Monday, March 26, 2012

Splish, Splash - the awesomeness of David and ISR swim classes

Hartly & David 2012
My Background:  I am the youngest of four and I come from a swimming family.  By the time I was born, all of my older siblings were very good swimmers (My oldest brother, Tony, still has many national records from when he was a kid.  He placed at NCAA and missed Olympic Trials by 1/100th of a second (literally - this was before inhalers were allowed and he has exercise induced asthma... but that is another blog) and had a full swimming scholarship at Auburn, a Division 1 swim university. He currently is the Aquatic Director at The Lab School of Washington, DC.  My sister, Abby, was also an accomplished swimmer and received a swimming scholarship at Southern Illinois University, another Division 1 swim school.  She also met her husband, Tim, there.  He was the swim team captain her Freshmen year. Tim is currently a swim coach at Curl Burke, one of the leading swim clubs in the nation. And my other brother, Micheal, was also a great swimmer, although he chose to do other things once he got in High School.) It was only natural that I would be around water a lot from a young age.  

Having fun with Hart in ocean
Papi having fun in pool Hart
My mom recalls that when I was little she just played, played, played with me in the water.  She never put floaties on any of us (in fact, oftentimes, floaties can do more damage than good because it gives children a false sense of security and doesn't teach them at all what their body feels like naturally in water).  She said she just threw us around and delighted in our giggles and that we enjoyed the water.  I was put into swimming lessons when I was 4.  I don't ever remember not being able to swim.

The Barnetts 1978 (L-R Mike, Abby, Baby Carrie, Mom Jinky, Tony, Cat Stella, Dog Shirley, Dad Robert)
Frank and I live on the water.  Our backyard was a creek that later was man-made into a Lake.  We decided early on that Water Survival was very important to teach all of our children at a very young age.  There are so many drowning deaths a year of which many can be avoided with some skills given to babies early on.  These are accidents.  While we never intend on Hartly being near the water when we aren't around, this is why it is called an accident.  In addition, the lake is pitch black. We could be standing right next to him and see him fall in, dive in right after him and have trouble finding him and getting him to the surface in time.  Scary.  We decided to do some research on how to give Hartly the tools to help increase his chances of survival if an accident ever did/does occur.  By, "we did research", I mean FRANK!  This was important to both of us and both of us, luckily, have been able to attend almost every lesson.  ISR, Infant Survival Resource (click on ISR to get redirected to their website), made sense to us.  We contacted via email one of the local instructors, David Worrell (click on David's name to go to his page), and we liked him right away.  We signed Hart up and January 24th, 2011, at 7 months of age, he had his 1st lesson! 

I can't speak as an expert for ISR, but I can speak as an expert for our experience with Hartly and with our experience with David.  I truly believe in the ISR method but I think that the instructor is equally as important.
A little bit about our experience with ISR:
If you do not read about ISR or see any DVD or hear any explanations about the method it can be scary and seem quite horrible.  Almost all the little babies cry during their lessons. Many of them cry the whole entire time.  This is not a Mommy and me class.  It is not about being held and bounced around and being sung to in the water.  This is a 1:1 ten minute lesson everyday, 5 days a week, to teach your child what to do in case of an emergency.  This is a class that could save your child's life if, God forbid, there is ever an accident.  In a matter of months (depends on child and illnesses, teething etc), a small baby can and does learn how to roll over onto their back (in the majority of accidents where children fall into the water, they land face down) and they learn how to float for a number of minutes crying out (giving them time for an adult to come to their aid).  In fact the crying in class can actually be good and helpful.  The crying helps David know when they take a breath in to help in the teaching of them rolling/flipping onto their backs.  The crying is also helpful because in case of a real emergency, you are going to want your child to scream or cry out so you are alerted to them and their situation.

Another word about crying.  As a new mother or parent you learn within the first few weeks or months a lot about crying.  There are many different cries.  The cry that most babies do during ISR class is a complaining type cry.  Babies can't yet talk so crying is their way of communicating.  In class they are communicating that they really would rather not work their little bodies so hard.  It is a lot of hard physical and mental work to learn how to roll over in the water and to learn how to balance and float.  This is not easy.  But they are very capable.  And almost all of the children stop crying once David picks them up and gives them breaks snuggling in his arms... But that is about David...

