Seadragonz Swim School celebrates 10 years of making a difference

27 February 2017

Seadragonz Swim School in Forrestdale recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, marking 10 years of changing the lives of children and families in the Armadale area.

Owner, Lari McDonald, says the swim school, which is endorsed by Royal Life Saving Society WA, was born out of frustration after hearing far too often of parents dealing with classes where the water was too cold, there were too many children competing for the teacher’s attention and children simply didn’t enjoy the experience of learning to swim. Lari says she wanted to provide an alternative “We created some plans, set up the pool right next to our home, and its sole purpose is for teaching; it’s not for squads, it’s not for physio, it’s a teaching pool that’s all it’s for - the water’s warm, the classes are small, there’s total contact with parents and teachers in the water for the babies, and teachers in the water still once the children hit independent classes.”a child wearing goggles smiling at the camera while in the water

Seadragonz has been successful from the very start, breaking even as a business after just 3 ½ months which is almost unheard of. “I think it was successful because of good planning, knowing what we wanted, the outcomes we needed and how to get to that. The response from the local community has been amazing too, and the City of Armadale rolled out the red carpet and has been the most supportive council, which is pretty amazing. We had nothing but support from the Health Department and the pool builders because it is so unique and different and they all said it would work” says Lari.

Over the past ten years Seadragonz has seen 3938 families come through the swim school and a total of 5781 students! They’ve also won numerous awards including the Business of the Year award from the City of Armadale last year. If Lari’s passion for teaching children to swim is anything to go by the swim school will continue to make an impact well into the future. “My passion is to get kids to love the water, to learn to swim for their safety and to enjoy it. We have no focus on competitive swimming, when kids get to that level we encourage them to go find a club. Our impact is about kids loving the water, we’re all about fun and what’s right for the kids - we won’t force, we won’t push, there’s lots of toys and the idea is that swimming is fun and the kids learn as a consequence of playing in the water.”

The highlights have been many, but the most pleasing result for Lari is to see a child overcome their fear of water. For some this takes quite some time! “I can think of one little boy who came in, took one look at the pool and then ran straight out and hid under the car on a hot day on the hot bitumen. We told his mum we’re not going to charge you for lessons until we can get him to come here and be happy! It was a long, long story but it actually took him six weeks before he would come inside the door and it was three months before he put a foot in the pool! He did eventually learn to swim very well but it was a hard slog!”

Maddy Van Elswyk and Kara Luckens are the young ladies who keep everything at Seadragonz ticking, after taking over the administrative duties four years ago. Maddy came in on a business and administration traineeship and says her time at Seadragonz has changed her completely as a person. “I thank Lari every day for the things she’s given me and where I’ve got to. I’m now running Seadragonz with Kara and I love it here. We get a lot of parents bring their children from swim schools where their child has been traumatised or they just can’t get them in the pool, so we specialise in getting traumatised kids in the water and the response that we see after just the first lesson is amazing. They walk out the door with a smile on their face and the parents are relieved to have finally found a place where their child actually likes coming, so it’s nice to see.”

a baby with mummy in the water looking at toys

Kara began her Seadragonz journey as a Swim Instructor after completing her AUSTSWIM accreditation before moving into an administrative role. “As an instructor the highlight is seeing a kid finally get something they’ve worked on for so long. You try all sorts of things and then it finally clicks and you feel like you’ve actually progressed somewhere. I also love talking to the parents and telling them how well their child is doing.”

Seadragonz caters for children from eight weeks of age right through to Bronze Medallion level but Lari says there is a real focus on the young ones. “80% of our market is under the age of 7 and 80% of that is under the age of 5. We developed a program a couple of years ago for 8 week olds, doing 8 weeks of trial classes. That program is free and aims to teach parents what we believe is the better way to help your child swimming skills. We also teach a lot of safety skills, how to get out of strife with your child in the water and just getting parents to bond with their child. If you teach them young enough the fears that creep in later don’t happen. The first kids who went through that program from 8 weeks old are now going into independent classes, and we’ve got these kids who are barely three swimming across the pool without fear.”

For Lari, Maddy and Kara the dream for the future is to teach more and more children in their area. “The families who come here are really like our extended family, we’ve just built a great bond with them, and I think we make a difference in kid’s lives and families lives, and I think that’s really important” says Maddy. Lari agrees “We want to make a difference and see kids learn to swim and enjoy and love the water. You can reduce drowning statistics by making kids fearful and not want to get in the water, but I want them to love the water and be confident in the water so we can reduce drowning statistics in a positive way!”