ISR teaches critical water survival skills to infants and up in Fernandina

In ISR, the instructor teaches a child life-saving skills in the water. / All photos courtesy of Kristi Garber

In ISR, the instructor teaches a child life-saving skills in the water. / All photos courtesy of Kristi Garber

No one wants to talk about it, but it’s a scary reality: in a community so close to the beach, where splashing in the surf and swimming pools is a major part of our lives, accidents can happen. Without the ability to swim, a child could die.

But there is an answer here in Fernandina Beach: it’s called Infant Swim Resource, or ISR.

It sounds unbelievable at first, but the program actually trains children – even infants under one year old – survival skills to get themselves to the surface. The challenging part is that, at first, kids will struggle, and that’s hard for a parent to accept. But ISR proponents explain that the process will teach a child the critical skills needed to survive rather than drowning, and that just may be worth a few uncomfortable lessons.

We talked to Kristi Garber, a local mom who is the owner of Amelia Island ISR, in the Q and A below to learn how ISR really works. To find out even more about this program, Kristi can be reached on her website at, email her at or call 904.335.7512.

Kristi Garber with her family in Fernandina Beach

Kristi Garber with her family in Fernandina Beach

Q: How did you get started teaching ISR?

A: Some things in life seem to work out so easy that you know it was meant to be. This is what happened with ISR. I first witnessed these lessons about 10 years ago and felt so uncomfortable watching this baby crying with what seemed to be zero sympathy from the adults around her. Eight years later I had a friend who said to me, “You should teach ISR, you would be perfect for it.

I was teaching PE at St. Michael Academy at the time and was looking for a change, so I looked into it. It was as simple as Googling it. I signed up to watch a Webinar and it peaked my interest even more, so I emailed them. They called me for an online interview and felt I’d be a good candidate. From here I moved forward with earning my certification.

I quickly learned that my initial perception was totally wrong and was replaced with immense pride and respect.

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Q: When did you begin offering Amelia Island ISR in Fernandina Beach?

A: This spring and summer 2016 will be my third year as an instructor. It took me about 1 year to get all things in order, including everything from acquiring a pool to building a website to getting clients. I am still in awe of this job that I love so much, and feel it is my duty to provide the community with the best lessons that I can provide. I am always striving to be better and better and actually prayed for challenging students because I knew that would force me to problem solve and be a fantastic instructor.

Q: Where do Amelia Island ISR lessons take place?

A: I have a wonderful friend who rents her pool to me. It is just perfect, as it provides a quiet, fenced-in backyard with a separate entrance and plenty of parking for parents. The lessons are set in 10-minute increments. It runs like a well-oiled machine: one parent and child is leaving, one lesson is occurring and one parent and child is arriving. This is how ISR differs from any other swim instruction: one-on-one lessons catered to the individual, personal and specific needs of that particular child.

Q: How many children have you trained with Amelia Island ISR?

A: I have taught about 45 to 50 students the ISR skills. This includes those children who are between the age of 6 months to 6 years old. The little ones who are 6 to 12 months will learn how to float to be rescued, no matter how they may fall into the water. The children beyond 12 months of age will learn a swim-float-swim sequence. Both are self-rescue skills that take an average of 4-6 weeks to master.

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Q: What are the common misconceptions about ISR?

A: I was one of those parents who had a misconception so I totally understand and actually love discussing it. Many parents are simply worried about themselves, and how they will feel about watching their child crying. The crying is merely a protest to the work that I am requiring of them and crying is the only way they have to communicate. Like most behaviors, we can reinforce them in a positive or negative way. Part of my job is to help the parents accentuate the positive of every lesson and soon the crying stops. The other misconception, though less common, is the idea that these lessons are overrated, harmful, and mean, and many opt for the more common group swim lessons. ISR teaches self-rescue like no other swim lessons out there. Children learn to problem solve in any aquatic environment and save themselves! It is amazing!

Q: Is the training atmosphere pretty serious to help children understand the seriousness of water safety, or is there an element of fun / play incorporated?

A: All instructors are different but I like to provide a fun, kind, and positive environment for the children. They definitely learn the seriousness of the pool but never through scolding or fear. Any parent or family member is welcome to come observe lessons before they sign up. It is an open door policy.

This video demonstrates how ISR works for children of various ages:

To learn more about Amelia Island Infant Swimming Resource, visit

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