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Washington Voices

Classes teach infants water survival skills

Thu., Jan. 28, 2010

Ten-month-old Katie Claycomb floats with no assistance from instructor Sue Goldberg, a certified master instructor for Infant Swimming Resource.  (J. BART RAYNIAK)
Ten-month-old Katie Claycomb floats with no assistance from instructor Sue Goldberg, a certified master instructor for Infant Swimming Resource. (J. BART RAYNIAK)

Children learn to roll over, float, swim to safety

Ten-month-old Katie Claycomb isn’t walking yet, and her vocabulary consists mainly of happy baby babble. But if Katie accidentally falls into a body of water, she knows exactly what to do. On Jan. 19, she demonstrated her self-rescue skills in the pool at the Spokane Valley Marriott Residence Inn.

Her parents, John and Georgie Claycomb, read about Infant Rescue Swimming online and wanted their baby to take the class. Georgie Claycomb said, “We have a place on the Pend Oreille at Bayview.”

John Claycomb added, “In the summer we’re on the water every day on the weekend.”

Infant Swimming Resource is a 40-year-old program designed to teach aquatic safety and survival skills to children age 6 months to 6 years. Sue Goldberg, ISR certified master instructor, said infants from 6 months to 12 months learn to hold their breath underwater, roll onto their backs and float unassisted.

Children ages 1 to 6 learn how to hold their breath, swim with their heads down and eyes open, roll onto their backs, float, rest and breathe, and roll back over to resume swimming until they reach the side of the pool and can crawl out. Eventually they should be able to maintain a float for two hours, fully clothed.

The course takes six weeks to complete and each session lasts 10 minutes.

Katie may not yet be verbal, but she expressed her unhappiness in no uncertain terms when her mom handed her to Sue Goldberg in the pool.

Red-faced and howling, Katie flapped her arms angrily while Goldberg dipped her in the water and spoke in soothing tones in her seventh class. Then Goldberg let her go. “She knows what to do,” she said.

The baby sank beneath the surface, then immediately bobbed back up. She rolled onto her back without assistance and floated. Her tears stopped as she lay cradled in the water.

When Goldberg picked her up, Katie resumed her protests. The instructor then placed her face first in the water. Katie quickly rolled onto her back and floated on the pool’s surface.

Teaching the lessons one-on-one allows instructors to customize the training. In addition, parental involvement is essential, Goldberg said. “It’s important for parents at poolside to have a smile on their faces.”

Georgie Claycomb admitted, “It’s hard to watch as a mother, but it’s so important.”

Katie’s dad had a different reaction. “The lessons are very efficient and didn’t scare me at all. It’s neat to see her progress from the first day,” he said.

After her time in the water, a relaxed and happy Katie lay wrapped in soft towels at the edge of the pool while her mom snuggled next to her. Goldberg wants the children to rest on their sides for 3 to 5 minutes after their lesson, in case they’ve swallowed any water. The warm affirmation from parents helps the children feel secure and confident about their experience.

While Katie had protested all the way to the pool, 3-year-old Kailyn Wilder couldn’t wait for her turn. She danced along the water’s edge and eagerly jumped in when Goldberg gave permission.

Kailyn took the IRS class in August. Her mother, Tania Wilder, felt so strongly about the program, she drove from her home in Medical Lake to Post Falls for the daily lessons. “We keep a boat at Lake Coeur d’Alene,” Wilder explained. She’d brought her daughter to Spokane Valley for a refresher.

Kailyn demonstrated the swim-float-swim technique. Older toddlers and children are taught to swim, roll onto their backs and float, and then roll to their tummies and swim again until they reach the pool’s edge.

As Kailyn floated on her back, Goldberg suddenly yanked her leg and pulled her under. Immediately, Kailyn flipped onto her back and resumed her float. “They don’t panic because they know what to do,” said Goldberg.

While the accomplishments of these youngsters may be impressive, “Self-rescue and aquatic survival skills are no replacement for supervision,” Goldberg stressed. As Kailyn swam toward her she added, “Nobody can be drown-proofed, but this gives kids a chance.”


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