Teaching Children by Cat Murphy

Yet, if you really think about it, most of us (martial arts instructors) probably embarked on teaching children soon after we got a black belt or before, without any real understanding about how children learn and develop. Another misconception is the notion that if we are parents ourselves, we assume that it is enough of a qualification to let ourselves loose on other people's children. The reality is, often we end up teaching children the same old things, in the same old ways that we learnt martial arts ourselves, and this is not adequate enough.

The good news is, those who genuinely want to teach children have a natural aptitude and are able to connect with the children. But there are a few areas that are important to educate yourself in. Once you under stand these things you may change your whole attitude towards the way you teach and even the curriculum you offer.

Lesson No1: Children think, process information and have different capabilities depending on their age.

Considerations for Children ages 4-6

Teach very simplistically, slow down your speech, keep drills very simple.
Have a separate class and a separate belt system just for this age group.
Do not expect this age group to be able to carry out martial arts skills with great ability. Instead focus on character development.

Stop banging your head against the wall because you are trying to teach a traditional martial arts curriculum (complicated patterns or kata, 1-step and 2-step), teach this age group a very simple curriculum (basic kicks, punches etc.).

Try and make it a little like what you would imagine 'Disney' martial arts which may be, fun, games in between the martial arts.

Promote by attendance (If it is not a traditional system, what does it matter?!).

Avoid the type of gradings whereby the child has to rely on memory to pass or carry out technique perfectly.

Restrict the class to 30 minutes long and get some help! (assistant instructors)

Considerations for children ages 7-11

Once again, have a separate class for this age group.

Children of this age group are very capable, but most will still struggle to remember long sequences of moves, therefore if you teach a traditional system, simplify it, or change it altogether to a simpler system.
Reduce your expectations about what they can remember.
Incorporate other activities to make training enjoyable and fun such as padded weapons, demonstrations etc, but remember to be very clear about what is required for belt promotion and keep this requirement minimal.

  • Give them clear, regular targets or goals, extend the belt system.
  • Incorporate plenty of character development in your curriculum.
  • Keep friends together providing it is not disruptive.
  • Restrict classes to 45 minutes.
  • Considerations for Children 12+ & Teens

Many are quite happy at this age to train in an adult class, and be treated like young adults. But make sure you are aware that they are likely to be clumsy or awkward, because they are at a stage of rapid growth which will affect their co-ordination. Make allowances for this.

Remember with all age groups, praise and positive re-enforcement is very important.

Catarina Murphy started practicing Taekwondo and persued her training up to 3rd Degree Black Belt, was a qualified instructor, teaching all ages and has a Master's Degree in Physical Education from Loughborough University. Since having her own children she practices Tai Chi and general fitness.