We have a rather robust children's program at our place (i.e., lots of kiddies). A few years back we created a once a week "advanced" kids class that was by invitation only. So on Friday nights after the "normal" kids class some of the older and more experienced kids get to stay for a second class that I teach. The newly invited kids to the advanced class are expected to do the regular kids class before coming to advanced. If they can only do one class they should do the first. The older kids who've been in the advanced class longer have more latitude about that, but the new kids must do the first class first. Basically I want to burn some energy out of them in the first class, give them a quick break, then get them focused and possibly build on what was done in the first hour.
Whenever new kids are invited into class they're given the same basic lecture. The class is invitation only. Which means they can be uninvited. It is run much like an adults class and I expect the same level of proper behavior and focus as I would of adults. I also make it clear that we push things up a notch or two. This is made clear to both the kids and their parents.
For me as instructor I view it really more like an intermediate adults class but with advanced kids instead. Many of these kids I've known for years and have been teaching for years so I already know where they're coming from. So my focus is on:
1. Making techniques more "real". Most of the kids invited to the advanced kids class have been coming a while and know the basics very well. What happens though over time is that they end up working a lot with newer kids who are often smaller and not as strong. So they often get overwhelmed quickly when faced with stronger, more focused attacks. They also tend to attack very slowly and carefully -- after all, most of their training up to this point was with smaller, newer kids. So they've subconsiously (sometimes) softened up their attacks so much they're really not there at all. The goal is to get them moving with confidence, focus, strength and power in their attacks. All so their aikido itself becomes better able to handle that sort of energy.
2. Preparing them for adult classes. Should they stay on long term they will be transitioning to classes where there may be adults. So it is about reinforcing etiquette and modeling more how adults would train. Kids classes invariably are looser, more casual things. It is the goal to get the kids to be able to sustain intensity and focus through a longer class where there isn't as much leeway for kid goofiness.
3. Preparing them for adult level tests. In our dojo once they hit about 14 we start testing them as adults. Basically kids start testing at 10th kyu, adults at 5th. So the transition from 6th to 5th is really a large jump from kiddie ranks to adult. And there simply is no "kid" 5th kyu test. There is no distinction. So if they get that far they will be in an adults test. I've had a number of kids test now for gokyu and even yonkyu. Each has aced their tests often doing better than all the adults testing for the same ranks. I've joked with the Chief Instructor that my ultimate goal is for my evil sith kids ninja death squad to shame the adults into preparing better for their tests.
Just kidding of course, but there is a real lesson here. Some of these kids are so grounded in basics due to years and years of basic kids classes that if you get them going in a focused, strong, high expectation class they will often do *very* well *very* quickly. They hit about 13 or 14 and they can really blossom. They don't always realize just how good they are, but it is so ingrained at this point it becomes more about helping them realize what they're capable of already. So it becomes a huge advantage for them as they hit the adult ranks. As long as you can keep them interested and focused.
4. Keeping them interested and focused. yeah, I just said that in the last paragraph. But it is a major goal. The kids are going through a major series of changes in life. Hormones, friends, the new emotions and swings, etc. So I will slip in occasional things like doing munetsuki kotegaeshi. Then do it with a rubber knife. Then try to teach them some basic bokken takeaways from a tsuki. I introduce them to our jogi and kengi. I basically try to toss in advanced things they may not otherwise see as treats. Heck, I've done randori classes with the kids. Or jiyu waza sometimes depending on who was in class. All to push their limits a bit but also to keep it exciting and interesting. And I often ask for requests for future classes. I want to help them explore what they're interested in.
5. Self-defence and life in general. Yup, this raises its head. As the kids get older they face different issues in their lives. So we sometimes talk about the weird guy who is a bit too interested in them. Or the friend who touches a bit too much. Or pressures of school and family. I stay focused on aikido, conflict resolution, but I will sometimes touch on more advanced concepts like "sen no sen" vs. "go no sen". And how difficult it can be to know what to do or how to do it. I honestly worry about my kids. Especially the ones transitioning into adulthood. It is partly why I reacted so strongly to news of instructors having "relationships" with underage students. I've got 2 very good young ladies, both 14, both training under me. I know their lives are changing, they're maturing, they're becoming young women. And the idea of someone taking advantage of their developing psyches is just a horrid thought for me. They're wonderful kids but kids nonetheless. Even though as each day passes they look more and more like young women. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to help them navigate the next 5-10 years. Same is true of the boys too. They're stumbling into manhood. Tough time for all of them and the difficult part is making aikido relevant to their world.
6. Get them used to assisting and teaching. Here is where we really start to teach the older kids about helping the newer ones. I expect the more experienced older kids to be able to lead the warm ups. I will even sometimes assign them to teach a technique. I will have them work with the newer kids during practice and expect them to demonstrate proper behavior at all times. I explain to the newer kids the notion of looking to their sempai for how to behave and train. And then let those kids new to the advanced kids class know that I expect to see them doing the same for the brand new beginners in the regular kids classes. So it is about teaching responsibility for fellow students, leadership, and teaching by example. Which also means the importance of observing your peers carefully yourself and how learning is often something you need to be proactive about. Kids seem much more passive today about learning. They do what you ask but don't seem to delve any deeper than necessary. I hope to instill a habit of making learning a cooperative effort between student and teacher and between student and student.
Hopefully that helps a bit. I've been doing it for a couple years now and it seems to be working out. And that's how I've broken it down in my head. And yes, some of those kids who started when they were tiny in the kids program moved into the advanced class when they were 11 or twelve. Now some of them are 14 - 16. And the 16-year-old is now happily also training in the invitation only adults advanced class. And we're planning on giving 2 of the 14-year-old young ladies a shot at that as well soon. And they're getting scary good at times...