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Pilates for Kids: Setting Up Your Own Program

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By Amy Leibrock

In May, we shared Kim Carruthers’ tips on how to teach Pilates to children and teens. Now with back-to-school time upon us, we’re serving up some practical ideas and tips for setting up your own children’s Pilates program.

Pilates Programs for KidsPhoto courtesy Pilates Studio CityIf you want to start teaching Pilates to kids, getting involved with the Pilates Method Alliance’s Pilates in the Schools (PITS) program is one great option. The program’s goal is to “bring Pilates to children, teachers, and parents by providing affordable and accessible Pilates education programs to schools.” PITS encourages potential teachers to work with fifth and sixth graders in a school setting. The organization is working to collect data on the benefits of Pilates for kids, so you will need to perform before and after testing and stick to the program’s 10-week structure at first. To participate, you must be a member of the PMA and submit an application.

If the structure of the PITS program doesn’t fit your situation, you can also set up your own program for kids at a local school or community center. Following are six steps to take in either case, from teachers who have run programs themselves.


1. Decide Where You Want to Teach
There are many opportunities for places to teach children in your area. Take a look around your community and weigh your options. A public school in need is a good first step, but you may run into less red tape at a private school or a community center. Kim Carruthers, founder of Pilates in the Hood, suggests looking for kids who would not otherwise be exposed to Pilates, maybe at schools, after-school programs or even at a church. “It doesn’t necessarily always have to be about financial situation—some people don’t understand the importance of exercise so they don’t expose their children to any form of fitness,” she says. She also suggests YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts and athletic programs, such as soccer or tennis.

2. Find an In
Once you pinpoint a few places you’d like to target, it’s time to start networking. If you have a child in the school you’d like to teach at, it will be much easier to get a foot in the door. If not, maybe one of your clients or friends does. Or, you may want to volunteer to teach Pilates to a group of teachers first. If they like your program, they will be able to help you get a meeting with the principal and give references for you. Sherri Betz, PT, owner of TheraPilates in Santa Cruz, CA, and a PMA board member, got her program started through her local business association, which decided to adopt a local public school that had lost its funding for a physical education teacher. Figure out who the decision makers are and request an appointment with them.

3. Develop a Pitch and a Proposal
Now that you know where you’d like to place a Pilates program, it’s time to do a little homework yourself. The people you’ll need to sell your idea to may know nothing about Pilates, let alone it’s benefits for children. You’ll need to be able to build a solid case for how your program can be of value to their school or organization. “You need data, you need information,” says Betz. “It has to really show benefits to children and the safety aspects as well. If you just run in there and say, ‘I want to teach Pilates to kids because I love kids,’ they’re going to throw you out the door.”

Thankfully, PITS has done some of the work for you. They have put together an information pack (download it here) that pulls together research about the physical problems facing today’s children and how exercise and Pilates can help them. The PITS committee members are also available to answer questions. You can also do your own digging—the health of our children is a hot topic these days and there is plenty written on the topic. While there aren’t many specific clinical studies done with Pilates and children (here’s one), one of the goals of PITS is to collect data—a school or group might like the opportunity to contribute to this important research.

Be prepared to present your proposal in a presentation and in writing and clearly outline how your program will be structured.

4. Get a background check and insurance.
Most schools will require you to have an FBI background check—standard for anyone working with children. The school can tell you how and where to get one or check the FBI’s website. They may also want proof of personal liability insurance, which you should have already as a Pilates instructor. “Every school’s a little bit different,” says Betz. “It depends on the school district and the state.” If you have these things lined up ahead of time, you’ll be able to get a program up and running more quickly.

5. Start Small
If you can, try to limit the class size, at least until you’re more familiar with teaching children. Betz learned that lesson the hard way. She recently ran a program for 50 fifth-grade kids at a public school known for discipline problems. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. She recommends a max of 20 children, and Carruthurs prefers 10, especially if they’re very young or beginners; 15 for teens. If you’re in a school, you will likely have a teacher present during your time with the kids. Betz recommends enlisting the teacher’s help to discipline the kids, if necessary. (To see video clips from Betz’s class, click here.)

6. Check your commitment level (i.e. Don’t expect to be paid)
Before you embark on a Pilates program for kids, make sure you’re dedicated to the idea. Most likely, you’ll be doing it on a volunteer basis, and it may be difficult at times. Working with kids can be very trying but also extremely rewarding. If you’re new to this population, seek out tips from others who have done it (and read Carruther’s advice). Once you’ve completed a session, you may be invited back. If it starts to become a more regular part of the school’s or group’s programming, then it would be appropriate to see if funds could be found for a stipend or payment.

When Carruthers started her first kids’ program, the time was just right. She’d been teaching for 10 years and was looking for other things that would excite her and make her love the work even more. “When you see what this can do to change someone’s life—that this can make you happy, that this can change your mood—those are the things that are important to me now,” she says. Since then, she’s helped a teen get ready for her prom, taught others how to teach Pilates so they can work their way through college, and improved the fitness and confidence levels of countless other kids. “I’ve had wonderful experiences with children,” she says.


Pilates for Teens: A New Trend?
6 Tips for Teaching Pilates to Kids and Teens
Pilates in the Schools
Advocating for Health and Wellness

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