Kids taking Tai Chi and Qigong? I don’t think so. Tai Chi moves too slow; kids don’t have the patience to do the long forms; they can’t benefit from an internal art; children are better off learning an external Chinese art like Kung Fu.
These were my thoughts, even though I’ve seen first hand children performing Yang style Tai Chi and videos of amazing kids doing Chen Style Tai Chi. Last year I was approached and asked if I’d be interested in putting together a curriculum for a local after school program. Putting my preconceived thoughts aside I humbly agreed to do it!
Naturally, I had to do extensive research; I saw You Tube videos of other instructors’ success in teaching Tai Chi to kids. I reached out to my network of Tai Chi colleagues for their suggestions. The obvious way would be to teach them Kung Fu techniques and forms but the after school organizers were more interested in the kids learning the softer, meditative forms of Tai Chi and Qigong. Even with those parameters I received an overwhelming response of suggestions almost immediately and I was able to develop a course I felt would work well for the kids.
That was a huge assumption on my part! The kids were interested in learning something new but after a few weeks their attitude changed. Here are a few important lessons I learned:
Children need structure. Even though it’s an after school program the lessons needs a beginning, middle and ending.
Children need to be disciplined. Parents and teachers often raise their voices to these children on a daily basis so I felt a softer touch would help calm them. This was a big mistake on my part!
Kids have short attention spans and lose focus easily. No matter what age, one activity cannot last more than 10 minutes before they start with the groans and moans. Therefore, each lesson needs to be packed with numerous activities, starting with a fast moving warm up, various postures and eventually slow it down to Qigong exercises.
Encourage them to use their imagination.That is the main thrust of Tai Chi for mind-body connection.
Keeping these points in mind the following adjustments were made:
Rules were established regarding respect for the practice space, their teacher, and their classmates. We all bow before the start of a lesson and when it ends. If they leave the room they bow out and bow in when they return.
A “star” incentive program was established – stars were given out for following instructions, showing incentive to learn, and good behavior. Star holders were considered leaders and helpers.
Bullying and clowning around was prohibited and came with consequences.
Each lesson was divided into three to four sections: a five minute warm-up to stimulate energy points and challenge them with balance and agility; Tai Chi animal postures – testing their knowledge of what was covered and add new ones; Tai Chi ball and Qigong ball exercises; private time to stop, relax, and meditate.
Create Tai Chi “games” to keep things lively and new.
Praise, praise, praise for good work.
Just have fun!
These are just a few tips of teaching Tai Chi to kids I’ve learned over the course of a few months. Sharing best practices with others and trial and error will yield more positive results over time.