So far on this blog I've mentioned a few times how important it is for instructors to understand the stages of development for younger students.
I've decided to put together a series of posts about each stage of development for children. This is the third post of the series. If you missed the previous posts, check them out here...
How Martial Arts Enhances Your Child's Stage of Development: Part 1
How Martial Arts Enhances Your Child's Stage of Development: Part 2
This week, we are focusing on 5 and 6 year olds!
This age group is just entering into Kindergarten and First Grade, which helps them really understand structure. That structure helps their learning skyrocket!
Now, you may remember from my last post that children develop in four distinct categories: Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Socially.
I'm going to break down each category for you. This way, you'll know exactly what to expect from your child and see how martial arts can help foster proper development for your little one.
Here we go!
During this developmental stage, children have a good foundation of muscular development in their upper body, lower body and core muscles. Their balance also improves. They should fall down much less while running or jumping. But, they may still stumble occasionally with challenging activities.
Even though this age group's muscular ability has increased, their strength, endurance and fine motor skills are still relatively low. It's common for 5 and 6 year olds to struggle with performing more than 10 repetitions of an exercise. Also, accuracy and precision during exercise is still a challenge.
At the Traditional Martial Arts Center, one way I like to help 5 and 6 year olds begin to build up their endurance, precision and balance is through a drill called, "4 Parts of the Kick."
Most Karate kicks have four parts. We call them Up, Out, Back and Down. If you are unfamiliar with karate kicks, here's a general idea of how it works.
Up: Picking your leg off the ground to get ready to kick.
Out: Extending your leg into the kicking position.
Back: Bringing your leg back to the "Up" position, to prepare to set your foot on the ground.
Down: Setting your foot back on the ground with control.
This drill can be tough for 5 and 6 year olds. It takes PRECISION, LEG STRENGTH and a BALANCE. So, I break it down into three stages to help them develop at their own pace.
PRECISION: Students perform the kick while sitting on the ground. This isolates the kicking leg. That way they can put all of their focus into performing the 4 parts of the kick with precision without having to focus on stability, balance and lower body endurance.
LEG STRENGTH: After students show precision on the ground, I'll have them perform the 4 parts of the kick while standing against a wall or with an instructor holding their arm to keep their balance. This helps them develop muscular endurance in their standing leg without having to worry about falling over.
BALANCE: Once the student can show me the four parts of the kick with control and precision, then they are ready to develop balance by completing the kick unassisted!
60%-80% of a child's vocabulary should be developed during the ages of 5 and 6. So, at this age, you can have longer more detailed conversations with children. But, as a parent, teacher or instructor, it's important to remember that comprehension and retention is still developing at this age.
So, making sure to communicate ideas and instructions in a simplified context that makes sense to a 5 and 6 year old is an important tool to keep both you and the child from becoming frustrated.
A great way to communicate with this age group is by using something I call, "Is. Is not." It's simple. When describing something, instead of being overly complicated, simply help them understand what it IS and what it IS NOT. Then confirm with them to make sure they got it! This helps them define commands, instructions and ideas in their minds.
Here's a common exercise I'll have my 5 and 6 year old students do in class: "Step forward with your left leg and punch." Now, if I told a group of students to do that, they might get it right. Although, many of them might hear the instruction but fail to retain it.
So instead, I'll have a conversation with the students. Like this....
Instructor: "We're going to step forward with our left leg and punch. Got it?"
Students: "Yes, Sir!"
Instructor: "Which leg steps forward?"
Students: "Left leg, Sir!"
Instructor: "Good! Are we kicking or punching?"
Students: "Punching, Sir!"
Instructor: "That's right!"
Spending just a few extra seconds to confirm the students know what IS and what IS NOT expected of them makes a world of difference!
Confidence and motivation area huge part of the emotional development of 5 and 6 year olds. What's great is that at this age, kids build confidence and motivation by making their parents, teachers, instructors or any other role model proud. So, they spend a lot of time trying to impress us!
Most of the time, this makes teaching this age group a breeze. But, there are some behaviors that develop by this desire to impress, that can be misinterpreted as acting out of bounds or having a lack of discipline.
For example, I like to ask students questions at the beginning of class. A lot of times I'll have student's raise their hands to answer a question. But, it's pretty common that I'll pick one child to answer a question and another student will shout out the answer before the first child has the chance to answer.
At first, it may seem like the child who shouted out the answer isn't focused or lacks discipline. But, more often than not, they are just trying to build a connection with me (their instructor) and impress me with how much they know.
Now, that doesn't excuse their behavior. But, as an instructor it helps me understand the intention of the student and redirect their desire to impress me in a more positive way.
Children at this stage of development love the spotlight, love to be the best, and love to win. So, they do something that helps them do these things.
But, their cheating isn't an attempt to break the rules. They just do it because they have such a great desire to be the best. As a parent, teacher or instructor, it's important to teach good sportsmanship at this age.
At the Traditional Martial Arts Center, we love to have races in class. One simple race I do in class is to have everyone complete 10 punches as fast as they can. Whoever punches the fastest wins. But, kids at this age group will often skip a few punches in order to finish first.
So, when this happens, the easiest way to correct it is to adjust the goal. Instead of having kids compete to see who punches the FASTEST, I tell them that I'm going to see who does all ten punches the BEST. Shifting the focus is the easiest way to reduce cheating with 5 and 6 year olds.
Unfortunately, when you play games there are winners AND losers. Because of their strong desire to always win, it often makes 5 and 6 year olds sore losers and boastful winners. So it's important to develop the beginning stages of compassion during competitive games.
If a child is boastful, I'll have them consider how it would feel if they lost and someone was boastful to them. If a child is frustrated because they lost, I'll have them think about how they would want everyone to be happy for them if they won. These feelings can be reinforced by having kids cheer for winners and encourage losers by telling them they did a good job.
Want more great information about how your child develops as they grow?
Check back next week for part four, where I'll be discussing the next age bracket of childhood development...
7-9 Year Olds!
Traditional Martial Arts Center