified as an Infant Aquatics instructor, teaching babies as young as 6 months old survival swim skills. It was around the same time a second round of swim lessons for one of her children wasn’t showing results that Harrison came across an internet video featuring a baby in water rolling over to float on his back. After researching Infant Aquatics, Harrison said she knew she wanted to learn how to teach children the skill.
She contacted other parents of young children in the area in order to gauge interest in a survival swim course and had an overwhelming response. Harrison said it was very hard, but she left her husband and three young sons at home for six weeks to stay in Colorado, where she underwent training to become a certified instructor. She started her swim school, SuperStar Aquatics, soon after.
There are now two additional instructors with SuperStar Aquatics who teach lessons at the Joplin and Pittsburg YMCA pools, although students do not have to be members of the Y. Utilizing repetition and muscle memory, infants who have yet to walk or talk learn to roll over onto their backs for the “survival float.” When they start walking, they learn to swim.
“We establish breath control and targeting, which is opening your eyes under water and looking where you’re going, in week one. They are swimming in the first week,” said instructor Brittany Harris.
Instructor Shannon Schultz knows firsthand how powerful it can be to arm a child with the skills needed to survive in deep water. While visiting a family lake house one frigid Thanksgiving, her 2-year-old daughter fell off the dock.
“It was freezing. She had on jeans, a wool coat, boots, a stocking cap and mittens. She was throwing hedge apples off ... the edge of the dock and was getting a kick out of watching them splash into the water. On one of her throws, she lost her footing and toppled off of the dock and into the freezing water,” said Schultz. “The weight of her clothes and the shock of the water should have pulled her down immediately, but because of the training she had received from Leslie and SuperStar Aquatics, she instinctively kicked to the surface of the water and immediately rolled over to her back and floated on the water until we were able to pull her out. Other than being a little cold and very scared, she was completely fine.”
The methods used and the life-saving techniques taught are some of the main differences between traditional lessons and survival swim lessons, along with rolling onto one’s back and floating independently.
The Infant Aquatic Survival Program is made up of lessons that are 10 minutes long, four days in a row, for six weeks. Weekly refresher courses are recommended, as well.
“People have this misconception that it’s never going to happen to them. These are survival lessons. They’re definitely for people who have backyard pools or hot tubs or go to the lake a lot," said Harrison. "We taught the sister of a girl who drowned in the neighbor’s hot tub. You never know."
Times when their children aren’t within arms’ reach are what motivates many parents to seek out SuperStar Aquatics. Dawnielle Lipscomb has been bringing her 3-year-old daughter to survival swim lessons since she was 8 months old. Her 18-month-old daughter goes now, too, and her 5-month-old will start soon.
“We started survival swim because we felt that the skills would give us some peace of mind around water. We live in a neighborhood with four ponds and wanted to be sure our kids would know what to do in the event they ever fell in one of the ponds," Lipscomb said. "We saw results within the first week of lessons."
According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children 4 years old and younger. Infant Aquatics instructors teach swim-float-swim; babies learn to float for survival first, then build on that skill with proper swim technique. Refresher courses are recommended as children grow.
“We teach the kids to swim with proper head position and good kicks and when they need to take a break or get air they roll over and float," said Harris. "They have to be able to do the survival float for at least 1 minute and then flip back over to swim and do that as many times as possible to get to safety.”
Their skills are put to the test on days when they have to get in the water fully clothed. Before they can “check out,” Harris said students must undergo a series of simulations.
“To make sure no matter what, they’re ready," she said. "All of us instructors are moms whose kids have been through it. We treat the kids and the parents like we would want to be treated because we’ve been there.”
“We do this because it’s our passion."
Find more information on SuperStar Aquatics on Facebook and at www.infantaquatics.com.