Yoga for Kids? Here's How
Whether you’re a yoga teacher, an educator or a parent/caregiver looking to introduce your teenager or tot to yoga, read on for some easy tips and tricks to help curate a successful yoga class for kids.
It’s never too early to start practicing yoga. As an instructor, I have taught high schoolers as well as tots under the age of two. Working with kids, I have come to particularly appreciate the criticality of a well planned yoga class.
Planning ahead not only makes the session engaging, but the young yogis truly have a shot at benefitting from the holistic offerings of this ancient practice. And that in my mind is the definition of a successful kids’ yoga class! What’s the secret sauce, you may ask? Whether you’re a yoga teacher, an educator, or a parent/caregiver looking to introduce your teenager or tot to yoga, read on for some easy tips and tricks.
Plan the session in advance
Planning a few sequences in advance is helpful. Organizing the class structure, the props needed, the music to be incorporated, etc. beforehand gives me the time and opportunity to tweak and improvise while keeping my act together on time.
For the tiny tots, for example, I use coloring pages and stickers, or bubbles to make the class more enticing. For young adults, I research affirmation pieces that I could read toward the end of class or look for meditation music to include.
Have a theme
I love weaving in a “theme” into my yoga sequences. It’s a great way to ease the class into the overall spirit of a yoga session; and topical themes work very well.
For the kids, for instance, a zoo or farm animals’ theme in the summer, or the yoga enactment of the lifecycle of a butterfly in springtime are some fun ways to incorporate yoga poses with dynamic movement. Pretending to be a butterfly, sitting and “flapping your wings” in Badhakonasana, or a gorilla walking around in the jungle in Padahastasana amuses kids and makes the adults really work out too!
For the slightly older groups, ‘spring clean out’ or ‘fall transition’ are two weather-related themes that are popular. Festivals and celebrations work well too. Think ‘Gratitude Yoga’ around Thanksgiving, or ‘the yoga of light and energy’ around Diwali/holiday season for example. Deep, cleansing exhalation breaths, the idea of letting go (Aparigraha), and full surrender during Savasana, being kind to ourselves when a pose is a bit challenging; these are all wonderful ways to integrate themes to enhance a class.
Use songs and music to set the mood
Appropriately chosen music goes a long way in priming the mood of a class. For the little ones, I often resort to classical music for kids, and easy follow-along and enact songs like “when you’re happy and you know it.” For the adolescents and teenagers, I typically aim to set a more calming ambiance by using “Om chants”, nature sounds, or the meditative resonance of the Tibetan singing bowls.
Remember the books
Books are a great way to complement a class routine and flow.
To captivate the little yogis’ fleeting attention spans, use books that are engaging without being too verbose. They’re also relatively easy to “enact”, making the class more interactive and animated. Some of the books I have been using are the Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray, Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids by Kristen Fischer, Yoga Bug: Simple Poses for Little Ones by Sarah Jane Hinder, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, among others.
For my young adults, I have enjoyed sharing more thought-provoking books like You Are A Beautiful Beginning by Nina Laden and My Body is a Rainbow: The Color of My Feelings by Mallika Chopra. The former is great for affirmations centering on self-love, friendship, and community. The latter makes the more esoteric idea of our chakras understandable, and highlights the wonders of our anatomy.
Let them be
The goal of practicing yoga is to achieve some form of mindfulness. This can be achieved when we’re allowed to be ourselves and are afforded the time and space to just be. I try to always keep this in mind, watch for cues, and follow my audiences’ lead. This requires a bit of creativity, on the spot thinking and improvising, but it always works.
Once I noticed that my tots wanted to wander around the room more than usual. So, I let them, and curated a class around that need by incorporating “fast and slow movements” and “hop like a rabbit (Sasangasana) and jump like a cat (Marjariasana)”. We mooed like cows (Bitilasana) and roared like lions (Simhasana).
Another time I had two giggly high-schoolers, so we all decided to do some laughter-yoga, which was totally unplanned, but so much fun! I often invite my young adult yogis to relax in child’s pose (Balasana) or rest in Savasana whenever they’d like to get their minds off all that’s stressful to them like – studies, gadgets, social media etc.
I frequently find myself offering affirmations like “do your best and then let go or “notice your body without judgment”. Allowing kids to just be in a non-judgmental environment helps them accept themselves, be mindful, and act with intention.
The secret to a successful kids’ yoga class is good project management. Planning in advance, having a checklist and a ‘plan B’, watching for cues, willing to improvise, and being creative go a long way. Trust yourself and know that it’s going to be great, even if you forget a sequence or prop. Stay calm, breathe, and have faith.