I'm with Anita on this one... Teaching kids for the wrong reasons is not a good idea. As for "day care", you are bound to have some kids who want to play, as well as some parents who are looking to dump the kids on somebody else for a few minutes. It goes with the territory, so if your instructor hasn't got thick enough skin, he's going to be unhappy, and it will show. Excluding everybody who isn't totally focused on training will probably result in numbers too low to be profitable.
Yes. Ideally, you'd like to have a mat full of kids who are there because they really want to do aikido. But with any children's activity program, it's just a fact of life, most will be there for other reasons, at least at first. Given that neither they nor their parents really know what aikido is at first, I don't see how it can be otherwise (and I don't think that changes if you make them watch a few classes). The other reasons -- to get the kid off the couch, to get the kid off the parent's hands for an hour, to get their kid doing activities because all the other yuppies' kids have a laundry list of activities, whatever -- aren't something you want to structure your program around, but they're part of the agenda that you need to deal with.
Here are a few suggestions:
- On the kids' registration/release form, ask, the parents if the kid has any physical issues or learning challenges that the instructor should know about. Give the parents the opportunity to tell you about things that you really should know before you take the child on the mat.
- Don't let a kid on the mat until a release form is signed, not even for warmups.
- Keep everybody's expectations in check: the kids', the parents', and especially yours. If a ten-year-old kid is coming once a week to a Saturday morning aikido class (missing some Saturdays when the family has another activity), it will be quite some time before they retain much of anything in the way of skills. If a very achievement-oriented parent wants to bring their kid for as much training as possible and turn them into a little junior black belt, explain that even with regular training, it takes a long time for a kid to develop aikido skills.
- If parents are bringing a child to aikido to deal with a bullying situation, tell them bluntly that they need to seek other solutions first and foremost.
- Tell them up front about behaviors that won't be tolerated on the mat. Kids will forget this and need reminding, but if a parent realizes that their kid simply can't comply with rules that are there for safety, it's best if they know right off and don't even get started.
- Know in advance what you are going to do if a child is disruptive or does something unsafe. Don't make it up on the spot.
- Keep an eye on the dressing room. If kids are going to tease or harass each other, that's where it's most likely to happen.
- Don't let kids simply walk out of the dojo and down the street. Parents should be picking them up.
- Don't be heartbroken when a kid stops training. Most kids have so many other activities in their lives, and many of these activities give them a better opportunity to socialize with their peers from school (think youth sports leagues). It's natural for kids to drift in and out of activities, and to gravitate to activities that their friends are doing.
The program at our dojo does very well, and I think does about as good a job as can be done at retaining kids. One of the best ways to retain kids and strengthen the dojo is to get their parents onto the mat as well. We now have a class that's designated as a "parent-child" class -- it's not exclusively for parents with kids, but the idea is that when a kid gets more advanced and is ready to focus more on technique, they can train in that class with parents or other adults. It's a weekly occasion: go to the dojo, train, then everybody stops at the ice cream stand afterwards. "People from the dojo" become part of the parents' social circles, "kids from the dojo" become who the kids want to invite to their birthday parties, etc.