With a summer spent flipping back and forth between kids summer camps and adult classes, I was constantly having to take off one hat and put on the other. I have taught both ranges extensively, but never quite as furiously back to back and it really drove home a few of the differences in how these age groups function. Obviously this blog will be filled with generalizations; I have seen plenty of frantic adults who attack the wheel with a youthful fervor and I have found a few thoughtful children who wanted to move at a more glacial pace.
More variety– Their spastic minds need constant new. Don’t be surprised if after the first time you help them through a move they say, “okay I did that, what’s next?”
Structure – Remember their little brains are still being built so you are essentially dealing with crazy people. That means they will do insane things like let go, jump off, or just freak out in general. I have had children let go of the wheel mid-cartwheel, put both hands on the ground, and try to walk away in a handstand, all while their feet are still being firmly held in the belts by me. Be very clear with EVERYTHING – from where then should sit when it is not their turn to reminding them to not take their shirts off while they are inverted (yes, that too has happened.)
Less talking, more doing – just to make things a little trickier, despite the fact that they have no idea what is going on, they have no patience for long-winded instructions. Get to the important stuff fast because they don’t care about theories or reasons why. If you can make them laugh or otherwise distract them from the fact that they are getting bored, bonus points for you. Try to let them learn by doing (as much as you can safely).
Their safety is your job – Probably the most important difference. Parents will never believe how many times you told Timmy not to jump off the top of the wheel, when he does it and gets hurt, Mom and Dad are coming after you. This is why it is always a great idea to have at least one other teacher there, even if it is just another adult you trust. Just someone to back you up when you and the child tell a different story, because Johnny has no moral compass and would rather see you get sued into oblivion then admit to his momma that yes, actually you had told him not to get into the wheel while you were not looking.
More focus – Adults tend to be more interested in mastering a trick, as opposed to the simple acquisition of a new skill. I was always a bit more on the spastic end of the spectrum myself and am always hungry for new; whereas I find many of my students wanting to take their time and really sink their teeth into a trick.
More talking – As adults we spend the vast majority of our lives talking, so it makes sense that we want to talk about the trick. How does this trick make me feel and why? How can I improve? How can it be better? Students are often reluctant to repeat a trick until they can understand what is going on. This is probably one of the biggest reasons that kids learn tricks faster than adults but also the reason that adults are able to have much more control over what they are doing. A slower but much more deliberate learning process (also less injuries).
Respect when they say no – This is the most immediately noticeable difference for me. When little Timmy is scared or stubborn, you can almost always pull the adult card and with that authority, bend them to your will. 🙂 This does not in fact work with adults. They are much more acutely aware that they are paying you. You have to be very careful how much you push, as going too far will ensure they never return to your class.
Their safety is their job – This is probably my favorite thing about working with adults. They are (mostly) rational creatures and when you tell them “if you do this you will get hurt”, they usually don’t do it. Because they have either been seriously injured or (usually more traumatically) seen someone else get seriously injured they have a much more appropriate sense of respect for the apparatus.
So as with most things in life, it is supremely important to take your audience (students) into consideration when planning your lessons. If you try to teach one group like the other, You are gonna have a bad time, see you space cowboy!