I have in the past taught at after-school classes in primary schools and other taster sessions in schools. I’m also a teacher in 6th form education and previously in secondary schools.
It’s very challenging working with a class of 6 to 8 year old beginners. You have to be constantly on the ball, using your voice, keeping a close eye on them, varying the activities, and even then, there will always be one or two kids who act up. On the whole, kids that age don’t have self-discipline, they can’t be left to get on with something without close supervision. An instructor can spend more time managing behaviour than teaching. Consequently, progress can be slow.
However, put that same 7 year old in an established class of mixed age kids, teenagers & adults and something entirely different happens.
How does a 7 year old learn respect, discipline, how to conduct themselves in the class? Not by watching or listening to the instructor, but by watching the 10 year olds. The 10 year olds are the role models for the 6 and 7 year olds. Little ones coming into a class where the 10 year olds are respectful, focused, motivated, well behaved, helpful, self-disciplined and all things positive, very quickly model themselves on the behaviour of these older kids. [See Daily Telegraph article]
But how did we get the 10 year olds to be like that? They modelled themselves on the behaviour of the teenagers, that’s who they aspire to be like, not the adults or instructors but the teens. Hence when you’ve got a class of teenagers who are superb role models you just stand back and watch the younger ones copy them.
Now here’s the tricky bit, getting teenagers to behave well… or is it? Teenagers get a bad press, who do they emulate? Older peers, the young adults and other teenagers, who have worked their way through the school and no longer need to follow the behaviour of others, they are motivated, self-disciplined, and excellent role models.
Some people may wonder if teenagers would want to be in a class of little kids, and here the balance has to be just right. One or two teenagers in amongst twenty 6 to 9 year olds wouldn’t work. Too many younger children and they start to set the culture. I believe a ‘top-heavy’ age weighting amongst the kids is preferable.
What a confidence boost for a shy 8 year old to be able to teach a new move or pattern to a 10 year old beginner or even an adult. It gives them a sense of responsibility and achievement, makes them think about what they are doing too. It gives them a different outlook on life, it’s not always adults that know everything and do all the teaching. You don’t always have to be taught by someone older.
So there it is. And that, in my opinion is why schools fail – and they do fail, nearly all of them fail to make the children’s educational experience happy and to develop their social skill of the kids who need it most.
Having adults training in a mixed age class helps teenagers see that they aren’t being treated as kids, it can help them stay motivated. However, adults need some adult only class time and space too, to work on their own skills without children around. Some adults may just stick to adult only classes but many are happy to attend the mixed classes as it means they can get the extra training time in, and adults who are parents of junior members usually want to train alongside their child anyway.
This is how life is meant to be, people socialising and learning in mixed age groups, not a completely artificial and unnatural environment provided by schools where kids are packaged by age. Schools should just stop worrying about teaching social skills to kids and do what martial arts clubs do.
It takes a village to raise a child