Teaching Aikido to Children Workshop
It's been nearly two weeks now since I attended the "Aiki Kodomo Kenshukai," a workshop on Teaching Aikido to Children. This workshop was hosted by Aviv Goldsmith Sensei, and was held at the Aikido in Fredericksburg dojo on April 1 and 2, 2006. The brochure advertising the workshop claimed that participants would
"learn new and mat-tested methods for enhancing children's classes in the dojo. The workshop faculty is an experienced group of nine Aikidoists, Senseis, and Educators from around the USA who are gathering to provide "how-to" resources and share best practices."
In this, it not only succeeded, but surpassed my expectations. While it didn't always proceed as I had anticipated, I was not disappointed. My one sentence review of the weekend would be, "Let me know when this is happening again, because I will be there!"
There were about 30 participants in attendance. Many have been teaching children's classes for at least a year, but there were five to six who have been teaching less than 6 months, and only five or six with any formal training as educators of children. Most of us were trying to apply our experiences as adult aikido students to teaching grade school aged aikidoka. We had different levels of confidence in our teaching abilities with this age group. So, the workshop sessions that focused on educating us about the differences between children and adults were vital. Donna Pienkowski Sensei, from Aikido in Fredericksburg, shared clear information about the developmental levels of children from ages five through adolescence. She covered physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development, and pointed out how each of three age groups had different needs and different abilities. Later in the weekend, Robert Kent Sensei, from Aikido West and Aikidokids.com, spoke more specifically to teaching adolescent students. He emphasized the strong social needs of this age group and provided strong arguments as to why they need a separate kind of instruction and environment. Throughout the entire weekend, all participants were encouraged to share our ideas and ask our questions. Nobody left the workshop without having learned something.
Participants were assured that what we were doing was important, valid, and worthwhile. Many expressed that in our home dojos we were the only person teaching any children's classes. While there were others that had strong team support from their dojos, most expressed that we often felt "on our own" to develop and teach the children's classes. From all the presentations it was reassuring to hear that there was more than one "right way" to teach children. That having a sound basis for making our decisions on what to teach in children's class was more important than exactly what we teach. Much of the education we received provided us with the information to begin making those decisions. When we left, most expressed that we felt more confident that we could accomplish that task, and that we would enjoy that task as well. We spent the weekend with 30 other individuals who were as dedicated to working with children as we were ourselves, and found that despite our different levels of experience with kids, we had the capability to do what needed to be done. We left knowing that our role in the dojo as "children's class teacher" was a vital one.
I believe that all the participants left for home eager to go back to our children's classes. Some of us wanted to try out a new game (I mean, "exercise") that we learned from William Gray Sensei, of Aikido Academy for Children and Adults. Others might have been looking to begin instructing children in weapons work after watching a children's weapons class led by Craig O'Connor Sensei, from Two-Rock Aikido. Perhaps we were revitalized by the respect for children that we saw by senseis Jack Richford, from Aikido in the Fan, or Michelle Keip, from Wellspring Aikido Arts. The respect for children that we heard in the voices of senseis Aviv Goldsmith and Mark Uttech (Aikido of Marshall) reminded us of the capability of our young students. We may have been enthused by some of the techniques for teaching Ukemi that we saw from Scott Tomlin Sensei (Aikido of Virginia Beach), or methods for teaching basic movement that we saw from Sharon Seymour Sensei (Katsu Jin Ken Dojo). It may have been a random comment or a suggestion that was made by someone we can't now remember that has convinced us to add a once foreign component to our children's aikido program. We all left inspired to go home and try something new.
The entire weekend was wonderful. We learned new information about children, philosophies, or teaching techniques. We were validated in the importance of what we do. We were inspired to provide the best program for our students. We shared a weekend as important in our development as senseis as our shodan tests were (or will be).
Thank you, Goldsmith Sensei! Thank you, presenting Senseis! Thank you, Participants! I will be going to the next "Aiki Kodomo Kenshukai," whether it occurs on the east coast or the west. My students will be better for it. And so will I.