by Simon Russell
Teaching is children is special challenge, teaching methods must be modified for underdeveloped minds, active imaginations and softer bones and tissues. Actually there are a lot of parallels with some adults that you have to teach. (The following contribution from SR contains a few insights)
Personal Safety is number one.
When teaching children a great deal more supervision is required throughout the class. Don’t turn your back for a second.
-Children’s bones and joints are less developed than adults and will sustain a far greater level of injury than adults. Children or young adults should never practice wrist and shoulder locks.
-Children have less understanding of the limitations and abilities of their own body. A child will unwittingly allow their body to become more compromised than an adult. Therefore, it is critical that children are not allowed to exercise locks, throws or pins to the extent that would normally be expected of an adult. Special attention must be paid to ukemi (falling and rolling), as a child is more likely to endanger and overextend himself or herself, than an adult.
-Children have less understanding and sensitivity of the force they are able to exert on the training partner.
-Children have less continued awareness of their immediate surroundings.
-Children will react quicker than an adult, with force and violence to a situation they don’t feel comfortable with. This includes reacting to a false perception of intended malice towards them eg: Uke may feel that Nage, unaware of their own power, is intentionally trying to hurt them, and lash out in response. It is often wise to separate boys of similar age and height as it can otherwise provide the perfect ingredients for competitive rough housing.
The attention span of children is far shorter than adults.
-Make sure that the group verbal instruction is keep to a minimum as the attention of the seated students will quickly be lost. Children learn less from a verbal descriptive than an adult but are far quicker of gaining an understanding through physical means than adults.
-The chosen activity needs to be changed with far more regularity than with adults. Plan your class with a time schedule in mind and stick to it.
Discipline and boundaries are important for success.
-Lead by example. It is vital to the success the children’s class that you yourself adhere to a strict regime of discipline. This means maintaining perfect posture when seated and standing, having a planned class schedule and sticking to it and using correct dojo etiquette at all times. If as an instructor, you harbour self-doubt or uncertainly about who you are and what you are teaching, the child students will notice this faster and be less forgiving than an adult.
-Children thrive on discipline. There is a fine line the children’s instructor must walk between being firm and unshakable while at the same time having sensitivity and kindness. As the children’s classes are short, it is a more viable proposition to don a facade that you may not always possess in order to be perceived as someone not to be messed with. You cannot allow even the slightest weakness to show at anytime or you will loose the your control over the class. This does not go as far as to lie in order to cover weakness, children can be extremely perceptive to a person’s lies and not only will that show as a form of weakness but you will loose their trust forever.
-Children thrive on structure. Maintaining a predictable training format from week to week, will allow the child students to mentally engage in the activity quicker than otherwise. Varity should still be added within the structure but if you play games in the last 10 minutes, you should always play the games in the last 10 minutes and not at the start of class.
-Children’s attention span can be about one tenth that of an adult. As the instructor, you need to keep your verbal instruction to a minimum and keep them active. If a child is seated for more than about one minute, their mind will wonder to places other than the class. During physical practice, you need to stay focused on the students at all times to keep them engaged in the specified activity. If you turn your back on them or drift off in your own thoughts, you will quickly find yourself with an unruly and potentially dangerous situation.
-Maintain verbal contact with them at all times. This can be exhausting at first but it will pay off with well-behaved students. Constant re-enforcement rather than correction is preferred but at time, your stern voice may be required to address potential trouble. Children will quickly loose interest in an activity if they feel they are being weighed down by correction or criticism and may not return to your next class.
-Children should be allowed to be children. Although we as instructor or a child’s parents may have strong ideals about what values we would like to impart through Aikido, we need to keep in the fore of our minds that the children just want to have fun. Teaching a children’s class is possibly the most challenging endeavour you will ever undertake in your Aikido career. Although kata, waza and ukemi are the cornerstones of training, the child student’s focus will be on the games the class will play. The potential reward of a new grading/belt may all you have to get them to learn and practice kata. With this in mind, you may find yourself looking for ways to sneak in Aikido principles, such as tenkan and irimi, into the games you devise. There are many instructors with experience in this, whom you can draw advice and details about games and activities from.