PreSKILLZ is an innovative way to effectively teach 3- to 6-year-olds. At the same time, it enhances what every martial art school owner covets — increased enrollment and revitalized retention!
By: Andrea F. Harkins
Veteran black belt Melody Shuman bridges the gap of teaching preschoolers by showing that every three- to six-year old can learn valuable martial art skills, if taught the proper way. Additionally, every school owner can increase enrollment and improve retention by using these teaching methods.
Shuman spent many of her years in martial arts as an instructor. At 19 years old, she began working as a program director and instructor in Orlando, Florida. For six years, she co-owned and operated four schools in south Florida. During that time, she won the title of World Champion in forms and coached many young world champions ages seven and up.
In 1997, she presented her first innovative program, Little Ninjas, to the martial arts industry. It was so well-received that it is still taught in many martial art schools today.
She also pioneered a Children’s Martial Arts Instructor Certification Course, in which she certified more than 5,000 instructors worldwide, including those in Chuck Norris’s organization, UFAF (United Fighting Arts Federation). Norris personally presented Shuman with a special award in recognition for her contributions to teaching children in 2005.
It is no surprise, then, that Melody Shuman is where she is today — the developer of youth-aged-specific curriculums broadly known worldwide as SKILLZ.
Her newest addition, called “PreSKILLZ,” is a systematic approach to teaching skill-based martial arts to three- to six-year-old students.
At first glance, PreSKILLZ looks like games and fun. In reality, it is a deep dive into the psyche of preschoolers.
Shuman’s years of research on the interests and development of kids this age is exactly what elevates this turnkey program above the rest. Instead of focusing on techniques and skills, Shuman used a reverse theory. She focused on the actions and behaviors of three- to six-year-olds first, and then created a program to cater to their level of ability and understanding.
One of her favorite students is her own three-and-a-half-year-old son, who recently began his first PreSKILLZ class. Shuman noticed the benefits of just a few classes right away.
Shuman says, “His confidence after that one new class was priceless. Even with a new babysitter recently, he didn’t cry, which was a big change.”
PreSKILLZ is endorsed by some of the nation’s leading child psychologists, including Dr. Ruth Peters. Dr. Peters was the first therapist to publicly endorse the PreSKILLZ program and its theories, Douglas McGregory, whose Theory X and Theory Y on leadership has had a significant impact on how we should lead children, has also spoken positively of PreSKILLZ.
Using her research to find the right combination of activities and exercises that works best for these preschoolers was not easy and took tremendous time, effort and patience. One of the challenges was in figuring out what kind of warm-ups work for this young group. She noticed that some schools used warm-ups that were simply too difficult for this age group, such as push-ups.
Knowing that the average child cannot do push-ups, she worked to formulate the kind of exercises that were challenging, but achievable.
Shuman has proved that it’s possible to cross the fine line of martial art “play” into actual self-improvement through drills. Drills that are too playful do not add any significant value for the student or to the program. Drills that are too difficult are sent back to the drawing board for tweaking until they work in real class situations.
The benefits of PreSKILLZ for both students and instructors supersede the small challenges Shuman faced to create this viable program. The classes are fun, so kids love participating, and parents appreciate the structured activities through which their kids learn great martial art skills. This done-for-you kid’s curriculum sets both the student and school owner up for success.
How It Works
For this age group, there is only one class per week. Drills are modified so they are easy enough for a three-year-old but challenging for a six-year-old. There is no required testing, just martial art activities.After 16 weeks of attendance, students earn a new belt.
Each week, there’s a different theme related to a skill. If the monthly skill is about focus, then week one may work on focus with the eyes, and week two with focus with the ears. The skill is taken to the next level throughout the month.
Enrollment and Retention
PreSKILLZ allows instructors to fill downtime in their schools with this playful, high-energy program, which also lassos great retention benefits. When kids begin martial arts lessons this early, they tend to stick with them.
“The pre-skill market is the fastest-growing market in martial arts schools,” Shuman shares. “Other sports do not take children at three years of age and, if they do, it is more like babysitting. This program captures a lucrative niche market, and everything is done for the instructor, with psychology in mind.”
Parental involvement, coupled with the core values of this program, tackle the retention issue so many schools face.
“Why wouldn’t you put a kid into a program that offers social interaction, structure, positive reinforcement and good discipline? If parents see the value of the program, that it is more than just kicking and punching, they will want to continue to enroll their kids,” Shuman says.
The Consistency Factor
Instructors, even within the same school, often teach drills differently. Some will be more engaging than others. PreSKILLZ instruction is clear and utilizes a consistent instruction style.
“One of the most important facets to teaching a drill to three- to six-year-old youngsters is consistency among all the instructors in how the drills are taught,” says Shuman.
Parents believe in the program because, through consistent teaching, they know what to expect from the classes and from the instructors.
Shuman uses a seven-step method that strongly focuses on consistency for teaching drills to preschoolers. Because of that method, students feel comfortable and confident and parents, again, have peace of mind because they know what to expect. This is where the value of the program skyrockets.
The seven-step method is something every school owner can implement. If you want to give it a go, here’s exactly what you need to know to effectively teach martial art drills to preschoolers:
Melody Shuman’s 7 Steps for Teaching a Drill
1. Set up the drill. If you explain the drill to these youngsters too early, they will forget what the instructions are. To properly set up the drill, provide the instructions while you’re separating the children into lines or groups, or while setting up equipment for the drill.
