The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

AUTISM LIVE TV on Learn-to-swim

Jim Reiser and Vi Hendley, authors and producers of Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Swim, were recently featured as special guests on Autism Live TV. 

Autism Live is an interactive webshow providing support, resources, information, facts, entertainment and inspiration to parents, teachers and practitioners working with children on the Autism Spectrum.  We are happy to share with you this special segment, hosted by Shannon Penrod and Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, about learn-to-swim for children on the autism spectrum.


Shannon Penrod is the proud mother of a nine-year old who is recovering from Autism. Her son Jem was diagnosed at the age of two and a half after having lost virtually all of his language and social skills.

Helping her son on his journey through Autism became Shannon’s top priority. Whether it was researching new diets, learning the legal ins and outs of special education law or finding funding for ABA therapy, Shannon became her son’s best advocate and an advocate for many other families. In 2009, Shannon began the host and producer of Everyday Autism Miracles, a weekly radio show that focuses solely on Autism and hope.

An award winning stand-up comedienne, director and author, Shannon’s goal is to provide families with information and hope while on their journey through autism.

Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson is an Emmy award-winning, former national television producer and executive who pioneered the magazine program format with Westinghouse’s PM Magazine. After serving as Vice-President of Group W Productions, she served as executive producer for a number of network and nationally syndicated programs, including the long-running NBC talk show, LEEZA. A former high-powered television producer turned author and activist on the subject of fearless aging and autism awareness. She co-authored Not Your Mother’s Midlife: A Ten Step guide to Fearless Aging (Andrews McMeel) and Fearless Women: Midlife Portraits (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). She wrote and performed in the stage show “Boomer Babes” and has done motivational speaking to sold out audiences around the country.

She has been honored with the United Press International Award, the Associated Press Award, the Gabriel Award, the Genesis Award, as well as having been named one of the Hollywood Reporters “Women to Watch”. Having grown up with a younger brother with Down Syndrome, Alspaugh-Jackson was aware of the challenges families face raising special needs children. She feels it was no accident that she was given a special needs child to raise herself. Alspaugh-Jackson feels her most important assignment came after her adopted son Wyatt was diagnosed with autism at the age of three (Wyatt is now 11 and making tremendous progress). Although Wyatt started displaying signs of autism at the age of 2, he was not diagnosed with the disorder until three and a half and did not receive effective treatment until the age of four and a half.

With that in mind she began working to help other families find the resources for autism care and treatment. She became the executive director of ACT Today! (Autism Care and Treatment Today!), a national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide resources and fund grants for children whose families cannot afford the necessary tools their child needs to reach their full potential.

In the last five years, she has raised 5 million dollars for autism care and treatment, and launched the first national campaign for military children with autism, ACT Today! for Military Families.

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December 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (0)

Pop-up Breath for Beginner Swimmers

One of our Swim Lessons University Instructor-Trainers in Virginia sent this great question today:

Dear Professor Reiser:

We conducted training at Winchester Parks and Rec today for six prospective Swim Lessons University instructors for our staff.   A question came up.  In Swim 101, why not have the children take their breaths to the side instead of breathing forward?  The questioner observed that one of the children seemed to be getting too vertical when breathing forward.  What do you suggest?

Thanks for your insight!

Coach Bill


Dear Coach Bill,

Excellent question!  Having experimented with about every beginning swimming technique, our experience is that turning the head to the side is just too complex of a skill for a 3-5 year old BEGINNER in Swim 101.  I stressed beginner because once a child masters the “pop-up style breathing,” this front breath without hesitation will transfer effortlessly to the freestyle side breathing when the student is ready for the Swim Strokes 201 class.   When you start with the side breath for such a young child who is also a beginner, it is just too much for them both physically and developmentally to put it together right away in Swim 101.  And again, as you know, once the child is stroke ready we introduce the freestyle with side breathing in the 3-5 year olds Swim Strokes 201 course

The secret to success when teaching the 3-5 year old beginners is to keep the skill as basic as possible.  The less complex the better.  Then when the child masters the less complex skill, he/she will be ready to learn something more difficult like the side breath in the strokes class (progression principle). 

