Roll and Float Infant Swimming Method (Review)

swim swimming isr infant swim resource baby toddler survival month old teach help drown proof

A popular method for teaching infant swimming is what I like to call the “roll and float” method. It is a survival swimming technique popularized by Infant Swim Resource that teaches babies how to get to the surface of a pool if they fall in, roll onto their backs, and keep themselves in a floating position with their faces out of the water until help arrives (or at least buy them a few minutes – I don’t know how long it is truly possible for a baby to stay in this position).

I personally use the Doman method in teaching my babies to swim, but Doman doesn’t really put very much emphasis on back floating and breathing as a survival method. For Doman, the emphasis is mostly on:

  • multiple swimming skills and general fitness (for health and cognitive function – before age two or so, most swimming is underwater)
  • learning safety (like don’t ever enter the pool without a parent, don’t run near pool, respect for rules, etc.)
  • having fun, bonding with your child, and developing a lifelong love of swimming as a healthful activity
  • newborns and above are capable of and can benefit from swimming and water exercise

The book also teaches parents to teach their kids about water hygiene (best types of pool detoxification methods, showering practices, etc.), other important safety lessons (such as always using a lifejacket while boating, no matter how good of a swimmer any child or adult is), how and why to always be joyous and other teaching pointers, and more.

I have no personal experience with Infant Swim Resource, but from my understanding the program’s goals and emphasis are quite different:

  • Learn, as quickly as possible, at all costs, how to save self in pool through rescue breathing
  • Lessons can begin at age 6 months, and children under a year only learn rescue breathing
  • Children over a year can learn to rescue breathe, turn over to swim, then roll back onto back to rescue breath again

The technique has it’s merits, certainly, and it is actually through learning about this type of method that I began to start doing exercises with Damien (12 months) to try and teach him how to swim to the surface and roll onto his back, breath and be comfortable in this position. (At the moment, he adores swimming but back floating is the one thing that he can’t stand. So, we’re working on it.)

However, the Infant Swim Resource technique isn’t really in line with my philosophy, in that the means to achieving this survival floating almost always (from my witness of the many of internet videos) involves a lot of frantic, panicking, screaming and crying babies.

Now, I do understand the argument that having a baby scream for a few weeks is by all means better than a dead baby, but for me personally, I believe that there are gentler ways of achieving water safety and prefer to use those with my kids.

I also have broader goals in teaching my child to swim than worst-case-scenario survival. Swimming is about providing an enriching aquatic environment in which my child can learn mobility on a new level, be active, build confidence, and have a fun and enjoyable water experience.

Learning water safety and respect is certainly an important aspect of my approach – but it is recognized that no child is ever, ever truly safe without unwavering adult supervision, so the most important thing in keeping my baby safe is me, not a class he takes or skill he learns at this point.

I do have a goal, however, to more gently introduce him to the “roll and float” techniques, but I don’t necessarily think that he will be achieving this any time in the very near future, considering his, er, “unique” proportions (his big ol’ brain is still in the 95th percentile, while his overall weight is only in the 20th. So basically big head + not much body fat = not the most ideal build for floating).

What do you think about the “roll and float” method and Infant Swim Resources? I do recognize its value, but personally it’s just not for me (at least in its entirety). I would love to hear your stories and experience.



  • Joy July 6, 2012 at 5:56 am

    We had first heard about ISR through a co-worker of my husbands when my oldest daughter was about a year old. It was something we talked about each year as summer rolled around and finally put all 3 of our children through the program (ages 4, 2, and 10 months)this year. It wasn’t an easy decision because it can be difficult to watch and it can be expensive. Several people thought we were crazy doing it but seeing our kids now they don’t.

    The entire program is based on the senses. They learn through touch how to save themselves but I felt that is also was the basis for learning how to swim properly.

    I had read your post about teaching your son to swim and while I commend you doing your research I think its important that you must stress that if parents are thinking of following your lead (especially with infants), they must do research and learn as much as possible before doing what you did so that they can do it safely. Dry drowning is a very real threat.

    My children’s instructor went through very rigorous training and was probably the most patient and compassionate swim instructor my children have ever had. Any child who you hand to a virtual stranger is going to cry the first few times they are with them. My children were no exception and it was difficult to watch.

    My 2 year old was not a water child. She loved to sit in a wading pool but didn’t like going into our pool. She now loves it because she has gained confidence in herself.

