parryDoh had posted a thread a while back with no replies (and then removed it)...I would have posted had I checked into the forum, but haven't for a while. I thought someone should post something for a few reasons:
Within reason the right age to teach someone is the age they express interest. I wouldn't teach a 6 year old how to use a chainsaw if they said they really "wanted to try it"... but there is no reason a 6 year old can't take a fencing lesson if the instructor is willing to work with them and they had expressed a desire.
Second, it's revenue.
Third, you may like working with children.
Fourth, your classroom structure may not be appropriate for the child in question For example, I have give lessons to kids with developmental disorders that would have made it difficult to fit them into my class environment. In lessons they not only got a chance to try fencing, but I was better able to gauge when they would be able to join the class. Another example is a 12 year old that I coached who physically was very small for his age- he cognitively could have been in an "elite" program, but he physically was bullied by some kids who where 2-3 years younger than he was (not by their intention, but rather he was intimidated by being struck) and it prevented him from performing some actions correctly. Lessons saved him from quitting fencing- he was able to perform for success while growing more comfortable with the martial nature of the sport.
Any of us to teach younger students (I'm talking in the range of 5-8 years of age) may have a parent inquiring about lessons for their children aside from or on top of a group class. Though people may have strong feelings about how young to start a student in fencing, I am going to post a few ideas about coaching students in that younger age range.
Things to remember:
1. Kids have short attention spans...like many of us adults. Depending on the student, you may have to tailor the lesson to meet their attention needs.
2. The physical development of the child may not be at a point to demand fine motor skills with a fencing sword, nor may they have the strength to execute small, fast movements repetitively (with the fingers). You will have to know when a skill is performed within the abilities of that child. Not all 7 year-olds are alike.
I have given individual lessons to kids as young as 5, they are definitely not the same lessons that I have given to 10 year olds, 15 year olds, etc. When working with "little" kids I tend to try and focus on the big picture more than anything very specific.
I tend to work more on gross motor skills: footwork, arm movements, body positions.
Robert P. Pangrazi outlines in Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children which motor skills (sports and non-sports) are generally taught to school age children (K-6). This book would be a good guideline for what is age appropriate in terms of performance. Though fencing is absent from the book (as it is from most books on Physical Education that I have come across), I think it is an excellent resource for teaching PE skills to kids otherwise.
Generally (please go check a reference because I am hazy on specifics):
By the age of 10 kids are participating in full-rules sports (about 5th grade), meaning that they have the cognitive and physical development to execute sports skills as well as complex rules (of sports).
By the age of 8 (about 3rd grade) kids are playing sports games (non full-rules sports, or sports-like games). They are starting to develop the ability to execute complex motor skills used in sports. Kids may begin skills such as learning to dance. Back in the dark ages (when I went to school) this was about the time we learned cursive writing...so I would be assuming that the fine motor skills are developed enough to begin fine-motor work...however children may still be lacking the strength to do so with a fencing weapon.
Younger kids (5-7) generally are learning gross motor skills, beginning rhythm skills and how to manipulate objects: throw-catch an object, how to run, skip, hop, etc. A child may or may not be able to hold a fencing weapon "properly". If you are teaching kids this age, you may be re-enforcing skills that they are learning in school (or equivalent) or you may be the one who has to teach them. Certain skills we may take for granted- such as running- are not learned by everyone by this age.
When working with the younger age kids I avoid dealing with the complexities of the complete rules until it would be age appropriate (somewhere around 9-10). Kids can easily understand "hit and don't be hit". The idea that a player scores a point in X conditions, with Y exceptions, and on the assumption that the official is thinking Z becomes too esoteric. There is no reason to teach something incorrectly, but there can be a simplified set of skills and rules that don't interfere with later learning.
The more you can make the lesson a game: give them "challenges", teach them by "playing" rather than "instructing". Example: instead of saying "hit me in the chest when I drop my blade" you might say, "if I drop my blade try and hit me before I can raise it again."
Surprise is a good mechanism to keep attention...surprise as in the unexpected rather than something dramatic- when working with a six year old student (saber) I will randomly parry one of their attacks that was supposed to hit me and exclaim: "Oh no! You got parried! Run away!" [and it is that camp], while slowly riposting.
I strive to find opportunities for creativity, experimentation and self-expression in the lesson. For example: I may teach an attack with 3 variations of footwork...2-advance and lunge, advance-jump-lunge and jump-advance-lunge. At first I may tell them which one to do, I may at some point in the lesson tell them to do which ever one they want to do...give them control over the choice.
I also try to get kids verbally involved, ask them questions.
A kid can do 20 or 30 minutes in a lesson attention-wise, but especially if you are changing activities every few minutes. You may have to do 5 minutes "warm-up", 5 minutes doing different attacks, 5 minutes on parry-riposte, and then a 5 minute "cool down" or game. Depending on the kid you may have to adjust the lesson, shorter or more frequent changes.
Kids (like everyone) like success. Give them lots of opportunities for success. The skill they are doing must be challenging enough to keep their interest, but not hard enough to frustrate or confuse them. You can teach a 5 year old how to do all the movements of a second intention false-attack+parry-riposte, but you will likely have to do it in small simple steps and avoid any context of tactics, psychology, or rules.
If they are smiling and laughing in the lesson you are doing something right.