In regard to this particular child getting vertical, generally speaking our goal is to discourage any vertical body position in the water and we accomplish that in most cases by allowing the child to master the breath while keeping a narrow, fast kick with any given amount of buoyancy.  We don’t remove the buoyancy until they are successful.  However, on occasion there may be an exception where you accept what the child is doing at that point in time (A good example is that kid who is ready for the swim team, does all the strokes, but just doesn’t flex one foot out yet.  You don’t hold him back and keep him off the 8 & under swim team over something that is just going to take a little patience and persistence).

Back to the pop-up breath. One of the changes coming in the 2nd Edition of Swim 101 is that we believe it is so important that we don’t take away flotation too fast.  If the student is taking more than a second or so to get a breath or he looks distressed, you put a flotation pad back in.  You want the pop-up breathing skill to be automatic and comfortable. And regarding the video clip I believe you are referring to, McKenzie was very comfortable in the water but I agree she was getting a bit vertical on her first breath without the vest.  Today, 7 years later, I may or may not put the Power Swimr swim vest back on her.  Remember this:  That was literally the VERY FIRST TIME McKenzie EVER swam without her vest!  We just happened to get lucky and catch it on video!  She deserves a few chances to get it right providing there is no safety risk and she is happy and comfortable swimming without it vs. nervous or distressed.  I think you would agree she looks happy, comfortable, and confident!

Also please note:  In the 2nd edition of Swim 101 there will be even more video examples.  You’ll also see that we have COMPLETELY ELIMINATED the Paddle Stroke.  If the child isn’t putting face in, the new lesson plan will call for another set of in-line kick practice which makes the combined skill of first-time breath holding while kicking much easier.  It also give our students extra reps on the skill they need the most work.

Hope this helps!  The 2nd Edition of Swim 101 is coming in February.  For a limited time, it can be pre-ordered it at 20% off at


Jim Reiser, Executive Director

Swim Lessons University

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December 15, 2013 at 2:03 am Comments (0)

First-time Submersion and Breath Control: Child Development Milestones & Teaching Implications

As professional swimming instructors, we would be ignorant not to spend some time understanding, learning, and embracing the developmental characteristics of the students we teach. Why? If you look at them, you will see that there are significant teaching implications based on the generally accepted milestones experienced throughout the childhood years.

Children of the ages of 3 and 4 are experiencing what are known as the “magic years.” The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that 3 and 4 year olds love “Fantasy” and “Pretend Play,” as our young student’s imaginations are running wild. Early childhood educators also agree that by age three, children are becoming more independent, both physically and emotionally. One teaching implication is to give them time to ‘get things right’ or do it for themselves.

This research-based advice also should remind swimming instructors to never forget that patience is one of your most important teaching tools. For first-time submersion, one teaching implication would be to allow your students to decide when “they” want to go underwater, while providing lots of encouragement, praise, and support .

Here is an example of an activity where both children are benefitting from the recommendations just mentioned:
1. The 4-year old girl is being given time to get it right for herself without being pressured.
2. Both children are enjoying the activity that can be individualized for first-time submersion and breath control as “pretend play” is being utilized to make learning fun.

Hope you enjoyed today’s blog. For the complete Swim Instructor Certification course for teaching preschoolers, visit Swim Lessons University today or email

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November 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm Comments (0)

Butterfly Teaching Tips and Wetsuits for Swimming Lessons

Today’s blog is in a Q & A Format, as I answer questions from a North Carolina Instructor:

N.C. Instructor: When you are manipulating a student’s arms on the “Butterfly-Inchworm” stationary drill (as seen in the Butterfly 301/302/303 Instructor Certification Video Course),  are your legs squeezing the child’s left leg, or both legs? I worry only slightly because I know that there are some parents who might be uncomfortable with their child in this position with a male teacher. Am I being really weird worrying about this? I will have 3 male swim instructors on my staff. The rest are female.

