Teaching Yoga to children
When yoga teachers create lesson plans specifically for children, they need to consider more than just appropriate poses taught in a sensible order.
Opening with a seated centering may work well for adult practitioners, but kids often need a warm-up game to get their wiggles out first. And while grown-ups expect at least an hour-long asana sequence, 60 minutes of nonstop direction-following is a lot to ask of little yogis.
To keep kids engaged, break up pose sequences with relevant games, stories, and songs. “Yogi Says” (Simon Says with asanas) is a fun way for kids to review poses they’ve learned and gives them each a chance to shine as the “teacher.” For story time, choose an engaging myth from the yoga tradition that you can tie into your class theme and asana instructions (Swing your arms like Ganesha swinging his trunk, or stretch through your legs courageously like the warrior Virabhadra.) Partner poses offer another great way to mix things up. Not only does working with a friend keep class interesting, it encourages cooperation and builds problem-solving skills. You don’t have to get too fancy—a side-to-side tree pose or back-to-back easy seated pose is usually enough to keep things interesting. I recommend explaining and demonstrating partner poses prior to asking the kids to pair up; this cuts down the chitchat and keeps the focus on the practice.
If anything, teaching yoga to kids has reminded me not to take myself so seriously. Sure, this yoga stuff is important, but not at the expense of playtime (or, as the great Mister Rogers once called it, “the work of childhood”). The Importance of Play If anything, teaching yoga to kids has reminded me not to take myself so seriously. Sure, this yoga stuff is important, but not at the expense of playtime (or, as the great Mister Rogers once called it, “the work of childhood”). While you should establish a certain amount of structure and routine, you also need to allow plenty of time for creative expression. Nourish imagination, ask for students’ insights, and then genuinely listen to what they have to say. While my first day on the kids’ yoga circuit had its challenges, I grew to love teaching that age group. Why? Because kids have just as much to teach us adults as we have to teach them.
They remind us that practice should be fun, and their innate inquisitiveness, creativity, and unbounded energy inspire us to adopt a greater sense of playfulness in our own practice. Teaching Tips Even experienced instructors find teaching pint-sized practitioners daunting sometimes. After all, most preschoolers won’t grasp the complexities of the psoas muscle, and elementary schoolers don’t much care about tantric cosmology.
However, following a few simple rules of thumb will help you teach a fun and engaging kids’ class. Create a lesson plan (but be ready to change things up). Arriving prepared with a theme, pose list, and complementary games and stories (as opposed to, “So…what do you guys want to do today?”) sends the message that yoga class is not a free-for-all. But don’t be too rigid. Gauge the energy of the room. If the kiddos are antsy, skip the story and go right into a warm-up game. Curb your “good jobbing.” While positive feedback is important, “good job” loses all meaning if you utter it after every asana. Cut back on open-ended affirmations and offer specific feedback instead—as in “Wow, Ava, your back leg is super-straight and strong!” Ease up on alignment. Are they safe? Are they having fun? Great! No need to be picky. Your aim is to give kids a positive experience of yoga, not to ensure that everyone’s front leg is at a perfect 90-degree angle in warrior II. Don’t shy away from Sanskrit (entirely). For clarity’s sake, you’ll usually want to call poses by names that are found in the children’s native language, but learning one or two Sanskrit words each class can be empowering for kids.