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PreSKILLZ: Changing the Way You Think About Teaching Children

by Melody Johnson


Every Tuesday after school, my son has a playdate at a local park. I like to watch him interact with other kids from the neighborhood so I can observe their behavior. I’m a fan of the way kids play, in part because I’m in awe that we adults don’t engage with our peers the way children do.

Unfortunately, the kids almost always exhibit behaviors that prompt their parents to weigh in on how they’re playing. Most of the parental feedback is negative. Not surprisingly, most of the kids’ responses to this are equally negative.

Many times, it’s just a case of mistaken “stage of development” identity. The parents don’t understand that the children’s behavior is natural and common for their age and therefore shouldn’t be addressed so negatively. At the same time, I see many opportunities where a good martial arts program could help make the parents’ job easier and more enjoyable.

One example comes from a child I’ll refer to as Paul. He’s 3 years old, clumsy and prone to crying. He doesn’t listen to his mom and doesn’t get along with most kids on the playground. I know this because his mother constantly informs us of his issues by shouting things like “You’re going to fall,” “Stop running,” “Why are you crying now?” and “Go make friends.” In my opinion, she’s making his job as a 3-year-old harder than it needs to be.

I’m able to say this because I know things she doesn’t know. I know he has insufficient muscle tone, so he falls a lot — which is why his mom keeps predicting that he’s about to tumble. Technically, he’s supposed to fall because his muscles can’t keep up with his gross-motor skills and his desire to move. A better comment would be, “Let’s see if you can make it through the entire playdate without falling.” Think about how that could change the way Paul’s brain focuses as he plays!

This is where a program like PreSKILLZ comes in. It can make a big difference in the life of a child. If you’ve taken my seminar at the Martial Arts SuperShow, you know that I like to break down the stages of development and discuss ways to help kids develop using proper verbal feedback. Sadly, many parents miss the mark because they aren’t trained to do this — which is why PreSKILLZ has tremendous value beyond mere kicking and punching.


Fastest-Growing Market

Millions of children participate in martial arts, and the number is growing every year. The reason is obvious: Parents across the globe are recognizing all the benefits that martial arts training can offer kids, especially those who are 6 years old and younger.

The best part of this expansion is it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The number of kids practicing martial arts will continue to soar. Consequently, it’s essential for school owners and instructors to boost their ability to explain the benefits of regular training to parents.

You may know there are countless benefits, but sometimes parents don’t realize how training can accelerate their child’s overall development. For example, a simple drill that involves repeatedly kicking a pad without placing the kicking foot on the floor — while reciting the letters of the alphabet instead of counting — can boost a 5-year-old’s learning ability beyond the norm for kids that age. The Alphabet Drill bolsters physical, intellectual, emotional and social development in the following ways:

  • The students’ physical development is enhanced because they must balance while kicking.
  • The students’ intellectual development is enhanced because they must focus on the sequence of the letters of the alphabet while concentrating on maintaining their balance and kicking.
  • The students’ emotional development is enhanced because they’re motivated to challenge themselves by executing more kicks each time they try the drill.
  • The students’ social development is enhanced because they must show good sportsmanship when the drill becomes a healthy competition.

In this way, a simple drill can be turned into an exercise that has great value for children. This concept can be applied to other drills as long as you know how to modify them to deliver age-specific benefits.


Maximizing the Student’s Potential

To better understand all that PreSKILLZ offers, it helps to break down some of the program’s developmental milestones for children ages 6 and younger.

The top physical-development milestones include demonstrating balance by performing high repetitions of kicks without putting the kicking foot down, showing good control with while keeping the body in motion and exhibiting better fitness by applying techniques in exercises that extend beyond five reps.

The top intellectual-development milestones include demonstrating good focus on the task at hand despite the presence of distractions, exhibiting good memory by retaining three commands — and eventually more — in the proper order, and showing coordination by performing various strikes and kicks, as well as combinations, that use both sides of the body.

The top emotional-development milestones include demonstrating discipline by following directions after being told once and by not acting silly when performing activities that require leadership, as well as by showing sufficient control of the mind to work through difficult tasks.

The top social-development milestones include demonstrating good teamwork in competitive situations, showing control by not interrupting and having the focus to sit still when appropriate.

