Five things to know about teaching kids yoga

I’ve now taught an entire academic year of kid’s yoga clubs and I’ve learnt a massive amount. Firstly, that teaching children yoga is very different to teaching adults. I’m going to try and unpack that a little bit more in this blog post.

The post COVID-19 view
I spent a few years teaching adults before training to teach children. However, in all honesty, the post COVID-19 world has really forced me to reconsider everything. Much like my antenatal yoga, I feel like my kid’s yoga classes are only just starting clarify in form and structure.

Termly structure
Because I mainly teach yoga clubs in schools, I’ve had to consider a few things and build them into my overall rhythm of the year:

  • There are three terms: autumn, winter and summer
  • Autumn in really long, around 14 weeks
  • Winter is dark and tiring
  • Summer is full of ends and exhausting

The key point being: kids are tired. But perhaps tired in ways you may not expect. Some days I’ll let them burn off some energy with jumping jacks because it’s been raining and they haven’t been able to get outside all day. Other times, I’ll give them an extended snack break because they need a bit more space and time. This is especially true for an after school club.

The response
This means that regardless of how long a school’s terms are I always plan for two half terms of six weeks. The first half term being a mirror of the second. That way I build in time for all the extra circular stuff which happens towards the end of terms. Now I have two children at school this has clarified the rhythm for me. I see it first hand in them.

Class tempo
I learned quickly that energy in children isn’t usually something we need to work on. It’s usually seeping out of every pore and their enthusiasm is infectious. Sometimes it’s a case of judging what kind of energy we’re looking at: alert and enthusiastic, bouncing and distracted, loud and unfocused. To name but a few. It’s then a case of turning the dial this way and that to hit the release valve and regain focus.

The overall purpose
In the end, yoga is about giving children a way to unwind and relax so that they’re able to simply be kids. That’s the paradox and the balance I’m trying to strike within each class.

a theme running throughout:

  • Set the context – what’s the theme?
  • Warm up – drip the theme
  • Pose set – set the theme
  • Cool down – round out the theme
  • Breathing and relaxation – connect with theme

The main difference is that I had a few devices on hand to redial the energy depending on what I’m seeing. It’s like hitting the ctrl+alt+dlt button on your keyboard.

Termly theme
It’s fundamental to me that any yoga that I teach tracks the lineage through the philosophy of yoga. It’s the philosophy that I feel in love with first and so whenever I teach, I need to find and pull on this thread, regardless of the audience. If yoga is about connection, children often are much more instinctive with this than adults, I don’t have to work hard to get them to work together and interact. It’s what kids do.

It’s also why I don’t feel the need to dumb down the teachings: I’ll use the Sanskrit words for poses, show them the mudras and teach the mantras. Of course, not all at once and in age-appropriate language. That said, I’m always blown away by how much they already know.

Respect and tradition
Often I’m teaching children their own heritage, I find myself respectful and deeply humbled by this. As if I’m stepping into their family traditions. I try to ask myself how I would react to someone telling me about Christmas traditions. I would like to be part of that discussion because I feel like I already know a lot. That’s why I try to give the children the opportunity to tell me about their traditions too.

Because I know that I’m going to have 12 weeks I can pull together different themes to keep children interested and inquisitive. That way, they’re keen to know what we’re going to do next. They know enough about what we’re doing after a class and will be eager to know what’s to come.

Termly themes
I have four termly themes at the moment. I’m hoping for another to occur to me at some point as this would give me two years of content. But who knows, maybe this will be enough or maybe the themes will just keep coming. The thing about creativity is that it’s usually the latter.

So far, we’ve covered:

  • Learn the poses: focusing on a category of poses each week and adding games to help them really learn the poses. I felt this was an important place to start as most kids were new to yoga, a little nervous and not familiar with the words and shapes.
  • Animals and the chakras: each of the chakras have a corresponding animal which correlates with the overall nature of the chakra. Chakras are a little nebulous to understand for adults and children alike. However,  a lot of children like animals and know a lot about them. It’s a great place to start to work with feelings. It helps them begin to understand that we have different feelings inside and they can make them behave differently at different times.
  • Experiential anatomy: I still find it surprising how interested kids are in learning about their bodies, mainly bodily functions, but still. Finding out interesting things about their body and putting these things to the test is a lot of fun.
  • Yoga superheroes: I love the myths and legends of the deities, every time I revisit one of the stories I’m filled with new inspiration. I wanted to bring this to my children’s classes, so this term we’re working with yoga superheroes and finding out about the stories as we go.

I have a few more swirling nebulously around my brain, we’ll see what takes shape in the next few months.

Teaching children is not easy. They’re often big classes with a lot of variability in ages. Children’s mental health is suffering in unprecedented ways that’s why it’s so important to me to give them real life tools and techniques in a non-competitive or judgmental way.