How to teach children anything

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks visiting several schools whilst setting up new karate classes for January. For much of this period Katarina has shadowed me in preparation before starting classes in her own area. In a way this has brought challenges because it’s made me take a step back and explain ‘why’ I do things the way I do. Having to explain logically, the things I do instinctively.

Everything has a reason and a purpose. 

To sum things up I liken teaching children to conducting an orchestra; the music is the ‘energy’ of the group. Karate is the vehicle that can drive that energy towards positive ends.

“It’s important to harness their attention from the moment they step into the hall. There is no room for confusion.”

This one is very important. One leader, not two, three or more. There can be no confusion in the children’s mind’s as to who is control of the session. Not their class teacher. Not Teaching Assistants. Not parents watching on the sideline (why I don’t have spectators).

Of course some of the group will be in a different state of mind than the others. They’ve come from different home environments, have had different fuels put into their systems, there may have been tantrums and stresses on the way to school. I have no gauge of these things, I can only work with what is present now; in ‘this’ moment. 

A regular classroom teacher has thirty children on a regular daily basis. If there’s no structure, and a clear understanding of ‘why’ that structure is in place, then order in the class will likely deteriorate. These past couple of weeks I’ve had to connect very quickly with 400+ students aged 5-8. In one school the group was 200 at once!

“You have to understand how any group can be led from ‘within’. This applies to all social groups. In a working environment a smart person can lead the manager without them even realising it.”

In my regular classes I have several characters who if not guided and directed well will dominate the attention of the group. Each one requires a different way to steer them; they’re all individuals but for the most part you are trying to get them to unify as a group. Hence my orchestra analogy.

Another factor is to realise that the order of the exercises has to change depending on the time of the day. Otherwise they can be counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve.

Some exercises are ‘awakening/invigorating’, others are ‘pacifying, subduing and relaxing’, others are for calming the mind and boosting the period of concentration that follows.

This is largely about brainwave patterns and understanding not only their function but how to stimulate the right ones for the desired goal. Breath and movement techniques are proven methods of influencing brainwaves. 

I’ll be honest, all of this comes naturally, so having to breakdown, unpack it and explain it is a challenge. 

It’s also why I don’t ‘lesson plan’. How can I if I don’t know who is going to be in the class or what issues are going to arise?

The majority of schools in the UK are still teaching a format that was created in colonial times to prepare a workforce for factory work. We are not there anymore. Different models are being adopted. No one yet knows which way will be best. That is not what I am troubling myself with.

For me, the karate the children are learning in the schools, which is not a ‘full martial art system’ (reserved for Saturday’s group), is effectively a way of teaching a specific skillset. One that will help them to stay connected to their inner natures, to have goals and to understand how ‘stuff works’. To know ‘how’ their body and mind works and to have something that is ‘theirs’, no matter what happens or where they find themselves, karate is an exercise they can come into and use to align their inner compass when the rest of the world seems to go off course.

All these skillsets can be applied to EVERYTHING else they are taught. 

So if I were coaching individually this would be simple enough. But you’ve got to be able to do it to groups of 30 – 200 or more. You captivate them, focus their attention and attune it to what needs to be done. 

Young children need to have an abundance of exercise to get the right results from them. But it isn’t just any type of exercise. Some would be detrimental to concentration levels later. So it has to be the right type because at the age of six the very structure of their brain is developing and you need to understand this. 

They don’t need baby talking and don’t underestimate what they can comprehend – it will be more than what you or I could when we were their age.

Some karate teachers say “Teaching kids is my bread and butter money, so that I can teach the ‘real’ stuff to adults”. The statement is wrong on several levels and their idea of ‘real karate’ is only as real as their imagination can make it. 

I teach children specifically because they do get it, and they have abundance of energy and potential. My prices are deliberately higher than local rates for child-care so it’s not bread and butter money. I offer good service and EVERY child that joins the dojo gets my direct attention. Very often I assign individual exercises and challenges for individual members. 

I specifically don’t teach adults these days because truthfully they don’t have these qualities. Some do. A very very small number. So I offer martial instruction one to one. For others I could be convinced to teach some fundamental exercises and basic boxing skill.