GUEST AUTHOR: Bill Antonitis is a high school English teacher and freelance writer. He has studied Shohei-Ryu and Uechi-Ryu karate since 1987 and Gracie jiu-jitsu since 2009. He blogs about martial arts at http://moaimartialarts.com and teaches karate at http://graciefv.com.
I recently began teaching a brand-new karate class for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Let that sink in a moment. If you have worked with this age group before, I’m sure you have a definite opinion about them. (They’re super fun! I’m now an alcoholic.) If you’ve never worked with this age group before, I’m sure you have a definite opinion about them. (How hard can it be? I’ll just lay down the law!)
Let me humbly suggest that no matter your level of experience as a martial artist, teacher, or parent, each class of little kids offers a unique and rewarding challenge. Each meeting of each class offers a unique and rewarding challenge. Each minute of each class offers a unique and rewarding challenge.
They say you never step in the same river twice. That’s especially true when each of your students is riding a miniature emotional rollercoaster during class. (I love karate! I hate karate! I need to go potty! I love karate! Where’s my mommy?) It’s also very difficult to balance the entertainment and interactivity that kids need to enjoy the class with teaching the techniques, traditions, culture, and values of your art. I have yet to achieve this fine balance.
Observing the “Little Dragons” in the Wild
I am admittedly a novice in teaching this age group. I’ve taught them before but always as a substitute for a great class at an exceptional school. It really was easy. Now I’m starting from scratch. This is not so easy. Here are a few of my observations so far.
- Little kids these days have more energy and less attention span than ever.
- Capturing their attention is easy as long as you don’t focus on one thing for too long.
- Working with little kids can cause adult-onset ADHD.
- Kids LOVE structure and routine.
- Structure and routine are your friends.
- Structure and routine go out the window when there’s a new student in class.
- Kids are unbelievably cute.
- Kids know how cute they are.
- Kids use their cuteness to work things over on you.
- Parents are simultaneously your saving grace and your worst nightmare. They alternately focus and distract their children throughout class time—especially if they bring cameras.
- Kids enjoy learning basic punches and kicks. Kids love using basic punches and kicks on each other when you’re not looking.
- Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. A little praise goes a long way.
- McDonald’s got it right when they started offering toys in their Happy Meals. You’d be surprised how hard a little kid will work for a prize at the end of class!
- Remember not to be too serious. They’re only children.
- Finally, never sit down. Ever. No matter how good you are at jiu-jitsu, you will not escape the imminent pig-pile.
So far, teaching 4-6 year-olds has been a blast. A loud and exhausting blast, but a lot of fun nonetheless. As I better learn to meet the needs of my new students, I know I will only improve as a teacher and martial artist. I encourage you to try working with these kids if given the opportunity; it will only help you grow in your art. The smiles and hugs at the end of each class are more rewarding than anything else I’ve accomplished in karate!
If you are an experienced teacher, please share some of your undoubtedly hard-earned wisdom. Your guidance will not only help the children, but some highly interested, somewhat frazzled, and extremely appreciative adults as well.