With PreSKILLZ, you transform martial arts training into game-based learning drills to help kids develop the aforementioned skills beyond what’s typical for their age. The program has worked in hundreds of schools around the world, and more and more parents are taking notice. They’re enrolling their children because they see much more value than can be acquired from other sports and activities. Consider:

Most kids over age 7 participate in sports like soccer, baseball and basketball because they’re at the developmental stage where they have the skills to excel. At the same time, kids ages 6 and younger struggle because coaches’ (and parents’) expectations are typically very high, which means it’s not usually fun for the kids. They need a program that’s more developmentally appropriate and that’s fun. This is why PreSKILLZ was developed.


Making Learning and Teaching Fun

One of the primary instructor-training resources for PreSKILLZ participants is learning the physical, intellectual, emotional and social stages of development for children ages 6 and younger. The program covers expectations for the challenges the kids face during class while explaining the triggers behind those challenges, then provides strategies for addressing them in a positive and productive manner. This helps kids learn in a fun way, which also makes teaching more fun.

The following is a breakdown of the common challenges children face in the classroom, as well as notes on triggers and strategies:

Physical Stage of Development — Expectations: Kids typically struggle with executing more than five kicks in a row. They often stumble when trying to control their body as it moves, such as when switching feet and kicking. They frequently have trouble with inadequate strength when performing more than five reps of an exercise.

Physical Stage of Development — Trigger: Kids’ vestibular and proprioceptive systems are still maturing. These systems are responsible for balance, coordination and fundamental movements such as skipping.

Physical Stage of Development — Strategy: The program shows you how to get them to focus and perform better with extrinsic motivation. For example, you promise that if they can do 10 kicks without putting their foot down, you will do five push-ups.

Intellectual Stage of Development — Expectations: Kids can have a hard time remembering a large amount of information that’s presented at one time. They can have difficulty compartmentalizing more than four commands given at one time. They can have issues performing multiple left-side and right-side applications.

Intellectual Stage of Development — Trigger: Kids’ cognitive skills are still maturing. These skills include category formation, which is the ability to organize information according to whether a technique is a block, strike, kick or stance. This also includes paying simultaneous attention to two or more tasks.

Intellectual Stage of Development — Strategy: The program teaches you how to encourage children to put forth more mental effort with intrinsic motivation, which engages their cognitive skills. For example, you have them pick how many moves they want to memorize at one time: three, four, five or more.

Emotional Stage of Development — Expectations: Kids often interrupt you to get your attention. They may act silly or scared when they’re nervous or anxious.

Emotional Stage of Development — Trigger: They have a high emotional desire to make their role models proud. This desire can overwhelm their self-regulating abilities, which are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that’s still maturing.

Emotional Stage of Development — Strategy: The program helps you help them self-regulate through redirection. For example, when they interrupt you or act silly, you ask them to stand or sit quietly like their favorite superhero.

Social Stage of Development — Expectations: Kids may get upset when they don’t win. They may get overexcited when they do win. They may cheat if they think they can get away with it. They’re often very talkative during class.

Social Stage of Development — Trigger: They desire positive attention. The lateral prefrontal cortex plays a role in reward processing, and it’s still under development. This is why this portion of the brain often exhibits strong activity.

Social Stage of Development — Strategy: The program teaches you to give kids positive attention by getting them to do things correctly, with trickery if necessary. For example, you might say, “When I say go, let’s see who can sit better than Johnny. On your mark, get set, go!”

As you can see, PreSKILLZ takes the task of teaching children to a whole new level by digging deep into our understanding of this age group. This is precisely the time when most other sports miss the mark. It’s no surprise that schools which run a comprehensive age-specific program like PreSKILLZ are able to capitalize on this lucrative niche market.


Class-Planner Format to Foster Learning

A common reason school owners avoid teaching children younger than 6 is that they don’t believe the students are learning enough — which gives rise to those instructors being referred to as “babysitters.” PreSKILLZ instructors avoid this by following a class-planner format that maximizes learning though the use of science. It’s not your typical babysitting protocol.

In PreSKILLZ, classes are divided into five parts. Each part works to set up the student for the next part of the class so that by the time the session is over, the mission of creating a cool experience for every student during every class (while also helping them become better) is accomplished. This is not an “overnight” revelation; decades of research and development stand behind the PreSKILLZ strategy.

  • Part 1: Class begins with a routine that has a variety of age-specific warmups so students are never bored.