    I took video of my son smiling on his last day of lessons as he completed his lesson. He also was the same proportions as your son-with a very large head (90%) and small body (20%). It took him longer to complete the program for various reasons (including illness, teething, etc.). It took him 9 weeks. Safety is their top priority. Both my son and daughter (2 year old) due to age and medical reasons had to have forms completed called BUDS before each lesson detailing their bowel, urination, diet, and sleep. There were also lots of foods that I had to cut out of his diet because they made him gassy in the water which many parents don’t realize. Gas can affect their buoyancy and make them uncomfortable in the water. The instructor would have to occasionally burp him during his lesson also. Lessons are only 10 minutes in length because for really young children that is about their attention span. These are things that parents who don’t have training may not realize. She also knew when he was teething by how he held himself in the water even if I had forgotten to tell her. She knew when his molars were coming in before I did. The instructors are also trained to check for temperature and physical fatigue.

    My children’s instructor would explain to me what she was doing throughout the lesson and what she was seeing and how she know when my children were holding their breath or blowing out a breath, etc. Children are also never underwater for more than I believe 7 seconds. Safety is their number one priority.

    My son doesn’t usually cry when he is in the pool with me. He is comfortable in the water. The instructors are very upfront that not all children will complete the program in the same amount of time. The instructor also taught me how to practice their skills in the water. With 2 toddlers, swimming is not the chore it once was. If anything it has made me even more vigilant but I can see how some parents may have a false sense of security. ISR lessons are not a replacement for parental supervision and the instructors will tell you that repeatedly. Also, my children have learned that if they ever feel unsure or tired in the water, they instinctively know to go onto their back. They have learned not to panic in the water which is a gift in itself.

    This program is not for everyone but for anyone who wants to teach their infants or toddlers to swim should either do thorough research like you seemed to do before making a decision on what was best for you and your family or have someone who is trained to teach their children how to swim safely. Before taking on the job of teaching your children how to swim, you need to learn how to do it safely.

    • domanmom July 6, 2012 at 9:57 am

      Thank you for this helpful information, Joy! As I mentioned, I have had no personal experience with the program, so it is great to hear more from someone who has. Perhaps my son with his big head and small body has hope for floating after all. And I certainly agree, whatever parents decide to do, doing their research is very, very important to insure their child’s safety.

      • jj October 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

        …or pay someone who’s already done it. Learn to trust. There are only so many hours in the day.

  • Joy July 6, 2012 at 6:42 am

    My children have completed the ISR program. This program is not for everyone but for anyone who wants to teach their infants or toddlers to swim should either do thorough research like you seemed to do before making a decision on what was best for you and your family or have someone who is trained to teach their children how to swim safely. Before taking on the job of teaching your children how to swim, you need to learn how to do it safely.

    ISR has very strict safety protocols including avoiding certain foods that may cause your child discomfort in the water, never allowing your child to be underwater for more than a few seconds, keeping lessons short since children have very short attention spans (lessons are only 10 minutes), instructors monitor for temperature and physical fatigue, etc.

    My son was the same proportions as your son and was able to successfully complete the program at 11 months. It did take him longer to complete the program for a variety of reasons, mainly illness. The whole program is sensory based and it teaches your child to instinctively roll over in the water to float if they feel threatened or scared instead of panicking.

    Regardless of what method you use, do thorough research so you know how to keep your child safe in the water while teaching them water skills.

  • How to Teach Your Baby to Swim (6-12 Months) | March 9, 2013 at 9:27 am

    […] Infant Swimming: The Roll and Float Survival Method (ISR) […]

  • Jen Myer April 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I hesitate to participate, but I am an ISR instructor and I love the program. I am definitely on the pro-attachment-parenting spectrum too. I have two little boys who can both swim-float-swim. My father is a PI and former police officer. He witnessed the aftermath of a child drowning too many times (though even once would have been enough to make an impact). I don’t believe in living in fear, but I also know that it is unrealistic to think I can be perfect at watching my children 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Sometimes they are with grandparents, etc. There is so much water around here in Florida (where I live). Retention ditches, lakes, canals, etc. Heck even my bath tub. There is no way to drown-proof a child. They could hit their head on their way in and wouldn’t be able to self-rescue no matter how well trained. But I am passionate about ISR and I love the students that I have had the pleasure of working with. I can’t tell you how many stories we hear about our students being found floating on their back in a pool, hot tub, lake, etc. by parents that I KNOW are cautious, watchful and responsible. I’m glad children love the water, but at the same time, I feel like if they can’t float (get air) if they fall in, then maybe it’s better if they don’t like the water at all and will possibly stay away from it when they’re alone. Blessings and love from me to you!