Swim Professor:  Great Question.  In the stationary drill, I do have the student wrap his legs around one of my legs.  I do this in order to isolate part of the skill so their is less distraction.  However, I do advise male instructors especially to AVOID this technique  for the same reasons you mentioned.  Even though our instructors are not alone with the students and their parents and other spectators can see that this is a teaching technique, it is not worth taking the chance that the instructor’s intentions would even be debated.

N.C. Instructor:  I’ve always just had the kids stand on the pool bottom while I manipulate their arms on a butterfly stationary drill. I guess it isn’t as good as in a horizontal position since the kids aren’t really able to “feel” the proper recovery and body dolphin motion in a vertical position.

Swim Professor:   There is certainly nothing wrong with having the students stand to practice the recovery phase of the stroke as part of the learning progression.  But yes, the more realistic the position the better going forward.  In other words, you may find that going through the movement while the student stands on the bottom of the pool is very valuable to introduce the skill.   But as you repeat that in future classes it may lose some of it’s value, and you may find that it is more important for them to start “feeling it” while in the actual swimming position.

 N.C. Instructor:  My last question is: What kind of wetsuit do you wear while teaching? I like yours that you wear in the videos. It looks comfortable and warm, but not too constricting.

Swim Professor:  I personally prefer the Henderson 3mm Front Zip Shorty.  I got mine from Diver’s Supply for $120.00.  Not cheap, but the front zip is much more comfortable for teaching than a traditional rear zip you would use for scuba diving.  For your students, you can find wetsuits for as little as $30 online at  We really like the Konfidence Warma Wetsuit for children.  There are several wetsuit styles available that are great for swimming lessons, including wetsuits for babies and wetsuit shorties for kids.

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November 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm Comments (2)

Swimming Instructors are Role Models

Swimming instructors have an awesome responsibility. One of the most important responsibilities we often overlook is our place as a role model. What you say, how you say it, and what you do can make life long impressions on the children you teach.

This past summer my 4 year old attended Vacation Bible School. When he got home after the first day, my wife Heather says to him, “well Nolan, how was VBS?” Nolan, says “good” in somewhat of a bashful voice. Then she asked, “Well what did you learn?” Nolan paused for a moment, you could see he was thinking. And then he looked at us and said, “I learned that God really, really really loves me.”

Would I be exaggerating if I said Nolan’s teacher made an incredible impression on him? Wouldn’t it be fair to say she is an amazing role model? You have this type of opportunity every day. When you are teaching that last class at the end of a long day, think about how what you say, how you say it, and what you do… Ask your self: “how do I want MY learn-to-swim students to remember me? Remind yourself: I am a role model!

September 11, 2013 at 4:03 am Comments (0)

Swimming Goals for Children

One of the BIGGEST mistakes parents make from a water safety perspective is not giving their child the opportunity to continue learning how to REALLY SWIM! By the time a child is 5 years of age, he is capable of swimming the length of most any residential pool using formal strokes such as freestyle (front crawl) and backstroke. As a physical educator, I strongly encourage parents to have their children participate in a variety of sports and activities–BUT NEVER as a substitute to becoming a competent swimmer. If your child is five years old and can’t swim freestyle with side breathing (as seen in this video), please twice about re-prioritizing his or her activities.

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July 17, 2013 at 11:31 am Comments (0)

Swim Lessons Ideas for Kicking

In the “Swim 101” Lesson Plan, you will notice that we like to rotate three different flutter kick activities for variety and to keep the FUN in the Fundamentals. While the emphasis doesn’t change (we are still working on developing a sound freestyle kick), we add a new kick activity every two lessons. THIS ACTIVITY, “Let’s Build a Castle” is a great one that your young students are sure to love. Take a look and give it a try in your next swim lessons. The colorful building blocks can be found on the Swim Lessons University website under “Swim Instructor Accessories.”

