I have had a lot of requests recently about teaching children yoga and what it takes to really inspire them: I hope you are ready for a fun-packed tale.
Firstly, I truly have to get myself mentally prepared and in the headspace that this is nothing like teaching adults at all, I teach in schools and so its often 30 children and me with only a yoga mat between us. If I went to that school with the same frame of mind as I do for my adult classes I would be immediately defeated and quite literally broken by them. Children en mass are a formidable force to be reckoned with. Here are my top tips for creating the best introduction to mindfulness for children:
Prepare. The main way that I prepare is ensuring that my goals are set for what I want the children to achieve in that class. I am a big believer in that old saying, fail to prepare, prepare to fail… however, when it comes to the kids, anything can happen. I think you need to have a framework for your class but also flexibility to be able to change up the class as its happening to ensure they are engaged throughout. On hotter days the children can be so restless that I often have to add in about 20 more postures for them to keep them occupied. Whereas when my Year 6 class were doing their SATS they needed a lot of relaxation and breathing techniques to help to keep them calm.
Language. The language that I use in my classes are so simple and of course, there is no Sanskrit. The reasoning for this is also because a lot of the schools I teach in are multiracial and some parents have not been a fan of their children learning this language. Its also key to ensure that when you are teaching in a school that you really do understand the needs of the school, children and the parents. I do not even say inhale and exhale to the younger ones, its breathe in and breathe out so that they understand every single part of the class in their language, not mine.
Get on their level. A lot of the children who are really young are sat with their friends, with a stranger standing up in front of them, talking about new things, and often its intimidating for them. I make sure I am on their level the whole time. I kneel down with them, I don’t tower over them, I am constantly at their height making eye contact with them to make them feel like they are being encouraged and supported.
Recognition and repetition. Whilst in an adult class I spend a lot of time creating sequences that are dynamic and often fast paced, with children they really like to feel like they are learning the poses and feel a sense of achievement when they get the name right. I do not structure every class the same, but for example, I make sure that tree and eagle pose are in them all as they really love them. Also testing their balance and being able to see how much they grow from week to week is truly precious.
Encouragement. Remember that they are children and nothing makes them happier than feeling like they have learned something and are doing it right. There is nothing more special than seeing their faces light up when they manage to balance, or when they come out of the relaxation section with a big smile on their face.
Have fun. This is probably the most important point to note, as I always have the most fun when I am teaching children, and equally, I make sure it is just as fun for them. It will never be quiet, it will never be that calm but it will be the greatest gift you are giving to children from as young as 4 years old.
I hope you found this useful, please do let me know any tips you have. The image is from one of the first schools I taught at with notes from the children about Yoga. I’ll always treasure them.