How this leads into the next section of the planner: A good warmup gets blood flowing to the brain. That’s crucial because if students are bored during the warmups, they won’t apply much effort, which leads to diminished blood flow to the brain. That translates to an absence of brain fuel.

  • Part 2: This part of the class is the mat chat, in which you explain the skill you’re about to cover, including its main benefits and how it applies to their training, as well as how it can be used at home and at school.

How this leads into the next section of the planner: It activates their desire to learn because now they understand what they’re going to do next and why it will help them become better.

  • Part 3: This part of the class is composed of skill-building drills, or game-based learning. They’re not randomly selected drills put together to fill class time. They’re skill-based and incorporate age-specific training.

How this leads into the next section of the planner: The right drills influence the brain’s “working memory.” Basically, this means the brain is trying to fire more neurons, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be wired (known as neural growth). In other words, the kids’ brains are primed for them to start learning and to retain information more efficiently.

  • Part 4: This part of class includes the martial arts training. You rotate through one category (stances, strikes, kicks or blocks) per class to ensure students aren’t overloaded while developing their cognitive skills.

How this leads into the next section of the planner: Now that the brain is firing at optimal levels, crystalized intelligence is kicking in. This is the process in which the brain rewires itself to function at a higher level. That means it can pick up new material faster and then store it for long-term use.

  • Part 5: The final part of the class involves playing a game. You rotate though a collection of age-specific games geared toward one main goal: having fun.

How this brings us back to the big picture: Students leave with big smiles on their faces. When they walk out the door, you want the last thing they remember to be that they had fun because in the eyes of a child, fun equals cool.

As you can see, a lot of science went into developing the class planner. What looks like a bunch of kids playing games is really a structured program that targets their stage of development in more ways than any other sport or activity. Learning is maximized, but it’s strategically disguised as 45 minutes of fun.


Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Running a martial arts school is no easy task. Teaching classes is equally challenging — unless you have the resources to make your job easier and more enjoyable. PreSKILLZ does just that, and it’s available for less than the average monthly tuition payment of just one student.

If you would you like to give it a free test drive, text PreSKILLZ to 26786. We will send you a sample class planner to try out.





Learn How to Teach — With the Cognitive Brain in Mind!

Several years ago while I was studying neuroscience, I stumbled across an “aha!” moment as it pertains to children learning from a cognitive perspective. In the past, we were taught that children learn in three ways: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Some students will excel in one of those categories more than in others, so we were told we would need to modify our teaching styles to accommodate all three. At the same time, many of us looked at children’s cognitive skills and placed them in one of two categories: Either they were smart or they were slow learners.

The problem with this concept is it limited our expectations for students, particularly slow learners. The solution I came up with was to identify the top eight cognitive functions of the brain so I could tap into each student’s development more clearly and intentionally.

The term “cognitive” pertains to the functions of the brain that foster learning. For example, there is speed of processing, which is the ability to respond accurately and quickly; attention control, which is the ability to stay engaged during extended periods; and inductive thinking, which is the ability to find patterns and predict what will come next.

You know that drills are great for learning, but you may not have investigated which specific cognitive functions a drill helps develop. By identifying the top eight cognitive functions, we can help you tap into their development more clearly and intentionally. This results in better students and a higher value for your program beyond just the technical aspects of your particular martial art.

So how does this work? When teaching a drill, you select a cognitive skill or two that match the purpose or intention of the drill. If you cannot identify a specific skill, you need to dive into the formation of the drill. Otherwise, the drill is missing a key opportunity to help students advance. While this is not an easy task, it’s part of the beauty of the concept. Most sports and other extracurricular activities don’t go this far, which is an advantage for martial arts programs because our biggest competitors are other sports and activities.

Imagine this: Mrs. Johnson approaches you about pulling her daughter out of your class so she can learn the piano. You recall what you learned from Brain SKILLZ, then explain how your curriculum improves specific cognitive skills that will help her daughter thrive in piano class because of the benefits she’s getting from your martial arts class. Those benefits include things like speed of processing, attention control and inductive thinking. Mrs. Johnson reconsiders and keeps her daughter in your class.

Sound interesting? If you think so, be sure to attend my seminar at the 2020 Martial Arts SuperShow. It will be titled Teaching With the Cognitive Brain in Mind. I will cover all eight cognitive skills from my Brain SKILLZ program and show you how simple it is to integrate them into your martial arts curriculum.

Go to to sign up.

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