“I have just started a new class for 4-7 year olds. To say they are bundles of energy is an understatement. I seem to spend the lesson with one or more of them hanging off one of my arms while another hugs one of my legs. I’m loving teaching them and getting some great things out of them and the parents tell me that they love coming to the lessons and practise what they have learnt at home. I was wondering if you had any new tips for guiding that energy and enthusiasm into direct focus and the actual karate!
Hi Keith (name has been changed to protect the innocent),
It appears you’re doing a great job “bonding” with your students and families. This is great! Every instructor should strive to create an environment that is uplifting and positive for all students. It shows you care and that you are more than just another karate instructor. It’s one of the keys to a creating and maintaining a successful dojo. Nicely done.
The flip side of becoming friendly with your students is controlling it within the context of what you do. Otherwise it makes it very challenging to do your job. Here’s a few things to get in place so you can teach more effectively.
- Set Boundaries
It’s great to have students who love you as their sensei but you don’t want them “loving on you” for a couple of reasons. First, as you pointed out it makes it impossible to teach the class, so you’re not really serving them in any constructive way.
Second, you don’t ever want anything being misinterpreted or misconstrued by a parent or child for that matter. As instructors it’s very important for us to establish a professional sensei-student relationship where we should only be physically making contact with a student when correcting technique.
Of course high-5s and fist-bumps are ok, but hugs or touching a student unnecessarily or in a way that might look suspect when correcting technique should be avoided.
- Friendly Power
One of the core concepts I teach my instructors is that of Friendly Power. It means be friendly yet assertive. Set boundaries and don’t allow people (students, parents or anyone else for that matter) to overstep the mark. That means as soon as they do, you must remind them of the boundaries and enforce the rules.
I make sure my students understand this right from the beginning, and occasionally if I have a student who oversteps the boundaries, I tell them “Hey, let go of my leg! Don’t make me mess you up! Next time just give me high-5, ok?”
I do it with a smile of course, but it gets the message across.
Once you have points 1 and 2 above all squared away, you’ll find it much easier to teach, as students will respect you more. Then it’s time to add structure to your classes. The Golden Rule of Karate Class Structure is this..
“The less mature or the less experienced the class, the more need there is for structure.”
So for 4 year old, you best break your class up into 3-4 segments of 7-10 minutes each. Anything longer than that and they’ll lose focus. In between those sections have them do some pushups, situps or something else physical before commencing on the new section. This gives them a chance to reset their brains before having to concentrate again.
Of course there is a lot more to all this and not enough room or time for me to write a hundred pages of detailed explanation, but these three things should get you pointed in the right direction.
Hope this helps, Keith!
For anyone else who has questions that you’d like me to answer, use the contact form here to email me and I’ll do my best to feature your question on the blog. I’ll start a “subscriber Q&A” category especially for this purpose.