When you explain the drill at the right time, it eliminates confusion during the actual drill.
2. Give the drill a name. Why is naming a drill important? According to Shuman, “Every drill name gives an emotional connection.”
Giving the drill a name brings the drill to life for children. For instance, target work might be called “Fire Practice.” A drill where you spin then stop and kick might be called “Dizzy Kicks!”
This age group finds the drill more exciting if it has a fun and exciting name. When you mention in class that you’ll be practicing “Dizzy Kicks,” for example, students will often exclaim, “Yes!” or “That’s my favorite game!” because they know what to expect. They may even ask for drills by name.
One of the drills Shuman uses is called “Ship Captain.” In this drill, there are several stations set up around the mat. Children must listen to commands and run to different stations that are referred to as “the boat” or “shore.” They remember the name because it describes the drill and is fun.
3. Explain the drill. Every drill should be explained with a general overview and three important takeaways. The takeaways are the most important concepts about the drill and will help the student perform better.
For example, here’s an explanation for the Dizzy Kicks drill:
The takeaways or goals of this drill are how to stand still in the ring, how to snap their knee on their kicks, and how to keep their hands up when kicking.
4. Demonstrate the drill. After you explain the drill, show exactly how the drill is to be done. It’s very important to demonstrate the right way and the wrong way to do the drill.
One idea could be to show the right and wrong way to do a proper kick. First, show how a kick should be done with the knee bent, and how to snap the kick the correct way. Then, show the wrong way, with the knee not bent and the leg thrown up without the snap.
This is important for visual learners who need to see how the drill looks done both correctly and incorrectly.
5. Start the drill. Starting the drill is the time to create excitement for the students. According to Shuman, if you begin the drill without any energy, you won’t get as good a result from the students. She suggests that if you want the kids to commit to putting forth a great effort, challenge them with a few questions before the drill that help them align their actions.
Bring fun and enthusiasm to the drill. For the Dizzy Kicks’ drill, do not say, “Run to the center, spin around four times, and kick the pad four times.” Instead, say “Who is going to do this better, the boys or the girls?” Or, “Let’s see who is going to do it better!” Or, “Who is going to be the most focused?”
Asking questions that allow them to answer, “I am!” engages their competitive spirit and desire to do well in the drill. Now, it becomes a healthy and exciting level of competition.
You can also reinforce their listening skills during drill time. Shuman uses what she refers to as “trickery” to do this.
Instead of saying, “On your mark, get set, go!” you can say, “On your mark get set, goose!” Or, substitute the word “go” for any other word such as “no,” “don’t go” or “Go-Kart,” and see if they are listening closely enough that they do not begin the drill.
If you can’t trick them, that’s because their listening skills have improved. Other three-year-old children who are not in the program will not recognize the play on words as much.
Shuman often uses these fun phrases during birthday parties. She generally cannot trick her own students, but she does trick their birthday guests. Parents who attend the birthday party with their children notice how improved the students’ listening skills are compared to their own kids, and end up signing their kids up for classes after the party.
6. Teach during the drill. Instructors often focus too much on the beginning of the drill and getting kids excited, but forget to reinforce the skills throughout the drill.
For this step, strategically place instructors at the different areas of the drill. Shuman recommends a ratio of one instructor or adult/volunteer helper per four students. Parents can help in this phase of the drill. At each segment of the drill, remind students how they can improve. If they kick but do not raise their hands, remind them to put their hands up.
As each student progresses through the drill, tell him or her what you liked about what they did, like how they kept their hands up. Or, suggest that they try again if they forget to snap their knee. These are the important takeaways and primary purpose of the drill.
7. Close the drill. After the drill, have the students sit down together. Explain that they all did a great job.
“When you close the drill,” says Shuman, “point out one or two students who did great. Maybe they stayed in the ring the whole time, kept their hands up, or snapped their knee well during the kicks.”
Properly closing the drill provides students with a process by which they can examine their own performance and understand the great lessons that they learned during that drill.
This will not only build that student’s confidence, but the other students will begin to process in their own minds how well they think they did, if they kept their hands up, snapped their knee during the kick and stayed in the ring.
If they can answer yes to those questions, they know they did well, too. If not, they’ll remember that they need to work on those skills to do well the next time. This self-evaluation skill is critical as they grow older when they will need to make bigger decisions.
Melody Shuman’s PreSKILLZ program taps into this often-overlooked market of teaching three- to six-year-old students. It’s a one-stop shop which includes monthly class planners with specific warm-ups, mat chats, drills and games. It also incorporates child-psychology lessons that explain the stages of development, business-training materials that include advertising, content marketing and networking materials.
The final piece is a myriad of support materials ranging from weekly planners and monthly overviews to editable parent newsletters, homework, and professionally-designed advertising materials to help raise awareness about the program.
While Shuman emphasizes key “takeaways” for each of her drills, there is a broader takeaway aimed toward the school owner: Enrollment and retention can improve when you tap into this niche market.
Andrea F. Harkins is the author of two books, The Martial Arts Woman, and Martial Art Inspirations for Everyone. Her blog, The Martial Arts Woman, can be found at www.themartialartswoman.com.
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