ST. LOUIS - Drowning is a leading cause of death among children from birth right through their teenage years, and while swimming lessons can definitely cut the risk, there's another program taking water safety one step further.
Watch St. Louisan Chuck Teasley at work, and prepare to be out of your comfort zone. This isn't your typical swimming lesson.
"They've got one inch between life and death," explained Teasley. "If they are face down, that's one inch that they're in peril."
Peril that ends in a pool drowning death for 390 U.S. children every year. And while Teasley's infant students may look like they're struggling, advocates of the Infant Swimming Resource, or ISR, program say what they're learning is to survive a fall into water until help arrives.
"Kids who are 12 months and younger, basically what they do is float," said Teasley. "Kids who are 12 months and older as a general rule will swim-float-swim."
Some of Chuck's students are swimming before they walk. So how young is too young? Chuck says he's tutored a child two weeks shy of 6-months-old.
Lauren is just 10-months-old. Her mother, Jenny Summers, watched pool-side during the entire lesson.
"Seeing them sinking under the water first, you can see what it would absolutely be like if they fell into a pool," said Summers, who also admits the lessons were hard to watch at first. "Now watching what she can do, I feel a little more confident. You can't prevent a drowning 100 percent or anything, but taking precautions I just felt it was something we had to do."
ISR repeatedly reminds parents that this is not a substitute to close pool supervision, fences, and pool alarms. To minimize stress, anxiety and shivering, each lesson lasts just five to 10 minutes. Parents aren't allowed in the pool. Lessons are scheduled five days a week for six weeks in a row. Enough time for children up to six to learn to flip and float.
"We never let kids go more than seven seconds without getting air," said Teasely. "Most of the time it's about four seconds."
And while it may look like kids are taking in water, Teasley says it's typically just 1/10 of an ounce.
"It's an interesting idea," said Dr. Bradley Schlaggar.
Schlaggar is a pediatric neurologist. We asked him about ISR for infants under 12 months. He says there's no scientific data on that age group.
"When I say there's no data, it means it hasn't been studied," said Schlaggar, "and what you're left with is anecdote. Anecdote such as videos on the internet that show successes."
The American Academy of Pediatrics, (AAP), revised its recommendation in 2010 to say lessons might prevent drownings in kids from one to four. But Schlaggar says besides age, parents should consider things like their child's level of development, degree of anxiety, even exposure to the chemicals in the pool when deciding.
Teasley's taught more than 6,500 students. He believes he's saving lives.
"I've actually had seven kids who have saved themselves from true drowning situations," said Teasley. "And it's like you get a mom calling you up, sobbing thank you, thank you, thank you. It's pretty neat."
So are star students like Tyler Johnson. He's back for a refresher class after completing ISR last summer. Using swim-float-swim, he can get across a lap pool and back in 90 seconds. He's 3-years-old.
"It's a peace of mind. It's a peace of mind it's knowing that if your child does fall in the water that they know what to do in order to survive," said Tyler's mother, Jodi Hentscher-Johnson.
Now, Hentscher-Johnson's 1-year-old Rhett is learning ISR.
"It's amazing, it's amazing," said Hentscher-Johnson as she watches her children swim.
Chuck Teasley teaches in the pool at the Center of Clayton, and in O'Fallon, Illinois. You can reach him through his website. He's one of two ISR instructors locally. A six-week session costs about $700.