For the entire “Swim 101” Course curriculum, check out the Swim Lessons University.  Swim 101 video highlights and samples of the entire course video can be found on the Swim Lessons University website.

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October 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm Comments (0)

Fear of the Water or Stranger Anxiety?

Swimming Instructors and parents alike often mistake Stranger Anxiety with Fear of the Water.  According to child psychologists, the child is likely thinking something like, “I don’t know who you are or what you want from me, so I’m sticking close to Mom.”

According to Dr. Avelet, a contributing writer for Parent Magazine, “Fear of strangers is a healthy, protective fear — children should not go to people they don’t know.”  Of course this is a downside for a child’s first few swimming lessons.  According to Dr. Talmi, children should be given plenty of time to get to know someone before expecting her to interact and be friendly to them.   This certainly includes a new swim instructor.

I think it’s important that we, as Learn-to-Swim Professionals, help parents understand this.  I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have heard parents say, “I don’t understand, he loves the water.  Or she loves to swim.   Or the parent says to the child:  what’s wrong with you?  You love to swim in our pool!”

As LTS Professionals, we have to intervene as quickly as possible and let the parent know this most likely a case of stranger anxiety, not swimming pool anxiety, and it will go away.   We just need to give her some time.  I want you to stay by your child’s side as we interact today and maybe even next time.   The key is that we give her as much time as she needs.

As you, the parents, and possibly your other students model friendly behaviors, the fearful child will naturally warm up to you and the new situation.   For more on helping children overcome their fears, check out the Swim Lessons University audio program From Tears to Cheers.

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August 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm Comment (1)

How to Teach Freestyle to Beginners

First of all, if your student is under the age of six, I strongly suggest that you first teach a child to swim with the hands at the sides, using a “pop-up breath.”  Why?  It’s pretty simple.  At these younger ages, while children CAN and SHOULD learn the front crawl/freestyle, it takes LONGER to learn because of the where a child is at from a motor skill development standpoint.   Secondly, we know that over 50% of all drownings for children under the of six occur in residential pools (SafeKids World Wide).   If a child can master swimming with the hands at the sides with a strong flutter kick and a pop-up breath quicker than he can learn freestyle, then I think we need to teach them the basic swimming skill (kicking with a pop-up breath) as early as possible.  If the child is six years of age or older, we approach the skills progression differently.  Why?  Because by age six, the motor skills are much more developed.  Our experience is that if a six year old can hold his breath for 4-5 seconds, then he will pick up the freestyle (front crawl) quite quickly because his motor skills are better.   Children at this age have fairly good coordination, so teaching freestyle to the beginner is much more age appropriate.   Secondly, we know that between the ages of six and 14 years of age, more than 50% of all drowning are in open water situations.   Since freestyle is going to be much more effective skill in a more challenging situation such as in open water, it makes more sense to start teaching freestyle to beginners age six and over).

The secret when teaching beginners to swim freestyle (front crawl) is to utilize the progression principal combined with clear, precise instructions or cues that tend to the “whole idea” of the swimming skill.   In this video, you will see my young Swim Strokes 201 student make some nice improvements in just a matter of a few repeats.  This same progression can be used with a Swim 102 (6-9 year old beginner) or Swim 103 (10-12 years).  Rather than asking her to swim all the way across the pool, you can see the progression principle being utilized, making each improvement achievable.  You will also see the use of specific corrective and evaluative feedback.  Take a look:

For more video on “How to Teach the Freestyle and Backstroke,” check us out at Swim Lessons University.   All of these teaching concepts are discussed and shown in detail in Swim 102,  Swim Strokes 201/202/203, and” Teach Like a Pro!”

