The term “age-specific” is used very often in education and healthcare. It has a very definite meaning and is used to describe things that are prepared specifically for the age of the child it is targeting. However, this term is often used more loosely, especially in the martial arts world, when referring to “age-specific classes.”
Many martial arts schools define their “age-specific” classes as children being divided up into classes by their age. And while this is very important, the actual curriculum being taught and the way it is taught is the same across the board. That is like teaching math the same way to a 5-year-old as you do to a 10-year-old. Doing this creates frustration for the student and the teacher. Anything we teach should be done according to the child’s age and their stage of development.
To alleviate the dissatisfaction in children’s martial arts classes, the framework for many of the drills in our program for 3-5 year-olds is based on the SKILLZ program which was developed after years of research in the areas of child development, neuroscience, and psychology. The result of this is a child development course that uses martial arts as a vehicle for teaching. It is designed specifically for certain age groups based on the scientific facts that children at different ages have different motor skills and levels of intelligence. Therefore, providing them with a curriculum that applies this information is ground-breaking.
The first step in the implementation age-specific curriculum is to separate classes by age group. Research conducted by SKILLZ found that the children ideally needed to be divided up in the following ways: 3-4-year-old’s, 5-6-year-old’s, 7-9 year-old’s, and 10-14-year-old’s. This way each age group can receive the best training based on their current abilities as well as areas they need to improve on.
The second step that was taken was to create a curriculum that teaches martial arts at a level that is challenging yet attainable for each age group. This was possible because a specific program was created for each level. In each of these levels, a set of 8 skills were formed that would challenge that particular age group while also building on the foundation that they already had. Teaching martial arts within this helps children learn martial arts but at a level that makes goals attainable for them. At Gentle East we use this curriculum primarily for 3-5-year-olds with the older students learning traditional Taekwondo with some age specific drills from SKILLZ incorporated into classes.
The last piece and most important one, is for the instructors to be trained to understand the stages of development so that they know what to expect and what not to expect from each age level. In addition to this, the instructors also participate in an Instrutor Training program to ensure that each student is receiving individual attention according to their specific needs as well as completing goals that were set for each age group.
A children’s martial arts program should be fun and engaging for both the student and the instructor. Creating classes that are truly age-specific is key in making this happen. When this takes place, the martial arts class becomes more of a child development course, which will provide more benefits to the child and will help them learn and retain the actual martial arts material better. When classes are developed this way, they become more powerful, fun, and easier than ever.