David and Baby Hartly ~ 7 months old

A little bit about our experience with David:

reaching for David for class
David is truly gifted with children.  David grew up in a swimming family in St. Lucia where is family is quite well known for opening famous swim facilities and for coaching many top swimmers. He had a lot of swimming knowledge and experience before he even took ISR courses.  David has a very calm and temperament.  He is incredibly humble and while he is an expert at what he does, he will tell you he doesn't have a lot of background in child care.  This is hard to believe when you see him with the babies and children he works with.  As mentioned before, almost all the little ones cry during class.  Yet almost all of them smile when they first see David.  They often even reach for him when getting in the pool.    When he gives them break times they lean into him and when it is over they stop crying, usually, immediately.

David gives children a gift that many kids do not receive until they are much older, if ever.  He gives them the gift of believing in them.  David trusts them.  He knows they can do it.  Babies are very needy and very dependent on adults.  We do everything for them.  Mothers and Fathers stand watch and are often so nervous and fearful for their baby (quite normal).  Some parents get to the point where David has to ask them to leave (because the parent getting upset causes more stress on the baby).  I myself decided a couple times to excuse myself because I didn't want Hart to see me getting emotional (and David will tell you, Hart rarely cried and never too hard or for too long). But it is hard to watch your child upset.  And we, as parents aren't even confident in what our wee little ones can do.  David is, often I would guess, the first person that lets a child know that they are separate from us grown-ups and that they have skills to take care of themselves.  This is a gift that far exceeds the physical life-saving lesson of rolling or floating (because, hopefully, none of these kids will ever need to actually use what they are taught as far as in an emergency situation).
Happy Baby
This belief in the baby is something that will get hard-wired into a little ones growing brain and will stay with them indefinitely.  The first few years of life are so key in everything else thereafter.  To have an experience as a baby that something is really, really hard but that with a lot of work and someone by your side that believes in you and gives you appropriate tools to succeed, no matter how long it takes you, but you can do it, is awesome.  This lesson is one that can be conjured up, subconsciously or otherwise, the rest of this child's life.  The confidence that, even when things are extremely physically challenging and even when things seem terrible or hopeless, they can do it! How amazing is that!?  What a truly wonderful lesson to learn when you are so little.

How it works schedule-wise:
A baby can begin learning the rolling and floating sequence as young as 6 months.
learning how to float
This takes anywhere from 3-5 months before they usually are ready to "graduate".  This is a slow gradual process.  These are tiny little babies and there are often milestone interruptions (teething, crawling, standing, illnesses...) that may slow the process down.  In addition, it is NOT a 'just throw the baby in the water' class.  Many of the same exact things are repeated day in and day out, over and over again.  A lot of muscle memory and confidence is being built along with each new skill.  David makes sure that he does not introduce anything new on Mondays or Fridays.  He wants the child to start and end each week getting out of the pool feeling good and confident in the lesson that just occurred.  Graduation is pretty amazing and mind blowing.  The baby is in full clothes and, at this point, while the baby isn't thrown into the water, the instructor does try to reenact as realistically as possible, what could/would happen in case of an emergency.  The baby falls in from off the ledge and sinks halfway down into the water before they come to the surface, flip over and float.  David will somersault them in the air to disorient them (which, again, would happen in real emergency) and the child is able to get to the surface, roll over and float.  He moves the water around while they are floating so that they constantly have to readjust for the motion.  And the baby answers to each request and it is amazing to watch.  It makes your heart swell and your eyes fill up with tears because you see this gift you have given this child in case anything ever happens.  It is awesome.