    • domanmom April 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you for your input and personal insight! I definitely do see both sides, and each view definitely has its pros and cons. From what you and others have said, I only know one thing is certain: there is absolutely no fail proof way to drown-proof your baby, and as a parent we can only hope to do our best to try and combat that reality. Even never taking a child near the water and trying to make them afraid of it is not a fail proof method for preventing drowning. The only fail proof method is 100% parental supervision. It is a scary dilemma, but one all parents hope to get through.

  • LAY O July 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I did not realize the methods had names. Years ago I was living in Australia and a friend started swimming lessons for his daughter at just a few months old. When she was just about 1 year-old her father saw her fall in a friends pool. He panicked and ran downstairs, jumped in and was diving looking for her at the bottom of the pool.

    When he couldn’t find her and came up he saw her clinging to the edge of the pool. She had learned how to fall in and swim to the edge and hold on. Since a majority of the drownings there take place in pools they teach the method which will save most lives.

    I have been taking classes with my 1 year old and it seems more familiarization than actual skills, so it was good to read about the differences. My daughter is super comfortable in water but hates being on her back in water so I want her to learn to swim so if it takes awhile before she gets comfortable floating we minimize her risk.

    Love the posts. Keep up the good work

  • Gay Lynn Goetzke July 30, 2013 at 11:50 am

    I live next to a community pool. Someone is “drownproofing” young kids. They scream for 40 minutes and it drives me crazy. I don’t think they are doing it right. Your article said 10 minutes is enough at a time. What I’m hearing sound more like child abuse, but they say they know what they’re doing. Can I do something about this? Or am I just intolerant?

    • Lori Jacobs October 22, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      I don’t think you can do anything, sadly. But if it helps, no, you are not being intolerant. That’s awful.

  • Nora Martin January 16, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    As a swim instructor, the ISR method completely goes against every instinct in my body. I personally could never expose a child to this method. Children have feelings and emotions, and this approach ignores these. It is the parents responsibility to keep their children safe. It is NOT the CHILD”s responsibility. My teaching method is nurturing, creative and loving. We water adjust the children thru story telling and child directed interaction. By day 2 (session is 6 daya) the child is going underwater. On day one we begin the process of backfloating. Children and adults are taught to swim underwater first. Arms do NOT come out of the water. In conjunction with this, we teach the children to roll to their backs for air, then continue swimming underwater. They are also taught how to “take a bite” of air after swimming underwater 4-6 feets. On day 6, the children are underwater swimmers and the parents and children have had a great time while learning. Even timid and frightened children blossom. Why traumatize a child by the ISR method? You don’t know what is happening to the child emotionally as they suffer through this. It is not compassionate, it is not necessary to treat children this way.

    • janine fourie February 28, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Hi NOra, please can you explain how /what steps you take to get young children to roll on to their back for air? i am a newly qualified baby swim teacher.
      many thanks

    • Lori March 1, 2017 at 12:53 am

      You are awesome! I think your instincts are spot on

    • Lori Jacobs October 22, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Exactly. I have long said exactly what you did about this method, and whose responsibility it is to keep a small child safe.

  • LJacobs August 1, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I had my first child in 1982, and this method was very popular. I saw many kids so traumatized they wouldn’t go near the water. I too chose the gentler method. All of my kids loved the water from their first time. Lessons weren’t traumatic because they were handed to a stranger either- up to age 3 they were parent n me. And they were 30 minutes long- plus we often stayed in to play longer, because the baby did not want to get out. Ive also worked in early childhood education for 30 years. Of course babies have a short attention span- but varied and fun water play they love! Who limits their baby’s bathtime play because their attention span is too short? It’s kept short because it is usually traumatizing. My kids learned to turn and kick to the wall, then grab it, at a very young age- younger than a child is likely to be able to get through (what should be) 2 layers of security, first exiting the house and then a gate, in the sort of family that is likely to be able to do any swim lessons in the first place, just after his second birthday there was a meeting at our condo complex, held by the pool. I went with my baby in the stroller and my toddler beside me. Bored with the adult conversation, he took off his shoes and slipped into the pool, clothed, and proceeded to spend about 40 minutes swimming and floating on his own; of course I was watching! We moved from the condo to a house in 1987 and I can tell you that I’ve had a pool in my own yard for the past 28 years. I raised my own four kids, ran (and still run) a home childcare, my children had tons of play dates and my daycare ‘alumni’ visit me 4-5 at a time- most often in the summer so they can swim. And I have NEVER had so much as a near miss, a child has never gotten past the fence let alone into the pool.

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