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An Interview with Children’s Program Expert Melody Johnson

By MAIA Division Manager Melissa Torres


Recently, a poll ran on Century’s Facebook page asking how many schools have a children’s program and, if not, the reasoning behind choosing not to offer one. Children are a huge part of the martial arts industry, and teaching them is an opportunity to instill the life skills they need early on.


One person who has dedicated her life to teaching kids is SKILLZ and PreSKILLZ creator Melody Johnson (née Shuman). I asked her a few questions that pertain to teaching children, for those of you who have been curious about the topic!


If you have specific questions I didn’t cover, please feel free to ask on Century Preschool Network’s Facebook group page and tag Master Johnson. She’ll be happy to respond!



Melissa Torres: What made you choose a career working with children?


Melody Johnson: My story starts off like that of many people in the martial arts. I was bullied a lot as a child, because I was very small for my age. My parents enrolled me into martial arts classes at age 11 and I eventually found a passion for martial arts. However, when I was in high school I started getting bullied for being in martial arts, so I quit.

I found my passion for working with children when I worked at Disney during and right out of high school. Seeing kids happy was the highlight of my day, especially since I didn’t have the best childhood growing up. After high school, I started back in martial arts again. Then I started teaching kids classes at my martial arts school and saw a lot of children who were suffering from the same things I was as a child.

Knowing I could make a difference in a child’s life became my passion. I originally wanted to get a degree in psychology, but during that process I found a love for using martial arts as my vehicle for working with children. I self-taught myself how to apply science and psychology into teaching my marital arts classes, and that’s when my career took off.


Melissa Torres: What is the most rewarding part of your career?


Melody Johnson: There are limitless rewards for being a children’s martial arts instructor. With that said, I would have to say that black belt testing days are the most rewarding because I get to watch my students reach a level that most kids don’t accomplish.


I earned my black belt when I was 13, and it was the single best day of my life up to that point. I image my students have the same feeling when they tie that belt on for the very first time.



Melissa Torres: What would you say to a school owner who has never worked with children before and may not want to?


Melody Johnson: I don’t blame you! Working with children is an art, too. Just like it takes time to develop skills in your martial art style, it takes time to grasp how to work with children in various stages of development.


The good news is that we are here to help make your job easier and more enjoyable. All you need to do is have an open mind to working with children using an approach that is different than working with adults. Making a difference in a child’s life is one of the best feelings, and a great purpose in life.



Melissa Torres: What are some ways a school owner can get more 3- to 6-year-olds on the mat?


Melody Johnson: I recommend that schools start in-house. Most likely you have a decent amount of current adult students who have children this age as well as students who have younger siblings. Then work referrals. There aren’t a lot of activities available for children this young, so we have an advantage there as well.

Adding details and simple registration pages to your website, making social media posts, sending out emails, making end of class announcements, doing face-to-face discussions, and handing out flyers are very simple and affordable to do. From there, adding in preschool affiliations and online marketing will fill your classes.


Melissa Torres: How would a school who doesn’t have a children’s program even get started?


Melody Johnson: If you have an instructor who has the desire to work with children, then it’s as simple as adding classes to your schedule and gathering a curriculum that fits your school’s culture. The best part is you don’t have to re-invent the wheel because there are resources out there to help. I wouldn’t recommend starting a children’s program without the right curriculum because a poor experience on the child’s part can damage your school’s reputation, so be sure to do the research and execute a program with a great track record.

Also, be extremely mindful of ROI (return on investment). A program that seems expensive because costs the price of a few students, isn’t really if it will generate dozens, if not hundreds, of students. That’s where I see a lot of school owners get stuck.


Melissa Torres: What are the benefits to the school owner for having a children’s program?


Melody Johnson: The biggest benefit is the impact a great children’s martial arts program has on the individual students. The success stories give many people a very rewarding purpose in life. The underlying benefits besides additional income are more students, more opportunities for your staff, and a pool of prospects to groom into staff as they get older.


Melissa Torres: What makes a great children’s instructor?


Melody Johnson: A great children’s instructor leaves a positive impression on their students each class, especially when it comes to addressing negative behaviors. They have a lot of energy in class to keep things exciting, deploy empathy when kids need it the most, and build confidence all at the same time. They use constructive teaching strategies to help build discipline as opposed to using daily threats and punishments. They also keep their mental swords sharp by studying child development and psychology.


Melissa Torres: What would you tell someone who is interested in incorporating a children’s program, but doesn’t know what to expect?


Melody Johnson: I would tell them to seek an expert for guidance. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to children martial arts training and instruction. For example, my SuperShow preconference event, Ultimate Preschool Instructor Course, is a great place to start because I share the most important details to help make your job easy and more enjoyable. You’ll leave the event feeling educated and motivated to get started!

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