8 Tips for Teaching Yoga to Kids
The past couple weeks I’ve had the opportunity to teach children in schools. At first, I was nervous: How do I portray the depth and meaning of yoga to little kids? Will they understand the reasons why we meditate, the traditions, or the 8 limbs of yoga? How can I make them understand?
In reality, kids are like sponges. They don’t need to understand absolutely everything - they need to be introduced to concepts, and the most relatable to them need to reinforced. They will accept the things, myths, and guiding principles you teach them, even though they likely will not completely understand everything you share.
This said, the most important part of teaching children is maintaining routine, giving brief explanations reinforced with active examples, and recapping at the end of the session. Below are my tips on running a successful, fun, and informative yoga session for kiddies.
- Set a theme: Kids need structure and they learn best when they know why they’re learning what they’re learning, and what’s coming up next. Some example themes are the 8 limbs of yoga (picking one element from each to share in each class), picking different themes within the asanas (animals, nature landscapes (mountain pose, boat pose, etc.), warrior postures), or picking a general theme of yoga: increasing self-awareness, increasing a sense of community, etc.
- Tell them stories: One way to spice up the old Sun Salutation for children is by explaining the roots of the Salutation. I like to tell them the Sanskrit names (ex. Surya Namaskara), and explain both the roots and how it is used. For example, “Did you know that the true yogis do the Sun Salutation 108 times each day? Do you think you can do that?” Challenge them to try and then have them rest in a child’s pose once they’ve hit their best.
- Mix in games: Whereas an adult learns sequences and postures simply by listening to the instructor, postures and instructions have to be given to children in bite-sized pieces, then reinforced, then practiced in a sequence. I like to introduce postures one at a time outside of a sequence, and then play games like graveyard and freeze dance with them to reinforce the correct positions. While the “guard” of graveyard or freeze dance searches for the squirmy kids who can’t keep still, you have an opportunity to circulate and correct errors in alignment with individual students. Don’t be afraid to get silly with the games. Kids love to laugh and have fun, and simple things are exciting to them. One of my favourites is calling out a body part and a posture. When the music stops, they have to find a partner, do the posture and touch the correct body part. (ex. Cobra pose and Toes!) They love it!
- Give them short sequences to practice with their friends: Once you’ve practiced the few postures, put them into a sequence, adding in new ones and giving options for the really flexible and the really inflexible. In my experience, most kids are extremely inflexible - don’t be surprised if you really have to modify to fit them. Sequences are fun because they give the learning a purpose, they are able to practice the sequences later with their friends, and you can challenge them to do it and remember the sequence without your help. Kids love a challenge!
- Why are we teaching yoga? To learn life skills. Remember that we generally teach yoga to kids to give them tools and resources to deal with feelings other than happiness. For this reason, I like to teach breathing and visualization. I explain that everyone feels anger, worry, nervousness, sadness, and hurt. That’s normal, but we need tools to get back to feeling happy and some things we can do are taking ourselves out of the situation (visualization), talk to ourselves nicely (positive self-talk), and relax our muscles with breathing techniques. I spend at least 15 minutes on breathing techniques and visualisation in a 1 hour class.
- Always recap. While the kids might be engaged in the whole session from beginning to end, it helps to break up what they learned by listing activities at the end. For example, “First, we started with breathing techniques. We learned that (Type 1) and (Type 2) breathing can help relax our muscles. Let’s practice them once each to remember. Next, we learned visualisation by picturing the beach. Then, we learned the Sun Salutation.”
- Last, I always finish the session by asking them to turn to a partner and share one thing they’ll remember from the session, and one thing they’ll use next time they’re feeling anything but happy. This proves successful because it pushes them to reflect on the last hour.
- Let them join in: Finally, let them ask them questions, share what they know about yoga, and even let them make up their own sequence or posture. The more kids feel in charge of their learning, the more likely they are to remember what you’re teaching them and feel engaged in your class.