Re: Kids' Classes - Challenging AND Fun?
Our program has about 30 kids in it. I have 15 kids ages 6-9 and I have about 15 kids ages 10-13. We do these in two separate classes. I also have two teens that are 14 training with the adults. I am a teacher by trade and I have about 90 students running from 1st to 5th grades so I know a little about teaching kids.
I personally don't play games with the kids. I started teaching kids 10 years ago in my first dojo and I tried the games but I found that they didn't last long enough, the kids got bored with that after a few sessions, the games riled some of them up and they became harder to control and the games did not meet the expectations of neither the parents nor the kids themselves. When I moved to Houston, I was asked to teach a small group of kids at my new dojo and I tried to turn it down because I frankly didn't like the experience I had previously. I told my instructor that I wasn't a "game player" and that I felt like it would become a baby sitting job and that wasn't why I was in Aikido. He said to me, "Why don't you just teach them Aikido like you do the adults." That was a really radical idea! Teach kids aikido in an aikido class!!!!
That is where I first experimented doing what I am doing now and it has been all the difference in the world. What we do is this. I run the class just like the adults,. We line up, bow in, warm up, practice ukemi and shikko, then we start techniques, We do that for an hour switching partners, we do kokyuho last, bow out and leave.
Here are the modifications I did find had to be made. I created a curriculum of techniques that exclude nikyo ura, sankyo, and yonkyo. Everything else is on the table. We don't do shihonage until the higher levels and we do it in a modified way without any twisting or torking. In the higher levels, we do kotegaeshi but we do it gently and in a modified way so as to put no pressure. The main idea is to learn those movements. The techniques I have excluded can be taught to them when they are in the adult class.
I also teach by levels like in Karate. This is my most radical departure from regular aikido. The early levels have four techniques each. When a student joins, he practices only those four techniques for 20 days and then is tested. Level two has four more techniques but after 20 days, when the student is tested, he must do the first eight and it progressively rises. My entire curriculum spans 5 years and has about 60 techniques. I have been doing this for a year and 3 months now. I have a group of kids at the fourth level, some at the third level, some at the second and some at the first. They all practice their own level. I use the older kids to rotate helping the lower levels to help them not to forget those techniques. We do things gently and teach the kids to take care of each other.
At the end of every class, we have a "freestyle practice " or what some call randori. The kids love this and if they don't behave during class, they may not participate. That usually motivates them to behave. I modified it to where the attacker runs at the person striking with a shomenuchi strike but they aren't allowed to hit the person. They run to where the person is and when the child moves, they run past them. This is a training where they learn that in an attack of multiple persons, it is more important to move than to try and do techniques to people. The nage is not allowed to do techniques but only to move. Everyone starts off with three attackers and the number goes up. My highest ranking students as young as 6 years old do from 4 to 6 attackers. They are actually getting very good at it. I teach them the same principles of movement we teach the adults. Circle and triangle, over and over. We have not had any injuries other than the occasional thing that happens in any class. I have now started teaching my 9 to 13 year old weapons. They have learned more than my adults! When the adults come in and see the kids swinging the jo's and doing our exercises, they are intimidated!
I now enjoy coming to class with the kids. I look forward to it and some amazing things have happened along the way. In the beginning, the kids were routy and hard to control. As time went on, they started getting into the aikido. The rhythm of the class was pleasing to them. They enjoyed the discipline and structure of the class. Kids like to test boundaries and they tested mine but I held the line. I require them to train and keep talking to a minimum. At the end of class, we gather in circle and they can say what they want to me or to each other. One day after a year, I noticed that I had 20 kids on the mat from ages 5 to 9 and as we were warming up, no one was talking. they were following my movements and were focusing and concentrating. The silence sounded like an orchestra!. It was an awesome feeling.
The group has grown and the kids love the classes. The parents see their children learning martial arts and everyone is happy. I don't suggest that what we do is for everyone. Programs don't work, people do. It takes a lot more than a method to make something work. It takes giftedness and freedom. When a teacher can adapt to their situation, something good can happen. I believe what works in one place may not work in another. Each person must find their own way.