The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Swim Lesson Myth: Children should close their mouth while in the water.

“Close your mouth!” Many parents (and even swim teachers) remind their children when taking swimming lessons.  I assume they are afraid that their child will choke on the water, or worse . . ..  But truth be told, while you may not want your child swallowing the pool water to reduce the risk of a water born illness (see Noteworthy at the end of the article), getting water in one’s mouth comes with the territory of swimming.

Take a look at the underwater photo of my 19-month-old Jeb and me on the Swim Lessons University homepage. We’re both smiling, and our mouths are actually open.  Neither Jeb nor I am choking on the water!  Amazing?!?!  Not at all . . . We can all have water in our mouths, and without even thinking about it, not allow it to enter the throat/pharynx.  So when your child has his/her mouth open above or underwater, it’s simply a sign that he or she is relaxed, and instinctively, he/she will likely not choke on or swallow the water.

What if you or a child does swallow a little water?  Is he/she at risk of drowning?  Of course not!   It’s no different than taking a drink.  As the water enters the throat/pharynx, the epiglottis closes and prevents the water from entering the respiratory pathways and the lungs, and it enters the stomach instead.  Here is a  good video clip to illustrate how it works.

So if your child or student has their mouth open, he is simply at ease and very relaxed. He is not going to “consciously” breathe the water into the throat, which may cause him to cough.  This usually occurs because a little panic sets, but usually the younger the child, the less common this occurs. The older the child, or the more aware the child is of what is going on, the more common it is for a child to panic and cough a little on the water.  This is why by age three, Swim Lessons University Swim Instructor Training teaches instructors to make sure children are choosing to go underwater at their own will, and to never force an involuntary submersion on a child.  They will go under happily when they are ready!

When you or a child coughs or chokes on a little bit of water, while it may be a little scary, it is not dangerous.   If you ever see a swim instructor “laugh it off” instead of coddle and bring more attention to it, the swim teacher is not being insensitive.  Rather, the swim instructor is redirecting the student’s attention vs. bringing more unnecessary attention to it.   This is also the reason why parents and teachers shouldn’t point out to a child that his mouth is open and instruct him to close it as if he is in serious danger.  Why scare him and make him nervous over something that’s not worth being nervous over? You would be literally un-teaching what you want to teach.  Of course the purpose of this article is to give you a better understanding of the facts, so that you can help your young swimmers have  happy swim lesson experiences!

Noteworthy: Experts do agree that you should avoid swallowing pool water.  Chlorine does kill waterborne germs, but chlorine levels fluctuate in pools, especially busy, crowded pools.  And germs are not equally susceptible to chlorine–some germs take longer to destroy than others.

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January 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm Comments (2)

Goggles for Swim Lessons?

I was dumbfounded this morning as I watched two former competitive swimmers, now swim instructors, do freestyle demonstrations with their eyes closed!  These were great age group swimmers. In fact, one of them was even a state champion!

Ironically, later this afternoon I received a call from the assistant superintendent of the school district, where we teach group swim lessons to over 1800 second graders every year.   He asked, “Jim, we don’t have a rule about not allowing goggles, do we?   We had a parent call and complain that one of the teachers told them they couldn’t wear goggles.”

After what I saw today, I had to laugh and shared my story.   I went on to explain when goggles are and are not appropriate for swim lessons.  After the following explanation, the professional educator responded:  “That makes perfect sense.”

Swim Lessons University Instructors are trained that if a child is comfortable opening his eyes underwater, he is welcome and encouraged to wear goggles.  If he is not, then we strongly recommend against them.

Why?  Because most accidental drownings occur when a child unexpectedly falls into a residential pool, lake, river, or some body of water and they are not being supervised.  If the child only sees himself as a competent swimmer when he is wearing goggles, what is going to happen?  You guess it!  Odds are that he will panic, and potentially be faced with a life or death situation.  On the other hand, if we teach the child to be comfortable swimming with his eyes open underwater first, and then allow goggles only after that comfort level has been obtained, we are doing the child a huge favor!  One so big that it could save his life!

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about the Swim Lessons University Online Swim Instructor Certification  and curriculum, make sure to visit us at

Swim Lessons University is currently being utilized by recreation departments, YMCAs, America Camp Association swim lessons programs, as well as by private swimming instructors in 45 states and over 30 countries!

You can also call us toll free at 1-866-498-SWIM (7946).


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January 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm Comment (1)

Learning to Swim with Autism

Today’s blog features a letter from Swimming Instructor Pietjie Dauth of Namibia, a country in Southern Africa, who has reached out to us for guidance concerning a student she is teaching who has Asperger Syndrome.  Asperger syndrome is  considered a high functioning form of Autism,  an au   In today’s blog, I have shared the swim teacher’s letter, as well as the response from Vi Hendley, M. Ed. , Disorders & Autism Specialist, who co-authored the Swim Lessons University DVD TEACHING CHILDREN TO SWIM WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS.

