I've been asked a lot recently if we can supply workshops or parties for children younger than our minimum age limit.
This next bit is long winded, for which I apologise, but for those who want us to come and help with a group around or younger than our minimum age limit I hope you'll be happy to read it... if not, you can skip straight to the bottom line.
It's perfectly understandable, as young children are often mesmerized by circus, and it's undoubtedly the case that the earlier you start teaching people how to perform circus skills, the easier they will find learning a lot of sport and other balance and coordination based tasks later in life.
So it's good to start young .... but ....
....put simply, very young children may find it more difficult than older ones, as they may have an initial lower level of coordination. We don't see this a problem, as one of the reasons for learning circus skills is that it improves coordination, but ...
...very young children also tend to have a much shorter attention span than older children. Again, this needn't be a problem, as learning circus skills will improve attention span.
Learning circus skills is a huge amount of fun because people are learning to do things they previously considered impossible. At the very least, you're pushing the boundaries of what you yourself are capable of.
If a child faces what they see as insurmountable difficulties, the combination of an initial lower level of ability, and a shorter attention span, can make playing with something like this seem more like hard work than fun.
As teachers, we try to instill enthusiasm, to get children over those hurdles and get them into the realms where this is a lot of fun by continually setting objectives that are just a fraction out of reach so there's always something to aim for. Over the longer term we try to get them setting their own goals ...but ...
If the guy who's here to help you is busy explaining something to someone else for two minutes (can you remember how long two minutes was when you were five), or you're having a slightly different problem at the moment to the one he's currently explaining to everyone else about, or there's something interesting out of the window, or what's that over there, I wonder if there will be ice cream later, why am I holding this ball ... I think it will be funny if I throw it at Samantha ....
This scenario is different for different children, so we try not to make too many assumptions or set hard and fast rules.
A perfect learning experience involves finding the specific issues an individual is having problems with, and helping them to overcome those in a fun and easy way. If we do it perfectly, they're so busy having fun, they don't even realise it might have been difficult.
At the point where the child experiences difficulties, the perfect learning experience requires one to one tuition. Or at least, 'one to not that many tuition'.
When learning in larger groups we each progress at different speeds to each other, and experience different problems, or simply experience problems at different times.
This means that when teaching, we must strike a balance, between teaching a group as a whole, and finding time to focus on individuals.
Every time we're focusing on one individual, we're not focusing on all the others, and younger children tend to have shorter attention spans which means they can get bored if we're not directing our attention at them..... which is where we came in to this story....
If you're the kind of parent, teacher, or group, who is happy to get involved, have fun, and join in with what were doing, rather than just watching from the sidelines, this creates an additional focus for the children. So jump in - have a go.
If you've got a few children who aren't up to learning some of these things, you can just play catch with them for a while to get them used to the really basics. Alternatively, if they're having trouble learning diabolo, you can try and learn it with them. They might even get it quicker than you do, but the fact that you try can be enough to enthuse them to keep trying.
As much as children love doing these things, they also love watching their parents and other adults they know learning to do these things. If parents or teachers or other adults are joining in, then we can work with slightly younger children, because you help to keep everything running smoothly, and that means we can make more time to focus on the group as individuals.
If you have a higher budget, you can also do things like hiring bouncy castles or other attractions so that children (and adults) can come and go between the two as they please, or we can provide more workshop (playshop) leaders, but either way, we think it's more fun if you join in.
To keep it simple, there's a reason we have a minimum age limit, but we're happy to break our own rules, as long as you have reasonable expectations, and are willing to muck in and help.