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The Blog

Swim lessons, ISR, and the risk of puddle jumpers 

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Water safety and swim lessons..what to do?


Before you continue, please know this blog is meant to educate on swim lessons, ISR and puddle jumpers and is not meant to promote shaming of the choices parents make for their families. This blog is meant to offer some concerns of puddle jumpers by safe swim experts. As a parent, you are responsible for making your own choices for your family based on your resources, beliefs, and the information you have about child safety.  

What is a puddle jumper?

A puddle jumper is a popular flotation aid. They’re usually brightly colored with fun characters or designs. They are extremely light weight. Although popular, there are some risks to consider with their use. Read below for my top 5 concerns.

Concern #1: They’re not great ‘flotation’ devices

They have not undergone the same testing as other safety devices like U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) life jackets. They’re usually made of more lightweight material than life jackets. This causes children forget when they DON’T have them on. They are USCG approved, however they are considered a Type III “flotation aid” device and are not designed to turn children face-up in the water.

Concern #2: They put children in an unsafe position in the water 

From a water safety perspective, survival skills should encourage teaching children to float on their back. This helps with buoyancy. Puddle jumpers put the child in an upright position (head up, feet down, and arms to sides). Kids will build up muscle memory being in this vertical position. The child gets used to bicycling their legs (doggy paddling) in this upright position. This vertical position, muscle memory, and movement can contribute to drowning IF they find themselves in water without that puddle jumper on. 

Concern #3: They give a false sense of security for the child

Many toddler children do not have the cognitive ability to understand that they need to have the device on at all times when they’re in the water. Thus, the issue occurs when the puddle jumper is not on. Scenario: The child has a puddle jumper on and leaves the pool. They have a snack. There are many children playing and it’s loud with laughter. They excitedly jump back into the pool without their puddle jumper. The child can’t swim, realizes they can’t, panics, and doggy paddles in that vertical position. This expends energy and the child can risk drowning if not pulled to safety. 

Concern #4: They give a false sense of security for the parent

A loving parent will put the puddle jumper on feeling more secure for their child’s safety. However, the child may take it off when the parent turns their back for a moment. We have all been there. Those big parties, lots of laughter and screaming, distractions, or split-second moments where you are attending to something else. This false sense of security can make us less vigilant. Accidents happen and we are less likely to closely monitor or have hands on our child in the water. 

Swim experts can tell when a child is used to puddle jumpers because they have a harder time training them to float. This is because their muscle memory is used to being vertical in the water. Please do not rely on them as sole protection for water safety. Also, be extra careful in understanding what can happen when they’re around water without them on.⁠ No flotation device or aid (including life vests) is a substitution for supervision.⁠ Supervision and swim education are vital for children and water safety. ⁠

Concern #5: It will NOT teach your child how to swim

Your child puts on a puddle jumper and gets in the water. They have a huge smile on their face because they feel like they’re swimming. Unfortunately, puddle jumpers do not teach proper swimming and survival skills. They need survival swim classes for that. 

I think of this like a walker. A walker doesn’t teach your child how to walk. It gives them a false sense of security. Practice will teach your child to walk just as practice will teach your child to swim. 

Having an adult within arm’s reach is the most important way to ensure safety

From a water safety perspective, having an adult within arm’s reach is the most important way to ensure safety. Yes, I know this is not always possible. If you are concerned of being able to fully monitor multiple children at a pool, consider things like splash pads or sprinklers for water play. 

Life vests are recommended in any open body of water such as when boating or in the ocean. If you are in a bind in a swimming pool, you can use a life vest but remember these also put children in a vertical position. Since they are not as lightweight, the child can remember that they have to have it on to go back into the pool. Remember that supervision is key regardless of what you are using. Here is a great link from Safe Beginnings on how to choose a life jacket.   

If you do go to a pool and use these, be EXTREMELY vigilant with the constant supervision. So many drownings happen in split moments of distraction from parents who never thought it would happen to them.

When can you start swim lessons?

You can start swim lessons as early as 6 months. I highly recommend starting by 15 months to create the repetition and practice of skills early on. This is especially important if you own a swimming pool or live in an area with a lot of access to water (pools and lakes). I consider swimming lessons a priority when you have access to these. I recognize many communities have waitlists or limited options, so get on a waitlist and register if you are able to. Survival swim can be life-saving. This is why I consider it a priority for all children (and even adults!). 

Swimming lessons are a privilege

It is a sad reality that swimming lessons are a privilege. They require time and money and not every family has this. In a dream world, they would be easily accessible and built into a child’s routine. It’s much easier to teach a child to swim than an adult. I know way too many adults who do not know how to swim. There are two types of swim lessons that are common – traditional swim lessons that most of us are used to and ISR (Infant Swimming Resource). To find a swim class, you can Google locations or use word-of-mouth (the latter may be best!).

Questions to ask your swim school:

  1. Are the swim instructors trained for the skill level and age of your child?
  2. Are the instructors in the pool with a child or observing outside of the pool during lessons?
  3. Are the instructors certified in CPR and first aid? Do they have formal swim instructor training?
  4. Does the program teach water survival skills as well as basic swimming skills? For example, how to float and jump into water and be able to get back to a wall. Floating is an important skill because sometimes there is no edge or wall (such as in a lake).
  5. Do the classes teach the child what to do if they end up in the water unexpectedly?
  6. Can a parent watch the lessons? Are they inside the pool with them?
  7. How does the school assess advancement in skill and level?
  8. If taking group lessons, what is the ratio? Ideally 1:1 is best, but we know that’s not always possible so no more than 6:1 ratio (6 students to 1). Remember, that the younger a child is, a smaller ratio is ideal because they need more focused practice. 
  9. How do make-up sessions work for illness or weather cancellations?

My thoughts on ISR

I invited Sea Star ISR on my podcast to discuss what ISR is, the myths, and how it differs from traditional swim classes. Take a listen! I had my son in traditional swim classes at 14 months, switched to ISR and left after two weeks due to the commute and the weather cancelling many sessions. We then switched back to traditional swim lessons twice a week. We are happy with where we are but we hope to consider ISR in future if he needs it. For Vera, we plan on doing ISR this summer or fall. I think it’s important to know your resources and debunk myths surrounding ISR so check it out!

ISR is a great option for swim lessons, but it is more expensive and involves a higher time commitment. From a developmental perspective and investment in the long run, it can make sense. The classes are 10 min M-F for 4-8 weeks. Some children may need longer. Most children also do monthly refreshers once they graduate.

Resources on ISR and swimming

If your child is in swim lessons and is hesitant, make sure you check out this blog on adjusting our children to new experiences. Our children may cry during new experiences, but this doesn’t mean they are traumatized. With a loving caregiver or a kind swim instructor and repetition, they will realize it’s not so bad and is for their benefit. Ryaan screamed and cried for two weeks when he started swim lessons and now LOVES it. 

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Dr. Mona Admin

Hi there!

I’m a Board Certified Pediatrician, IBCLC, and a mom of two.

I know the ups and downs of becoming a mom and raising kids.

I help moms ditch the worry and second-guessing so you can find more joy in motherhood.

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

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