Dear Vi and Jim,

I hope you have a great time leading up to Christmas.  Our city is nice and quiet this time of year, because 2 thirds of the Namibian population heads for the coast — so the traffic and rush is a lot less.  It is very hot, about 35oC (95oF).

I wrote to Jim about one of my students with Asperger Syndrome.  I have watched the DVD, Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is great, but I’d love to share with you some specific information about my student, Jaco, and ask your advice on how to structure his lessons:


Jaco is 6 years old and received a lot of attention (related to his syndrome) already because his mother is an occupational therapist.  He likes numbers a lot, and his favorite cartoon is Sponge Bob.  He can swim already, though in his own way.  Jaco likes to go ‘”deep’” into the water – to the deepest spot in the pool that I am teaching, which is just about 4 ft.   Maybe to avoid the sounds?  I worked hard to get him to stay on the surface of the water.  I even have a toy crocodile to demonstrate.  His lung capacity is also very, very good, and he likes to dive for sticks.  You’ll be amazed at just how long he stays under water without coming up for breath.  He plays in the water, just like a little dolphin, and is very fond of water.

His parents would like to see him learn to swim the formal strokes (Freestyle to start with).  That is ‘their’ goal.

My observations & some things I tried

When I first met him, I immediately picked up his SHORT ATTENTION SPAN.  With other children I will keep the lesson time interesting & fun, with a variety of different exercises.  But this can actually be a problem because I find that when I change too sudden, he ‘doesn’t like’ it.

He also hates being on his back.  Through the years I found different methods of getting children to like being on their back, but Jaco just HATES it.  Is there an explanation for that?

He started to move his arms nicely as well as good kicking.  Yet, as I progress, it gets harder (for both of us).

I do other things too to help make him stronger and develop better balance:  like climbing onto a mat, climbing out of the pool, etc.  But he feels cold very quickly, and then he puts his foot down squarely!!

Sometimes I feel the learning process has reached a plateau – and I’m unsure as how to go further.  I have used the laminated cards too – that helps.  But the learning process seems to be so slow!!

On the positive side

Jaco is definitely enjoying his swimming!!  He is a pleasure to work with, and though he takes up lots of energy, I thoroughly enjoy working with him.  It is my desire to help special needs children — because I just know that they ENJOY the water too.  Well, any input is appreciated.  Thank you for your help!


Pietjie Dauth



I decided that I would help most my writing a blog specific on SWIMMING PLATEAUS, and defer to Vi on the specific issues that are closely regarded to her specialty, Teaching Children with Autism.  Here is Vi’s letter:

Dear Pietjie,

I hope you had a nice holiday.  I enjoyed mine, quietly at home with my dogs and husband.  I have friends who say that Africa is most beautiful!  Perhaps one day I too will be able to share in that beauty.

Though your information was quite thorough, I do not know Jaco, and as a result, you will need to make instructional decisions based on your knowledge of him. I hope to provide you some general information that may apply to your lessons.

1)      Use Jaco’s interest in Sponge Bob (SB) by introducing SB toys into your lessons. Use the toys to encourage Jaco to do as he is asked to do as a liked activity.  There are Sponge Bob pool toys available online.

2)      Develop a list of activities that will be performed during each lesson.  Make it visual, by listing using words (if he can read) or pictures. You may also want to include SB stickers on written directions to focus his attention. Depending on Jaco’s need for preparation for new activities, have his parents review the list with him periodically during the week and/or review it with Jaco before the lesson.

3)      Schedule each activity within the lesson with Jaco’s likes and dislikes in mind.  Be sure to remind Jaco of what will be coming up next. Start with a “liked” activity, followed by a new or “disliked” activity.  Follow the new/disliked with a liked activity.  Present 2 or 3 indifferent activities (preferably that reinforce the new or disliked activity) that Jaco will perform willingly, followed by a liked activity.  This is a self-reinforcing activity schedule format developed by a Psychologist named David Premack.

4)      If Jaco enjoys watching videos, YouTube has a plethora of swim videos that would allow him to watch freestyle swimmers. (I didn’t see one with SB however) You may also video tape him and edit the tape to include only his correct use of  movements in freestyle. If Jaco has a friend who is able to freestyle, consider videotaping his friend.

5)      Write a story in which SB is telling Jaco about the steps in freestyle and how important it is for him to learn how to use them to swim.

6)      Because Jaco’s mother is an OT, check with her regarding sensory integrative therapies.

If I can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to email us at !

Vi Hendley

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January 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm Comment (1)