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July 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm Comments (0)

How to Use Flotation Devices in Swim Lessons

For the last three plus decades, we have been experimenting with  learn-to-swim flotation devices,  experimenting with different ways to use them, and most importantly–striving to determine how to most effectively use them in order to help children learn to swim more efficiently.    At Swim Lessons University, we train swimming instructors to use buoyancy devices in a manner that is not only progressive and effective, but it also makes the process of learning to swim safer and more enjoyable.

In today’s blog, I am going to share with you video footage that will demonstrate the WRONG WAY and the RIGHT WAY to use flotation vests, as well as BEFORE AND AFTER FOOTAGE so you can see the evidence.

As you watch this first video clip, notice how the little girl on the left has just enough flotation that she can successfully practice the pop-up breath.  Whereas the young student on the right, Nolan, has too little flotation CAUSING him to go into what I call “survival swimming.”  You could even say he is swimming scared.   If your students are in survival swimming mode, as the instructor, you are basically eliminating their ability to practice the “Pop-up Breath.”   You are also often creating unnecessary anxiety in your student, which not only reduces his chances to improve, but it may also impede the progress all together.   Take a look:

The neat thing about the next video clip is you are going to see Nolan, on the same day, perform the same skill, with two more flotation pads. Notice how the proper amount of buoyancy affords our student with the ability to practice the “pop-up breath” with confidence.  The neat thing about these “progressive flotation vests,” is that you can give your students JUST ENOUGH flotation to be successful.  HOWEVER, SUCCESS is the key.  If your student is struggling, if your student can’t get his breath and immediately return to the face down swimming position then you need to ADD FLOTATION.  Watch the difference:

As your student’s skills improve to the point that the breath is automatic and effortless, then you can remove a buoyancy pad.  As long as the child doesn’t resort to the “survival swimming” mode, you can continue to remove flotation until he/she is swimming independently without it.  The flotation not only increases confidence and a child’s willingness to try, it increases “quality practice time” and promotes “good body positioning and technique.”  Last but not least, it make learning to swim enjoyable, creating a life long love affair of the water vs. fearing it.

Within just a few weeks of the first two clips where you saw Nolan NEEDED the flotation, you will now get to see Nolan performing the Surface Swim with the “Pop-up Breath” without it:

In the earlier videos, the flotation allowed him to practice a skill he could not do otherwise.   Our years of testing clearly demonstrate students don’t get dependent on flotation.  They do get dependent, however, on an instructor, or a parent holding them.  Regarding a false sense of security, no parent or child should EVER have a false sense of security.  Parents and children need to understand that LIFE JACKETS SAVE LIVES!  They are like SEAT BELTS.  No one should be ashamed to wear a life jacket when in or around the water.   Life Jackets just aren’t for boating either.  In our “Water Smart 101” program for children, the rule of thumb we teach is that if you can’t swim the length of the body of water you are in or playing around, and you aren’t within an “arms reach” of an adult, you should wear a life jacket.  Type III or Type V Life Jackets should be worn even in swimming pools when an adult isn’t providing “arms reach” supervision.   “Close and constant supervision” should be maintained during swimming instruction as well while wearing these progressive flotation devices.   Flotation devices equal safer swimming, but multiple layers of swim safety practices should be enforced at all times.

The progressive flotation devices we like are made by SwimWays.  We especially like the SwimWays Power Swimr.   The Sea Squirts Swim Assist, as seen in today’s YouTube video, is also nice but doesn’t have quite as much flotation so shouldn’t be used with a true beginner.  Swim Ways also carries a Sea Squirts Type III Coast Guard approved Life Jacket which is an excellent swimming life vest as it doesn’t ride up on the swimmer like most ski jackets do because of it’s design.  Konfidence-USA also makes a nice progressive flotation device.

For more information, check out Swim Lessons University!

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June 25, 2012 at 2:45 pm Comments (0)

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