How to Choose the Right Martial Arts School for Kids
If you haven’t read my previous post on selecting the right school for adult students, please take a moment to do that, as it will provide context for the following information.
As a martial arts instructor, one way I evaluate young potential students is by asking myself: Will this child be able to learn successfully in my class, without hampering the learning of my other students?
Very young children should not be in a standard martial arts class with all ranks and all ages. We all believe our children to be prodigies…far more coordinated, talented and brilliant than other kids. It’s very important, however, that your child is old enough/sufficiently mature to communicate effectively (I need to go to the bathroom/my foot hurts/I don’t understand) and participate fully (listen, understand, and follow instructions) so they have a safe, positive experience. Note: My classes currently are not separated by age, so I limit classes to age 10 and older.
Facility location: Is the martial arts school conveniently located?
This is important; if you’re rushing across town to class every time, that’s not optimal for your child’s mindset as he or she prepares to participate in a physical and mentally challenging group activity.
After school programs
Some martial arts schools offer an after-school program that allows young students to be picked up from school and taken to a nearby studio for martial arts classes. This can be a great opportunity for some structured physical activity in conjunction with timely transport from school. Additionally, students may already know each other, or will get to know other schoolmates during the martial arts class.
How often are classes held? One class per week is okay, IF the student pays attention, actively participates, and practices outside of class. For parents, that generally means helping the child set aside time to practice, and watching enough of class to understand what is being taught and how you can assist the child. Two classes per week is much better for kids under age 10, as it helps with information retention and muscle memory, and the instructor can provide guidance before any negative habits are formed. Be sure to visit the school before enrolling, and let your child participate in a class if that opportunity is offered.
Classes should be no more than an hour in length for kids age 10 and under, and each class should have excellent supervision. Division by age is also important; there’s a huge difference between teaching a 6-year-old and teaching a 9-year-old. If age-specific classes aren’t offered, there should at least be separation by age group within the class. Schools may use terms like “Tiny Tigers,” “Juniors,” etc. so clarify what each designation means.
Kids’ interests change. Your child’s favorite activity in January may change when school is out and the weather is beautiful…or when he/she makes the basketball team…or is spending more time on homework than expected. Don’t get stuck in a long-term contract you’ll regret (and wind up paying out).
Pricing structures vary widely. Some martial arts studios charge students a monthly fee, while others require an annual contract with up-front or monthly payments. Other schools may not charge a fee for classes, but simply for uniforms, belt rank tests, etc. If the class is offered through a college or university, it’s likely that you can simply enroll one semester at a time.
You’ve discussed the cost of classes and whether there’s a contract; now ask about additional expenses before making your final decision, so you’ll understand the total investment. Some typical items you may wish to address: uniforms, sparring gear, association memberships, training tools, test fees, and tournaments or other activities that may be required.
Type of art
Learn about the martial arts and the school itself before committing; what do you want your child to gain from the art/class, and in what is your child interested? Have a conversation with your child about expectations and why he/she is interested in training.
Meet the instructors
Martial arts require physical activity that involves contact with others, so make sure the instructors are vigilant during class and focused on the students’ safety. Will the instructor(s) let you watch a class and let your child participate in a class before you make a decision? Do they answer your questions appropriately? Are other students welcoming, or do you feel excluded? Trust your gut when making a decision, and choose a school that is truly a fit for you and your child.
If your child has any type of disability or condition that might affect him in class, clearly communicate that to the instructor. I don’t mean “Johnny needs to learn respect,” I’m referring to things like asthma, previous injuries, and actual medical conditions. Anyone and everyone can learn and enjoy martial arts if they’re motivated to do so and have an instructor who understands their limitations and needs and supports the student in their training.
When your kids are in class, let them participate and enjoy it. Unless you see an issue that impacts your child’s safety, just let the instructors deal do their thing. If your child is rowdy or doesn’t pay attention during class, it’s up to the instructor to take care of it. Your child may be told to do push-ups, wall-sits, or other “calm down and think about it” activities. If the instructor is unable to successfully integrate your child into class or is having difficulty teaching the child, he or she will speak with you privately about a solution (perhaps a different class, additional practice time, or reinforcement from you).
This isn’t working out
Not every child advances through the belt ranks at the same pace, so don’t worry if your Tiny Tiger isn’t invited to test. However, if your child loses interest in the class, ask what the reason is. Consider having a conversation with the instructor to see if you can get things back on track. Maybe your daughter simply needs more of a challenge, or perhaps she’s embarrassed to ask questions in class. Maybe your son would rather participate in a team sport than in an individual activity like martial arts. It’s a good idea at the outset to have an agreement with your child such as, “we will stick with it for six months and see what we think,” and reevaluate at that time.
Martial arts teach respect and discipline. If your child chooses to stop attending classes, have him or her thank the instructor for teaching them, and say farewell. This is easily done by dropping in a few minutes before regular class time, calling, or sending a note or email. Parents can easily facilitate this communication by contacting the instructor in advance (so he understands that it isn’t a negotiation), and can praise the student’s courtesy and invite the child to return in the future.