Then, every few months for just a couple of weeks, there is a refresher of the rolling/floating sequence.
We had a refresher lesson in our lake last summer

Little babies grow a lot and fast and it is important to get back in the water every few months for them to adjust to the weight and body changes because they need to figure out how to adjust for balance.  Around 1 1/2 is when they can move onto phase 2: swim-flip onto back-float, float, float-flip onto front-swim-grab the wall/ladder/steps sequence.  This  is where the child learns to "swim" (it is more of a wiggle that propels them forward, form is not what is being worked on here) and then they learn after a few seconds to roll onto their back and float to catch their breath before flipping back over and continuing their swim/wiggle to the wall/steps/ladder/edge.  When they reach their destination they have to reach up and grab on and hold on until help arrives...  I don't know what comes after this or what "graduation" of this phase entails because we are currently in the middle of it...
Hartly's experience:
Hartly started ISR classes with David when he was 7 months old and he took about 4-5 months to graduate from phase one.  I believe he was around  11 or 12 months when he graduated (I don't recall exactly).  Hart was teething a lot during this time and when a baby is teething badly, swimming is halted (because ISR instructors are taught that teething takes a lot out of a child physically and that they need a lot of rest during this time and swim classes are counterproductive).  Also, Hartly was a rare case in that, initially, he didn't cry at all.  I think that this may have thrown David for a loop.  It was hard to know when to roll him and it is also important for a child to cry some because while they can float a long time, they can't float indefinitely.  The crying alerts people to a problem. Hartly never has never been a big cryer.  He cries.  He just doesn't cry a lot or often.

From Hart's 1st class at 7 months old until currently (he is 21 months), he has adored David.

Hart saw David everyday during the week from 7 months until almost a year, when he "graduated".  Then Hart had 2 refresher sessions, spaced a few months apart, that lasted just a few weeks.  Hart then went for almost 5 months without seeing David or being in the water at all.

In January we went to Puerto Rico to avoid the cold.  Hartly was hesitant at first with the water.  He was happy to wade in the baby pool but didn't want much to do with the big pool or ocean.  He was a little timid and I did not push or encourage him but let him watch and observe.  And I waited.  It was so hard but I just talked about what people were doing and discussed that it looked like fun.  I asked him if he wanted to try and when he said no I dropped it and didn't push him.  I had fun in the water and we watched other kids and people splashing around.  A few days in and Hartly decided he wanted to play in the water too.  I was so glad I hadn't tried to talk him into it because he came around in his own time.  I think if I had pushed it (which I was tempted because I love playing in the water), it would have only made him push back and he would not have had same internal pleasure and joy.

pure joy
By the end of our trip Hartly was madly in love with anything water.  He loved sitting in the sand and having the waves come up to him and pull him into the ocean - a little freaky to watch but also hysterical because he was so happy getting sucked into the waves.  He would roll around and be submerged under the water and       he would come up, hair full of sand and he would say "more! more!" laughing hysterically.  
enjoying the ocean
He wanted to go in the big pool and he would ask to be thrown or ask to go under.  He was also very good about never going near the water unless Frank or I was right with him  He was cautious but also adventurous.  And David's name came up a few times.  "Who taught you how to swim?", "David"... although I was not too confident he truly remembered who David was.  One day I did find an old photo from the summer with Hart and David and I asked Hartly who it was.  Without hesitating he said, with a huge grin, "David!".  We had a great time and played a lot in the water.  It was a wonderful trip!!  

NOTE: A few days into our trip in Puerto Rico, Hart fell face first while walking around in the baby pool.  I was an arms length away.  Before I could even react, his little arm shot up into the air and his whole big toddler self rolled over onto his back.  It was the coolest thing and an amazing example of muscle memory and how ingrained David's and the ISR Method truly is.  A few more times throughout our 5 weeks there, Hart tripped or went in the water over his head.  Each time I was there but each time he also, automatically, shot his little arm up behind him and flipped his body over onto his back.  I never tested if he was able to float.  I always picked him up right away because I didn't want to scare him or discourage him if he had not been able to float.  At any rate, while a couple of times this frightened him and he cried a little, a few other times he went right back to playing without missing a beat.  What was crazy fascinating to me was that here is a 19 month old who has not been in the water or had a lesson in over 5 months!! (one fourth his life) and his body reacted and remembered what he had been taught months before.  It was just so satisfying and cool to witness.

