For Your Family: Infant Swimming Lessons

June 28, 2010 (CHICAGO) Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for one to three year olds. And a national swimming program is trying to change that with the belief that even babies can learn to survive a fall in water. It's hard to imagine. So, ABC7 took its cameras to a class so you can see it for yourself. Rachel, only 3 years old, is getting in the water, rolling on to her back and floating. It is not your traditional swim lesson. During these one on one sessions, children under 6, the age group with the highest risk for drowning, learn to save themselves.

"They will not learn strokes, swim the length of the pool. What it's design for is to self-rescue," said Andie Groff, infant swimming resource instructor .

Groff is one of only a handful of certified instructors in the Chicago area teaching the Infant Swimming Resource Program, founded 40 years ago in Florida. She started because she couldn't find a local instructor for Rachel, her daughter.

Now, she's teaching toddlers and babies like 10-month-old Peter how to turn himself around when faced down in water. It is all done through touch.

"We are touching specific muscles they respond to. When they do it correctly, we reinforce that that's the correct way to move," the instructor said.

Drowning is said to be quick and silent. But Peter has learned to hold his breath in water, roll on to his back, and naturally cry for help.

"He's a third child. [I] anticipate him to be around lakes, pools often and with older kids. The opportunity for distraction is too great. I wanted him to have every tool possible to keep himself safe," mother Jennifer Pinto said.

There is some debate on whether this is too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend children under 4 not take swim lessons, changing it just recently to say kids from 1 to 4 may benefit from lessons.

ABC7's own Facebook poll also showed mixed reactions, with 58 percent saying kids under 4 should learn how to swim. But even with self-rescue lessons, Andie Groff stresses it is not a substitution for supervision.

"Your child needs to be supervised at all times. This is just an extra layer of protection for them," she said.

Noah, 2, just finished the program, and mom Lisa Dwyer says the results are amazing.

"Just six weeks went by so fast. You'd think it would take longer, but it doesn't. It was so great," she said.

As for baby Peter, ABC7 obtained under water video of him provided by his instructor. It is something else to see a 10-month-old baby turning himself around in water and floating.

"It's the same thing as walking. We don't think left foot, right foot. They get to the point where they just know to do it," Groff said.

For more information, go to

Andie Groff, Certified ISR instructor, can be reached at 630-886-SWIM. Also check out

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