As soon as we returned from Puerto Rico we started right back in with the swimming.  As I mentioned, it had been months and I was a little nervous because Hart could now walk and talk and I did not know how he was going to react to being forced to work hard in the water everyday.  I braced myself the first day back...

Hart and David
Getting a high-five from David
There was no need to.  Although I can't imagine how, it seemed as though Hartly remembered David and when the first lesson was over, Hart was asking for more.  This is how it has been for the last 2 months.  Hartly wakes up in the morning and often the first word out of his mouth is, "David?".  Hart will randomly lie down on the ground with his arms out and legs straight and say, "floating. David.".  He will be sitting and start kicking his legs and say, "Swimming.  David."  Frank recently bought Hartly a chin up bar that we installed low and Hartly loves to hang on it(one of our best purchases ever!  Hartly is obsessed with hanging.  Nothing makes him happier than this hanging bar.).  He will say, "Reach up" when he grabs for it (because David says to him, reach up, for when Hart gets to the wall and has to hold on).  He thinks about David and about the lessons in the water he is learning. 

Most recently Hart wanted to make a painting for David.  He wanted it blue, like "blue pool" he swims in with David.  After his painting had dried and glitter and fish stickers had been added, I suggested we write something to David.  Hartly said, "Yes".  I wish I had recorded the following, but I remember it pretty well:

Me: "What do you want to say to David?"
Hartly:  "David."
Me: "We should put his name on the picture?"
Hartly:  "Yes."
Me:  "Ok. What else?  Do you want to thank him for teaching you how to swim?"
Hartly:  "Yes."
Me:  "Ok. Well, tell me what words I should write."
Hartly:  "Thank you."
Me:  "Ok.  Anything else?"
Hartly:  (thinking) Pause. Pause. Pause. "Love you!!!"
Me:  "You want me to write Love you to David?"
Hartly:  "Yes."
Me:  "Anything else?"
Hartly:  "Read it."
Me:  "You want me to read to you what I wrote?"
Hartly:  "Yes."
Me:  "David - Thank you. Love you.  Are you done or do you want to add more?
Hartly:  "More Thank you."
Me:  "You want me to write thank you again?"
Hartly:  "Yes."
Me:  "Ok.  Anything else?"
Hartly:  "Swimming."
Me:  "You want me to write swimming on it?"
Hartly:  "Yes.(pause)  Hartly."
Me:  "I should put your name on it so he knows who it is from?"
Hartly:  "Yes. (pause)  Read it."
Me:  "David - Thank you.  Love you. Thank you. Swimming. Hartly."
Hartly:  "All done."                                             
Hartly said it better than I ever could!      

Hart with painting, David coaching background






  1. OMG!!!! I LOVE that drawing and especially the letter! What a sweetie, so cute!!!

    I was there one of those times in Puerto Rico when he went under and then popped back up on his back. It was so cool!! Truly amazing to see!

    We can't wait to go swimming with you this summer Hart!

    J, Mae, Tim and Abby

  2. I just started researching ISR and spoke with David today. I googled David's name and saw your blog was really helpful in answering questions about what the experience can be like. I'm still on the fence. I take my son to the pool regularly, but we are not frequently around water. I so want my son to love the water and grow up swimming as I did. My concern is that he may develop a fear and dislike of the water even if he does learn the survival skills. David said I was more than welcome to observe a session. I asked him for references which is currently trying to get together for me. He must not know about your blog.I can tell that he is indeed humble. I am not used to that around DC!
    We live near the Lab school ( I know your brother,Tony through using the facility on occasion). This will allow us a chance to do some refreshers.
    Thank you for posting.

  3. Elissa - just seeing this now (been awhile since I've blogged). Did you decide to take classes? I'd be happy to chat or answer any questions you have. Just get my info from Tony :)

  4. Elissa - just seeing this now (been awhile since I've blogged). Did you decide to take classes? I'd be happy to chat or answer any questions you have. Just get my info from Tony :)